Monday, March 20, 2017

Reposting: Mentoring vs Coaching - a manager's guide

This is a paper I presented at the International Mentoring Institute five years ago. I'm wondering if the conversation has moved ahead since I first published this...
Image result for mentoring
First, let’s establish a common lexicon.

Many organizations will talk about mentoring and coaching without defining what they mean and use the two words interchangeably.

With mentoring and coaching as hot topics in today’s workplace, we run the risk of losing all meaning – much like the over-hyped word ‘green’ or the or the nonsensical, amorphous use of ‘cool’.

Look at some of the words we use when discussing either topic:
* intern / internship
* apprentice / apprenticeship
* placement
* protégée
* mentoree
* coach
* mentor
* advisor
* manage / manager
* network
* relationship management

Would you call a chicken a turkey? It’s important to highlight the distinctions in definition to many of these words.

Apprenticing: Every medieval church in Europe was built by apprentices. Today, Trump has made the apprentice concept famous with his TV show – you find a successful sponsor who will teach you everything they know and you follow in their footsteps till you either have their job or have enough ‘whatever’ to build your own path. It’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years and has produced some great artists and thinkers.

I lump in internships and placements here.

In this scenario, the sponsor/master/manager is accountable for the success (or not) of their assigned apprentice, intern or protégée. They may work them hard but tasks are dictated, paths are set for juniors and success or failure is a personal reflection on the sponsor.

This is also how most companies run their teams. The executive or manager is held directly accountable for the efforts, choices and success of their employees.

Mentoring, as I see it, puts the work and the success back on the mentoree. The mentoree owns their actions and decisions at all times. They choose – or don’t – to take the advice or challenges given by their mentor. They are answerable to no one but themselves on their progress. The mentoree sets the direction and the mentor guides. It is like an independent study at university.

Managing and coaching are what a supervisor or boss does; mentoring is what a mentor does.

So why does it continue to be used interchangeably in the workplace?

Two reasons:
1.      Cultural values of a workplace
2.      Lack of education around the topics

Cultural values:
There is, according to the newspapers, a “war for talent”. (Google yields 220,000,000 results in 0.23 seconds on that search phrase.) North American companies are competing for a shrinking pool of candidates and some are opting to promote their employee experience as superior. Many sources suggest that companies that offer and support such programs as diversity, mentoring and flexible options may succeed over those with more traditional work environments and approaches. Google itself is a success story in this regard.

However, a company’s first concern is not the long-term career aspirations of the individual but the company’s goals as delivered through projects, tasks and subject matter expertise. If the goals of both match, it is a bonus.

According to the US Department of Labor, the average worker changes careers three to five times. As well, a 2008 study by the US Department of Labor cites a person will change jobs every 4.1 years, making it seven to ten jobs across the multiple careers.

A company is not interested in supporting the individual through all those changes. A direct manager, even with genuine concern for supporting a worker to a promotion or new assignment, is first and foremost occupied with getting the current job or assignment done to the best of the employee’s abilities.

This can create uncertainty of where the mentoring relationship fits/does not fit in the workplace. Unfortunately, often the manager is asked to look at long-term “mentoring” – that is in direct opposition to the manager’s immediate performance needs.

Like the earlier word list, many words are used interchangeably without stopping to ascertain their meaning for any engaged party. (When you say “vanilla” do you mean “plain” or do you mean “the standard” or “Madagascar” or…)

Because both “mentoring” and “coaching” are common words we are used to hearing, managers and/or mentors need to reaffirm their use and definition when acting as either a manager or mentor.

This requires making another set of distinctions: How do you know if you need coaching or mentoring? What’s the difference?

First question to ask – are you looking for coaching on your current job/challenge or are you looking for mentoring on your ongoing development or career plan?

Mentoring is more about long-term solutions and expanded education. Coaching is often about an immediate issue that can be a specific/one-time question.

Mentoring is also about trust – you will stray into grey zones all the time as your relationship develops. An open conversation, while respecting boundaries of those not present, assumes a high level of disclosure. (It is like being under NDA every time someone says “of course this stays in this room”.)

Both a manager and mentor will create dialogue, encourage you and correct you. However, while both your manager at work and your mentor "coach" you - there are some differences in the approach.

Your manager will clarify your existing job & accountabilities for you.
Your mentor will explore broad career options.

Your manager will create objectives for your current assignments.
Your mentor will encourage self-reflection and learning goals.

Your manager will teach with a desire to have good performance on their team and for their projects.
Your mentor will ask questions and share personal anecdotes around perceived barriers, challenges and fears with only your development in mind.

Your manager will support personal & career development – usually inside your organization.
Your mentor will support personal & career development for anywhere you choose.
Your manager will hold you accountable for following direction and achieving your objectives.
Your mentor will cheer you on, while pointing out when you are not being accountable to yourself.

Your manager will assign actions.
Your mentor will suggest actions.

Your manager will listen and escalate issues as they impact the team or project.
Your mentor will listen and keep information as confidential.

