Employee Coaching vs. Mentoring: How Do They Differ?

A woman talking her to virtual coach on a laptop
Charday Penn via Getty Images

Investing in employee growth is a fantastic way to better the future of your workforce, both for your people and your business. The holistic benefits of coaching and the more focused approach mentoring provides can lead your employees toward unlocking their full potential. Still, deciding which support style is right for your business may be challenging.

You may have already guessed, but “mentor” and “coach” are not interchangeable terms. By learning the difference, you can ensure you pick the most effective methods for your employees’ development needs. This article will give you a quick breakdown of coaching vs mentoring.

Mentoring & Coaching: Spot the Difference

In short, coaching pairs an employee with a specialized coach who assists them in finding a way to accomplish specific developmental goals. On the other hand, mentorship is when an employee connects long-term with a more experienced colleague who offers advice and shares their knowledge and professional network. 

How Expertise Comes into Play with Coaching vs Mentoring

  • A coach’s expertise lies in the act of coaching, usually for specific skills like sales, communication, or leadership. Many coaches are certified to do what they do. In a coaching arrangement, the coach may not always share industry or role experience with the coachee.
  • A mentor is often someone with greater seniority and more experience in the mentee’s field. They may occupy similar roles, or the mentor may have once been in the mentee’s role. The mentor’s greater knowledge base is a resource for the mentee to tap as needed.

What’s the Focus for a Coach vs a Mentor?

  • Coaching sets out to accomplish a specific developmental goal. Building new skills, like active listening, or overcoming specific obstacles, such as a fear of difficult conversations. The coaching relationship revolves around this goal.
  • Mentoring is about broadly developing an employee’s career. Mentors pass on knowledge, supply connections, and provide advice to benefit their mentee’s development.

Which Is More Structured?

  • Coaching is more structured. The coach works with the employee to create a plan of action, then sets regular meetings to accomplish tasks and monitor progress.
  • Mentoring is usually more informal. While mentorships should have clearly established expectations and boundaries, there may not be a specific goal or end point in mind.

How Long Do Coaching and Mentoring Relationships Last?

  • While coaches set out to accomplish a specific goal,  the duration of a coaching program varies by individual. Many coaching relationships can be long-term, with the frequency decreasing as the program progresses and the foundation is set.
  • Mentorships are long-term and typically last a year or more, sometimes for the duration of the mentee’s career.

Mentoring vs Coaching: Which Is Better for My Business?

Both coaching and mentorship can create a positive impact on your business. When used in the right situation, these programs can produce measurably positive outcomes across the board and lead to improved retention, engagement, and productivity. So, when should you pick one over the other?

Choose Coaching When…

  • New talent needs to develop specific competencies, such as leadership, listening, or interpersonal skills, within a set span of time.
  • An existing employee needs assistance meeting specific goals with the help of a neutral third party that can work with them in a private setting.
  • You have employees who would benefit from a more hands-on and guided approach to development. Coaching typically features clear, actionable milestones, and the coachee is accountable for their success.
  • Your employees feel they would benefit from one-on-one coaching, specifically – your people usually know what they need to succeed at learning!

Consider Mentorships if…

  • The goal is general or holistic career development, individual inspiration, or team building.
  • You have motivated employees who could benefit from career guidance.
  • Succession planning is a major goal. Mentorships ensure existing knowledge is transferred from veteran employees to new talent.

Get Started with Employee Coaching

While mentorships can be mostly employee-led, coaching requires a bit more planning and structure. Here’s how to start taking advantage of the benefits one-on-one coaching can provide:

  • Conduct a needs assessment. Coaching is most effective when it aligns with your business’s goals and is targeted toward reducing specific skill gaps. So, your first step is to identify employee strengths and areas where the workforce could use improvement.
  • Find the right coaching method. Coaches may be sourced internally from senior employees and leadership or externally via coaching services. The benefit of an external coach is that you can find a certified specialist trained to help your employees meet their specific needs. The virtual coaching offered by Sayge, for example, pairs employees with coaches that match their performance needs, personality, and learning style.
  • Start small and build out. Before you implement coaching on a wide scale, it’s wise to focus on a test run. This way, you can gauge employee response, see the results, and tune your coaching plans for future use. Utilizing Sayge’s virtual coaching platform allows you to easily scale your coaching initiative to fit your business’s unique needs.

Setting up a coaching program that works for your team (and is designed to scale) can be complex. Let Sayge help you build and scale your employee development program and give your team the tools they need to become successful in their professional and personal lives.

1:1 Virtual Employee Coaching at Scale

Develop and retain your best talent with Sayge coaching.

Get Started