Is Your Mentoring Program a Coaching Program in Disguise?

It's Halloween here in the U.S., so we thought this was an especially apt subject to talk about today: is your mentoring program really a coaching program in disguise? Or are you perhaps considering "mentoring" software for your program, but it's actually coaching software?

Let me explain.

First, it's important for me to state that there's absolutely nothing wrong with coaching. In fact, we believe coaching is an important component in the workplace since it helps people work on ultra-specific initiatives with people who have expertise in those initiatives. So, for example, if a junior sales associate needs help with her phone skills, she can work with a sales person who excels in this area and who wants to share her expertise with others. As you can see, that's a win-win for the organization.

But that's coaching, not mentoring.

Mentoring is a long-term relationship, one that lasts typically 9-12 months. It's personally and professionally transformative for the mentoree AND the mentor. While a coach might feel good about helping her coachee, she wouldn't describe the experience as transformative since she herself doesn't change. Likewise, the coachee will be happy to have learned a new skill, but to say this one skill completely transforms her personally and professionally is a stretch.

At first blush, this might seem like a subtle distinction, but it's not. It's a BIG distinction, and an important one.

Knowing this will help you better understand my original point: coaching software will work very differently from mentoring software simply because it needs to. The goals are different. The processes are different.

The problem we've been seeing is that more and more "mentoring" software systems are hitting the market that are really designed for coaching, not mentoring. Again, both coaching and mentoring have their place in organizations. And having effective coaching software will make a coaching program work more smoothly. But that's only if you WANT coaching. If you want mentoring, you need software that's designed to support a true mentoring program.

When you're evaluating software, or even evaluating your own existing program, ask yourself these questions:

  • What's the purpose of my program--to share knowledge and improve skill sets over a short, defined period of time (coaching) or to build a long-term relationship that transforms the two people involved professionally and personally (mentoring)?
  • For new programs: Knowing the purpose of my program, does the software I'm considering support this purpose?
  • For existing programs: Does my current program support my objectives?

I know what you might be thinking: well, what does "true" mentoring software look like and what does "true" coaching software look like?

Coaching software will have...

  • An emphasis on building profiles and listing detailed competencies
  • A search capability that allows users to find people with specific skill sets
  • The ability for people to be BOTH coaches and coachees
  • A way to create projects that multiple people can be invited to

Mentoring software will have...

  • A matching component, ideally both an automated one AND a way for program managers to create matches manually
  • Benchmarks to hit month-to-month and resources that support those benchmarks
  • Less emphasis on building profiles--mentoring software needn't have the online "social" aspects that a coaching program has since the mentoring relationship is between two people who meet OFF LINE most of the time.  
  • The tools to help the program manager manage the program more effectively and the resources mentors and mentorees need (such as an e-learning component) to support their relationship.

If you're meeting with vendors and you're not sure if you're looking at a coaching system or a mentoring system, ask about the "matching" component. A coaching system will allow people to pair up with coaches on their own (there's no need for a middle person) whereas a managed mentoring program requires a program manager to make the matches between mentors and mentorees.

So if you're looking for mentoring software and the vendor you're talking to doesn't have a precision matching component, then you know you're looking at a coaching system that's been disguised as mentoring.

We do NOT think any of these vendors are trying to deceive you. We know that folks debate the definitions of mentoring and coaching, but at Management Mentors, we've been doing mentoring for almost 25 years (we celebrate 25 years in business in 2014). Based on our experience, we know that mentoring and coaching are NOT the same thing.

One final note: we see the value in coaching, so much so that we've designed a product called "Anytime Mentoring" that can serve as a coaching system. It does all the things we mentioned above in what to look for in a coaching system...and more. Ask to see a demo if you're interested in learning more.

And, as always, feel free to ask me any questions. We also have a free white paper that goes into more detail on the differences between coaching and mentoring. Just click the button below.

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