Coaching vs Mentoring vs Training: What's The Difference?
When it comes to employee development, coaching, training, and mentoring all have a particular role. However, the differences between them are often poorly understood. Learn what are the differences between coaching, training, and mentoring and discover how to determine what your team needs.
At it’s most precise definition, coaching is a personal learning and development intervention that creates a goal-oriented relationship to reach outcomes that the coachee values. Coaching is too often confused with activities like ‘training’ and ‘mentoring.' To better understand the value of coaching, we need to understand what it is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.
A rose by any other name… defining coaching, training and mentoring.
What Is Coaching?
Coaching in the workplace is a personal one-to-one intervention that uses a collaborative, goal-focused relationship to achieve outcomes. A coachee, therefore, enters the relationship for the purpose of intentionally and actively fulfilling personal objectives. Conceptually, this is a fundamentally different relationship than either a training or mentoring relationship.
What Is Training?
Training is about transferring knowledge from trainer to trainee, so it naturally has a hierarchical element. The core of training is: “I have a bunch of things I want you to get better at, and I’m going to teach you.” In a professional or workplace setting, training is typically structured, formal, often used in a group setting on new hires, and is dependent on telling rather than asking. It is a place for learning and for people to try and practice new skills. But the timeline is ordinarily short, and therefore, the benefits of training can also be short-lived.
Here's an example: let’s say an individual is a just a decent cook. To get better, they sign up for general training classes on weekends. Training programmes like this are a great way to provide a vast amount of information in a short amount of time. However, the skills taught in training programmes are usually not consistently reinforced. After a training session, individuals are left to utilise their new skills on their own time, and if that knowledge isn’t put into practice immediately – that knowledge is usually lost. Research demonstrates that roughly 50 percent of the information received in a presentation is forgotten after 1 hour while “after 24 hours, on average, 70 percent is gone. And within a week, a staggering 90 percent is nowhere to be found.” Therefore, training by itself might not be enough to change behaviour, or help individuals remember and retain the knowledge they can apply in the real world.
What Is Mentoring?
Mentoring is a long-term relationship based on trust, respect and a desire to gain wisdom, that will hopefully lead the individual towards specific objectives. Mentoring, much like training, is a hierarchical relationship of knowledge. In a mentoring relationship, the mentor is assumed to be a highly experienced individual in the mentee’s field. In the workplace, the mentor provides guidance or career advice to the assumingly inexperienced mentee. An individual goes to a mentor because the mentor has a large amount of wisdom the individual would like to learn. Mentors can also be ‘coach-like’ or use coaching skills within the mentoring relationship, but knowledge is still being transferred, and the relationship remains hierarchical.
Why coaching stands out
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines the act of coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. While training and mentoring are about transferring knowledge from teacher to student or mentor to mentee, coaching is about enhancing, supporting and facilitating the individual to step in and be actively engaged in their own growth and knowledge.
The core of coaching is different from both training and mentoring. There is no hierarchy in this informal, safe and confidential space. The coachee has to want to do the work, step in, and challenge themselves, while the coach partners with the coachee to deepen their self-awareness in areas of growth or strength, working through “blind spots” along the way. The coach then helps the coachee design powerful, intentional actions to move them towards their goals.
In short, coaching is not about telling people what to do; it is giving them an opportunity to examine what they’re doing in light of their intentions. Timothy Gallwey, an author and academic in coaching and coaching literature, describes coaching as:
“…the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being that facilitates the process by which a person can move towards desired results in a fulfilling manner. It requires an essential ingredient that cannot be taught; caring not only for external results but for the person being coached.”
The key to the coaching relationship is that the change is ultimately owned, driven and done by the coachee. It is their desired change that matters. The space created during a coaching engagement is intentional, co-created and led by thought-provoking questions that allow the coachee to be active in their learning. It takes time because coachees are working on forming new habits and are training their brains to create new neural pathways of behaviour. The coaching relationship helps the coachee create a powerful action > reflection > learning cycle, which repeats over time. Action is key to creating those new neural pathways and instilling that change in behaviour, while reflection is vital for defining intentional and commitment-worthy actions.
In a workplace setting, coaching has been used as a long-term tool to create happier teams, develop employees, manage organisational change, develop better managers, and improve the new-hire onboarding process. It has been demonstrated to support a variety of learning and performance objectives, including:
Affective Outcomes – Attitudes and motivational outcomes (e.g. self-efficiency, well-being and satisfaction)
Cognitive Outcomes – Declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and cognitive strategies (e.g. problem-solving)
Skill-based Outcomes – Compilation and automaticity of new skills (e.g. learning skills, technical skills and competencies)
Additionally, if used to enhance the training process, the coaching relationship's intentional, applied, informal and developmental nature could help individuals better cement learnings from training into real behaviours that drive actual organisational results.
While mentoring and training are useful learning and development tools, coaching changes an individual’s behaviour. Through the coaching process, as an individual learns to harness their potential, it instils and creates positive action, reflection and outcomes that ripple outwards and have people ultimately asking: can I be better with a coach, too? The answer always remains the same thanks to the unique properties of this development method: everyone can be better with a coach.
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