Human resources

Training & development


Coaching & mentoring

Spirituality & I Ching


Coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are two vital ways in which the learning and development (L&D) agenda is furthered in organisations. The productivity gains from training alone are often low, but when combined with coaching, the improvements in workplace performance can increase dramatically.

A key reason why coaching and mentoring are so effective is that they are one-to-one methods. They focus on the needs and interests of the individual.

The problem in organisations is that line managers have taken over many of the functions that used to be carried out by human resources (HR) staff - promotions, performance management, employee disciplinary action, termination decisions, career development, and recruitment and selection. Generally they do not feel comfortable with many of these responsibilities. This is not surprising, as most managers are appointed because of their prowess in technical functions, not interpersonal skills.

The command-and-control model of management is the default position of managers who are not confident about the managerial role. But it does not work well in an environment where people need to be able to think independently, use a wide range of skills, be self-motivated, show initiative and innovation, and work collaboratively in teams. Managers are called upon instead to act as instructor, conflict mediator, mentor and coach.

However, if managers can make this transition, the rewards for themselves and their organisations are great. Coaching and mentoring, when implemented effectively, can transform the performance of individuals and teams.


Coaching is a helping relationship where the coach assists the client to enhance their work performance through the achievement of a mutually identified set of goals. The aim is to facilitate sustained change by fostering the ongoing self-directed learning and personal growth of the person. Coaching can also be defined by saying what it is not. James Flaherty (1999) says “Coaching is not telling people what to do; it’s giving them a chance to examine what they are doing in the light of their intentions”. He describes coaching as an approach to “evoking excellence in others”.

The type of coaching that is called for in organisations can be termed “workplace coaching”. It is the coaching of employees by their managers as an integral aspect of the managerial role, with the purpose of improving workers' capability and workplace performance. The topics of coaching may include specific job skills and the generic skills associated with working in teams.


Mentoring has always had a role in the business world, but traditionally it has been informal and confined to “a senior manager showing a junior manager the ropes”.

In recent years there has been a resurgence in the mentor role in organisations, as it has become critical for those with expert knowledge to informally pass that knowledge onto other employees in order to achieve business goals. The effective use of knowledge in organisations is more dependent on conversations where experts share their tacit knowledge with others than on technology and databases.

Mentoring can be defined as a constructive learning relationship between two people where one person, the mentor, who generally has greater expertise and experience, provides assistance, guidance, advice, encouragement and support to another other person (the mentoree, or mentee) in order to foster the latter’s vocational and professional development.

Distinguishing coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring can be seen as falling at different points along a continuum between “performance” and “relationship”. The coach is more focused on immediate improvements in performance, while the mentor places more emphasis on the relationship, because the desired outcome is the mentoree's longer-term career growth.

For some people, the key difference is that the coach need not be an expert performer in the subject matter area (consider sports coaching), but a mentor has usually been an acknowledged performer. Hence, in mentoring, role modelling has a greater importance than in coaching.

Nevertheless, the relationship is important in both coaching and mentoring. The coach or mentor must establish trust and confidence, so that learning can occur, learning that is grounded in actions in the workplace.



"Mentoring relationships transform the workplace" looks at a successful mentoring program at an insurance company.

An article about coaching and mentoring, and the distinctions between them:


About goal-setting in the coaching context:

Slides from a presentation

Recommended books

James Flaherty, Coaching: Evoking excellence in others, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999.