Imagine you’re a manager who actively works on developing your staff. You definitely need people who solve, rather than create, problems and you want to help them excel. But are you using the right tools?
Do you really understand the difference between coaching, counselling and mentoring? Let’s make things clearer.
Coaching can help all your staff. When you coach employees, you improve their ability to do their current job and increase their potential to do more in future. But be aware that you need those staff to have the right motivation before you start.
The ideal coachees are people who don’t have to be forced to improve. They genuinely want to better themselves, to be all that they can be. You need to confirm the presence of this kind of motivation first, before you take action. And they won’t be the only ones who benefit from it. In doing so, you’ll become a better manager yourself.
A coach, by definition, helps people grow and improve their performance, by asking questions and facilitating them to find a way to improve.
You can be both a manager and a coach to an individual, but be aware that these are two distinct roles.
When you are operating with your managerial hat on, you have the organisation’s interests at heart. Your primary role is directing performance and ensuring that the individual’s efforts are aligned with the objectives of the organisation. As a manager, you are responsible for holding people accountable for meeting their performance targets and for measuring the level of performance that was achieved, as well as for the productivity of your organisation.
As a coach, your responsibility is directed more towards the individual and to providing insight that will enable that person to develop.
In many respects, the coaching role is like holding up a mirror, so that the person can more clearly see how he/she is affecting others. You are fostering their self-insight and helping that person grow through introspection and feedback from others.
While these two roles are very different, a good manager should be effective at both. The power of being a manager who coaches comes from an ability to see the difference in the roles yet also see them as equally important.
Counselling, on the other hand, has some elements of coaching, but it is designed primarily to address problem performers: people whose bad habits have become chronic.
Taking care of people problems when they arise may cost you some of your time, maybe 10% of it. If you don’t deal with those problems, however, you may find yourself spending much more of your time trying to put out the fires. You may have employees whose work is consistently substandard, who regularly miss deadlines, who are uncooperative, insubordinate, or frequently absent or late. Chronic complainers also fall into this category.
If the situation warrants counselling, your first step will be to bring the problem to the employee’s attention. Often this can be done with a simple, spontaneous comment, such as, “George, it feels like something isn’t going well lately, am I right?” A counselling service is often promoted and managed by the HR department, because of the sensitivity of the possible issues that can emerge.
Typically, counselling begins with a series of one-to-one meetings with the problem employee. These interviews are the primary tool of counselling.
While questioning is the main tool, listening and rephrasing skills are what you need to correctly conduct a counselling session.
With people who are performing below average, counselling is the appropriate choice. By definition, counselling is a supportive process to define and correct personal problems or skills that affect performance. The counsellor rectifies behaviours and provides direction and discipline, for as long as necessary.
Mentoring is reserved for your most talented employees. If their company helps them advance, they will become assets now and allies in the future. If ignored, they’ll find someone else, maybe a competitor, who they feel appreciates their talents.
Mentoring is usually the best approach for your above-average performers, those who are excelling. The mentor, by definition, is an individual with advanced experience and knowledge who is committed to giving support and career / job advice to a less experienced person. This is the best tool for your exceptional employees, the people who show promise but need help to become top players.
While a coach doesn’t take part in deciding on actions to be taken, by contrast a mentor does provide suggestions and advice.
As a mentor, your responsibilities are to represent the company’s values, give open and encouraging advice, offer instruction about your company’s political structure, indicate decision makers who can help your mentee, and provide contacts and resources.
However, you can’t mentor your own staff. One of the most important things about effective mentoring is the complete absence of a direct working relationship between mentor and mentee. Therefore a mentor is usually a senior manager from a completely different department than the mentee.
This is why mentoring is often proposed by the HR department as part of a specific development program, rather than something which starts from a line manager.