August 5, 2008

Coaching, Mentoring or Training: What, When & Why?

There are many options available for developing your people. Three strategies one often hears about are coaching, mentoring and training. What are the differences? Why one over another?

Training is something most people are familiar with. Most companies implement some form of training-- new hire training, training on specific technical skills or applications like Microsoft Office or SAP, learning to operate a particular machine, etc. Training usually involves some classroom lecture but may also include discussion, on-the-job activities, or online delivery via webinars or e-learning courses.

Mentoring is when a more experienced Leader works closely with someone to "show them the ropes", provide guidance, and act as a role model. Usually mentors are experts within the same company or industry as the person being mentored, though not always. Mentors can be engaged through a formal mentoring process or informally; either approach can be effective (or not).

Coaching (non-sports coaching, that is) is distinct from training or mentoring. Corporate Coaching is usually a formal 1:1 relationship between a manager and the coach targeting specific leadership capabilities which will ultimately benefit the individual as well as the organization. Coaching differs from mentoring; whereas the mentor is a guide, expert, or role model, the coach is more of a facilitator or process consultant. The coach is not necessarily from the same industry as the person being coached and it is often beneficial to have a coach with a solid foundation in business and psychology who has had exposure to diverse industries and corporate structures.

When to use one approach over the other?

There is no single answer to that question; it really depends upon your unique situation. We do know that classroom learning is the least effective approach for people development. However, training can be more effective when utilizing action learning programs that include real work scenarios and opportunities for applying just-in-time learning.

Mentoring can be through either formal or informal programs, applied on either a one-off approach or an organization-wide program. However, there are some issues to consider with mentoring: the mentor-mentee relationship is a delicate one and will only be successful with the right chemistry and an environment where trust can develop. Sometimes professionals seek a mentor from a different company or a professional association if, for example, they are working in a small company or other setting in which viable mentors are not readily accessible. Mentoring can be a good option under the right conditions as it can be cost effective and lead to growth and development of both mentor and mentee.

Coaching is generally a formal relationship involving an external consultant/coach and usually occurs at the senior manager to executive level. However, informal coaching delivered by the HR/OD department or through a peer coaching program is also a good option. Coaching is most effective in helping successful people become even better at what they do. It is of particular value during transitional times such as new hire/on-boarding, promotion, lateral moves to a new business unit, or post mergers/acquisitions. Coaching is also sometimes useful for addressing employee performance issues; this is a more sensitive situation and requires two major conditions: (1) the company values the leader and sees coaching as an opportunity to help him/her overcome obstacles to success and (2) the leader is highly motivated to change.

These are the "cliff notes" on 3 different ways to provide leadership development. They are all viable learning modalities and generally within the grasp of most companies or nonprofit organizations. Most every organization states "people are our greatest asset", yet it is this "greatest asset" that is frequently overlooked. People want to learn and be the best they can be.

All they need is a little coaching, mentoring or training !

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