Coaching vs Training vs Mentoring

  • Ezra
  • July 14th, 2020

Coaching, training and mentoring all have their own particular role to play when it comes to developing employees, but the differences between them – and the specific benefits of coaching as an exercise – are often poorly understood, which can lead to organizational “misfires” when something is introduced that is not ideally suited to deliver what a team needs to grow.

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Most critically, coaching is a personal learning and development intervention that creates a goal-oriented relationship to reach outcomes that are valued by the coachee. However, the term is often confused and used interchangeably with activities like ‘training,’ and ‘mentoring.’ To better understand the value of coaching, it is first imperative to understand what it is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

Defining The Difference

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 and so it naturally has a hierarchical element to it. 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 normally structured, formal, used often 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 normally short and therefore, the benefits of training can also be short-lived.

To use an analogy, let’s say an individual has very basic foundational culinary knowledge. To get better, they sign up for classes on the weekend for a month that provides them with general training as an add on to their foundational knowledge. Training programs like this are a great way to provide a vast amount of knowledge in a short amount of time. However, the skills taught in training programs are usually not consistently reinforced. After a training session, individuals are left to utilize their new skills on their own time which can result in the loss of that knowledge if not consistently put into practice. Research demonstrates that roughly 50% 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 cement new neural pathways, change behavior, or help individuals remember and retain knowledge to apply in the real world.

What Is Mentoring?

Mentoring is more of a long-term relationship that is 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, and, 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 from. 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 maximize their personal and professional potential. While training and mentoring are both about a transfer of 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 are 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 that is created during a coaching engagement is intentional, co-created and led by thought-provoking questions that allow the coachee to be active in their own learning. It takes time because coachees are working on forming new habits and are training their brains to create new neural pathways of behavior. 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 behavior while reflection is key 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 organizational change, create 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 intentional, applied, informal and developmental nature of the coaching relationship could help individuals better cement learnings from training into real behaviors that drive actual organizational results.

While mentoring and training are useful learning and development tools, coaching is shown to change an individual’s behavior. Through the coaching process, as an individual learns to harness their own potential it instills 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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