The terms coaching and mentoring often have overlapping or vague meanings. Though there are clear professional standards for each, the terms are often used interchangeably in business. For the purpose of this article, I define mentoring as ‘supporting others with personal and professional development’, and coaching as ‘supporting others with specific vocational skills development’.
So both are focused on developing others within a work/vocational context. Moreover, another principle (or theme) of both is that employees are encouraged to take ownership of their own development – the skilled mentor/coach is more of a facilitator rather than an advisor or teacher.
Within L&D and the wider HR function, coaching/mentoring is often seen as a way of formally managing underperformance or stretching gifted and talented employees (the chosen ones!). However, when I reflect on my own workplace development and progress, I feel I have significantly benefited from more informal forms of coaching and mentoring.
I have benefited from managers who have mentored me through exploring career pathways, encouraged me to look beyond my current role (or indeed even industry), and helped me to cope with managing challenging situations. I have benefited from colleagues who have coached me to work more efficiently, to understand new technology and to manage appraisals more effectively. I really feel this support has helped me to be better than I would have been without it.
Further to this, there is much writing about the concept of a learning culture (for example – see Nigel Paine: Workplace Learning: How to Build a Culture of Continuous Employee Development ) and the value for organisations that adopt a culture of open and honest communication, celebrating failure as much as success, learning from experience, sharing knowledge and collaborating effectively. The value being that those organisations are more likely to survive and do well in an uncertain world as they are more innovative, agile and able to change and adapt.
My argument then is that whether or not you explicitly seek to build and encourage a learning culture, it seems common sense to me that by embedding the principles and practices of coaching and mentoring across your business, you will start to reap those rewards. By giving all your people access to coaches and mentors and by encouraging your staff to take ownership of their own development, you will start to evolve a culture that values the sharing of knowledge, skills and experience.
Your people will feel more valued and should collaborate more effectively. If all your staff were taught the basic techniques of coaching and mentoring, then each and every one of them could be an informal coach or mentor on a day to day basis, as and when the need arose – which, bearing in mind how quickly things change in the modern workplace, I would suggest would be quite frequently!
The 2017 LinkedIn Workplace Learning survey reported that coaching and mentoring skills are the most sought after skills for leaders and managers. I strongly believe that this is due the reasons above – we need to be better at sharing knowledge and skills and guiding our people. It is a fact of life that we have an increasingly aging workforce, this is going to impact skills and knowledge retention further if you don’t get better at sharing. It is more critical than ever to support all staff with knowledge and experience development, by nurturing their talent and guiding their career paths.
Yes, there might be resistance from some staff, some might say – why should I share my knowledge and experience by coaching others, or why should I mentor others to be more effective at what they do, that’s not part of my role?
However, is that really the kind of behaviour or value you want for your organisation – is that the kind of attitude that is going to help your business? A positive attitude to supporting your people should be a way of life in any organisation – not just a way of managing under and over-performers. By making everyone informal coaches and mentors, you can encourage this shift, you can reap these rewards. Can you afford not to?
accentuate offers workshops and ongoing 1:1 mentoring support for new and aspiring coaches and mentors. Contact us now for an informal discussion on how we can help you embed this kind of culture in your organisation.