Skip to main content
The Oxford Group - A City & Guilds Group Business
  • Home
  • Insights
  • Coaching vs mentoring – who is winning the war for talent?

Coaching vs mentoring – who is winning the war for talent?

The Oxford Group

12 February 2020

As the famous saying goes, great leaders are made, they are not born. Yes, raw ability is a prerequisite but organisations will not see the full potential of their talent recognised if they do not invest in their development. 

And they would be wise to start this process sooner rather than later – the right interventions early in someone’s career will give them a good solid foundation which they can then build on.

Taking talent to the next level

A lot of companies start with development centres and full talent programmes. This approach will get all participants to a level and does a lot to ensure that the building blocks are in place but how do you then ensure that each individual gets personalised support beyond that point?

There are two routes that organisations can use to deliver personalised support for their talent – mentoring and coaching. Each has their merits, but which is best?

Coaching vs mentoring

Mentoring is when someone higher up within the organisation is paired up with a less-experienced mentee in order to give them the benefit of their knowledge, expertise and advice to help guide the mentee in the right direction.

The topics covered range from career opportunities, through interpersonal skills to building up contacts. The support will be based largely on the mentor’s own experience and learnings rather than general theories or best practice.

Coaching or, more specifically, talent coaching is used to provide support as people transition to new roles or is focused on key development areas that will have already been identified. The coach will be external to the organisation and their aim will be to help the coachee achieve specific goals, accelerate their leadership performance and embed learning. 

The role of the coach is not to tell the coachee what to do or how to behave but to instead help to clarify the situation and crystalise actions, removing barriers so that the coachee themselves can find a way forward. It is excellent for creating good habits early in someone’s career.

On the face of it, both approaches sound similar except that talent coaching is delivered by an external coach whereas mentoring is done by internal people. However, other than the obvious cost benefit of mentoring, depending on what they want to achieve, the balance of advantage potentially sits with talent coaching.

Coaching – an outside advantage? 

An obvious place to start is with the fact that coaches will bring an external perspective to the coachee. Mentors will have a strong understanding of the way their organisation works, the different personalities involved and internal culture, all of which are valuable. However, it is unlikely that they will have had the same wide exposure to different organisations and strategies that a coach has. The ability to brainstorm with a coach who is able to see things from a different perspective without making any judgement is invaluable to help coachees find new solutions to problems.

Both a mentor and a coach will have experience in the areas that they are covering but coaches are always subject matter experts. A coach will be bringing a lot more than just their personal experience to sessions – they also offer tools, tips and diagnostics that internal mentors may be unaware of or not have access to that will  help to build on ideas discussed during sessions. Not only that, they will use action plans between sessions to increase the impact of the intervention.

Another difference is timescales – coaching tends to be an intense short-term intervention of 4-5 months focused on dealing with specific issues. Mentoring is more about a long-term relationship and is as much about creating engagement with the organisation as developing skills.

Picking the right approach

A mentor will be developing skills that are not just relevant for the mentee in their present job, but also for the future. A coach’s focus, on the other hand, is on developing the skills that will help the coachee achieve the specific goal the coaching is addressing. They will be extracting the key messages from each session, pulling them together and translating them into a series of actions that will inspire and challenge the coachee.

One thing to finally mention is that the two aren’t mutually-exclusive, it is possible to run mentoring in tandem with coaching, because as is clear above, they both bring different things to the individual and businesses have much to gain from adopting both approaches.

If you would like to know more about talent coaching and what it can mean for your organisation then get in touch – we’d love to tell you all about it.