Your relationship with your manager is fundamentally one of obligation, driven by your manager.
Your relationship with your mentor is fundamentally one of choice, driven by you.

Manager - coaching
Mentor - coaching
Clarify your existing job & accountabilities for you
Explore broad career options
Create objectives for your current assignments
Encourage self-reflection and goals
Teach to have good performance on their team and for their projects
Ask questions around perceived barriers with only your development in mind
Support personal & career development – usually inside your organization
Support personal & career development for anywhere you choose
Hold you accountable for following direction and achieving your objectives
Cheer you on, while pointing out when you are not being accountable to yourself
Assign actions
Suggest actions
Listen and escalate issues as they impact the team or project
Listen and keep information as confidential
Fundamentally one of obligation, driven by your manager
Fundamentally one of choice, driven by you

Most importantly, mentoring is not coaching for an immediate job issue. Mentoring doesn’t require lists of skills around which the workplace would like us to better ourselves. We are coached on workplace values by a manager. Career and personal self within that career is where a mentor comes in.

Yes, the workplace should get involved. The more who espouse personal growth and insight, the better. But it is not mandatory and no manager or company owns our careers; we do. No company owes us development; it is ours to seek for ourselves. We owe the companies the best of our current skill set. Both the individual and the company should be vested in growing the skills and leadership. It is up to the individual to set their path and hold themselves accountable for long-term growth.

Now the heart of both successful mentoring and excellent coaching is in the relationship. (I add the caveat that while you do not have to like your manager, you should like your mentor.)

Rodger Harding defined an “engaged mentor” as someone who will:

• Provide the mentee with opportunities, not specific outcomes
• Assist in the exploration of options, not necessarily solutions (a mentor does not teach)
• Explore and understand different perspectives strengths/weaknesses
• Respect and preserve unique mentee thinking, competencies and impact
• Accept value and priority differences (the ability to transcend personal or projected goals) as well as changing realities as the relationship progresses
• Work with uncertainty – mentors will not care more about outcomes than their mentees
• Understand that mentorship oftentimes only bears fruit in years to come – when the mentee is ready and able to fully absorb the mentor contribution

I believe mentoring is:
·        Building a community for others
·        Relationship-based
·        Collaborative
·        Fluid and inclusive

Like dating, mentoring relationships don't always work out.

Sometimes the chemistry just isn't there; the two people involved just don't "get" each other. Perhaps one party doesn't respect the other. Maybe things never get past that "awkward" phase. Maybe neither can agree on a definition of "success" or what actions are required to get there. Maybe someone is just looking to show up while the other expects a big effort.

That's okay.

You can learn something from a bad relationship and/or you can "break up" and find one that does work. We're human. This isn't a mechanical process. It requires trust and vulnerability.

Besides, you never know when something you said /offered /did will come around. Sometimes people just aren't ready to hear what you have to say but will find it valuable months later.

Be true to yourself. Be ready to do some work (on either side of the relationship). Be prepared to date a little until the right fit comes around.

There is another key difference in mentoring vs. coaching. A mentor should not be someone who is a direct or indirect reporting line with the mentoree. If there is a potential line, the issue of current performance and/or promotion can cross the line with the NDA/trust atmosphere one builds with a mentor. One must share fears and ideas but it becomes difficult if the mentor wears two hats and must chime in on a year-end bonus or promotion discussion. My own team knows my support for their individual career aspirations, as genuine and loud as it may be, must always come second to us delivering this quarter’s objectives.

Going outside your own company for a mentor can be a great advantage.
* There is no danger of having someone influence your career (promotions, raises evaluations, etc.) without your knowledge. Power should not be given lightly.
* You gain valuable exposure to how things work elsewhere
* It keeps everyone from being 'too close' to the problem/issue/question, so you gain fresh perspectives
* It offers different and sometimes broader resources and career exposure.

The downside is they might not see the nuances with which you are struggling. It does put more of an onus on you to be a better communicator in the relationship.
The blurred line perceived between the mentor and the day-to-day manager will not disappear overnight.

The words mentoring and coaching will remain for the foreseeable future:
1 - interchangeable
2 - undefined
3 - thrust upon the individual who enters a potential mentoring opportunity because they feel they must or that it’s politically savvy to do so

Mentoring and coaching are not the same effort by the same party. If we can start spreading the word then mentoring can fit into a work environment if definitions are established and reporting lines are not grey zones.

Education for the organizations, managers and mentors, is required for both coaching and mentoring to exist in the workplace.
Mentoring, coaching and keeping the two distinct means work for all parties. It will take time and effort. Mentoring is about the big picture, not coaching for the immediate job held. Mentoring doesn't even have to be about a job but a mindset – an exploration of a craft – a transition or an emergence. Being mentored includes taking accountability for one’s own career; it is for one’s own good. Being coached includes surrendering temporary accountability; it is primarily for the company’s good.

Coaching is about success today. Mentoring is about a relationship, choices and success tomorrow.

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