by Larry K. Greenwalt, CPA, Managing Partner
What is the difference between business mentoring and coaching? There can be some confusion between the two especially since often what a mentor does is coach.
A mentor is generally someone who has the industry-specific expertise. It is someone that the mentee admires in their profession for their knowledge and ability to be successful in difficult business situations. Mentors are people who have done the work that the mentees are doing, so they have the experience and insight that will hopefully help the mentees be successful in their career. Mentors possess the cultural savy that the mentees seek.
A mentor provides career and workplace guidance and can help with career opportunities. They act as your advisor, share suggestions and guidance on development opportunities, career paths, and leadership strategies. A mentor relationship may be formal or informal. One key aspect of a successful mentor relationship is mutual respect. Your mentor is someone who takes your interest to heart and is committed to helping you achieve your goals and aspirations. But remember, this is your plan. You are accountable for your goals, dreams and aspirations, not your mentor.
The staff in your organization can usually be “mentored” by a more senior person within your organization, but it is best that the mentor be someone other than the staffer’s supervisor. In our Firm, the first six months an “orientation coach” is assigned-someone who was at the employees level within the last 18 months. After that, we assign a mentor, and give the mentee and the mentor the opportunity to periodically assess how the mentoring relationship is working, and whether a change is desired. If you have been around as long as I have, you probably already recognized that often the best mentoring relationships formed naturally. Unfortunately most people don’t seek out these relationships, and we have learned that we have to help “facilitate” them. The CEO and perhaps certain other top executives in the organization, need to look outside the organization to find a suitable mentor. While there are people who make a living as coaches, it is often possible that you already know and respect someone outside your organization who could add value to you as a mentor.
In our firm, we want to do everything we can to help our staff succeed. We provide timely performance reviews, we annually have confidential upward evaluations performed on everyone, including our partners. We set goals based upon our Career Development Pyramid and proactively customize training programs to help our people succeed. It is, however, our mentoring program that keeps us engaged with our staff and makes the big difference, because we use mentoring to address all of the concerns that the mentee may have — i.e. dealing with a difficult situation, evaluating changing departments, setting and meeting personal development goals, etc. In order to enhance the success of the mentoring program, we have developed a “best practice” guideline for the mentor and the mentee, and we offer periodic training to our mentors.
We ask our seniors, managers and partners to look for opportunities to “coach” our people whenever they observe behavior that can be turned into a learning opportunity. When performance reviews are given (at a minimum semi-annually) our reviewers are trained to have a “coach” mentality-we want to focus on what was done well, and how individual performance could be improved, versus what deficiencies we observed. In other words, everyone in our Firm has the obligation to provide constructive feedback-something most employees crave. But this is different than mentoring, which requires the development of personal trust-something that occurs over a longer period of time.