Mentoring vs. Coaching: What’s the difference?

Petrin book

This week’s guest is Rene Petrin. Rene is the author of the book called Mentoring: A Business Strategy That Works, which is available on Amazon and He has spent numerous years in human resources discovering that most companies were not doing an adequate job developing their number one asset, which of course are their employees.

Rene Petrin had the mission to create an organization devoted solely to teaching business how to mentor talent. Today he is a leader in the mentoring field to learn how he has developed unique mentoring tools that emphasize the importance of interpersonal dynamics while creating standards of excellence, a high level of integrity and keeping the promise of mentoring.

Rene’s entrepreneurial spirit combined with this keen insight into human behavior led Rene to found the Management Mentors Organization in 1989. The philosophy really was simple, it was to show companies how structured mentoring programs are the most powerful and the most effective strategy for professional development within an organization.

With more than 12 years of experience as a VP of Human Resources, in both health care and sales; a lot of people wouldn’t see some of the similarities in healthcare and sales and human resources, obviously, is the glue. Because you have Human Resources in every organization across every industry—it’s just a natural part of how we grow corporations. Well Rene has experience managing all areas of Human Resources, so it’s really across industries that he has learned how to do this. But he always maintained a special interest in how employees develop. Through his concentration in this field, he began to realize the power of mentoring in organizations and how it increased and that it increased his focus on the areas as well.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: One of the things that I know people are interested in hearing about if they are not themselves well-read in the area of mentoring and coaching, how do you define mentoring and was this in fact one of the many motivations behind writing your book?

Rene Petrin: Well, mentoring is a term that everybody understands but they don’t understand in the same way. I see mentoring as a transformational relationship whereby a mentor facilitates the professional and personal development of a mentee. The key work there is facilitates. So what mentors do is they assist someone on the journey to development, they don’t do it to them, they don’t do it for them, they do it with them. That to me is really the kernel of mentoring, which is why a lot of people want to have a mentor relationship because it is transformational.

Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the main topics from the emotional intelligence world is we talk about organizational awareness, how do you get ahead in the organization, who do you befriend, how do you really bring about change. So that sounds like a big topic in mentoring.

Rene Petrin: It is. The other thing is mentees tend to look at mentoring initially as a situation where my mentor is going to get me where I need to go and help me with my promotion and so forth and so on. That is really not what mentoring is about. It’s about developing the person, which is much broader. That is what coaching is for, to some extent, to have that kind of direct connection. People bring that up all of the time. You really have to educate people on how to use this relationship properly.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Right. One of the questions I have is it typically with a younger employee and an older employee as the mentor or are we now finding some differences?

Rene Petrin: There certainly are differences, but I think that one of the things that I think is being done probably not very well, is the idea of reverse mentoring. Which is a younger person mentoring an older person. The problem with that model, from my perspective, is that there isn’t the emotional maturity on the part of the other person to really relate to the older person. So, I’m not sure that’s really mentoring.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I think we are getting some clouded issues here so I want to make sure that we don’t confuse our audience too much. First of all, if you have a younger person coming to an older person to help coach or mentor them in an area, it’s likely to be one of three things.

  1. Technology or the use of technology because we all know that younger people do have a higher level of comfort with technology in most instances.
  2. Integration. If an older person is coming into the organization and a younger person happen to reside within the organization who knows how the organization works, it makes sense to help integrate that older person through the younger person because the younger person has more experience.
  3. The aspect of networking and getting them incorporated into all networks of the organization so that the older person doesn’t come in and get immediately slotted into the older levels and the younger person can actually help them create a broader generational appeal.

I want to make sure that we don’t pigeon hole these ideas to quickly and I also want to make sure that we don’t confuse our audience with the words coaching and mentoring because they are distinguishable just as a therapist is distinguishable from a coach or a mentor. So, I want to make sure that as we go forward that we are really careful about how we operate in those realms of influence. As we go through the conversation, Rene I’d love your counsel on how to do that.

Rene Petrin: I think the key is one of the ways to making it a clear distinction is maybe talk more about some of the components of the mentoring program.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Good, so why don’t we jump right in there.

Rene Petrin: I think that when an organization is thinking of doing mentoring, it’s really important to get a senior champion. Sometimes what happens in mentoring is; somebody decides we should do it and then it doesn’t get the support it needs in terms of participation or accountability.

That’s the first thing one needs to do. I think that the other thing is the organization needs to figure out why they are doing this. In mentoring, there are basically three reasons why people do formal mentoring and it’s related to:

  1. Retention. They obviously invested a lot to get people into the organization so retaining them as long as possible is critical.
  2. Succession planning: to prepare for the future. That is a component that helps to develop that individual for future positions.
  3. Diversity which is to really to promote minorities within the organization to achieve success  that had been barred to them for whatever reason.

In fact, a study done by the American Sociological Association indicated that mentoring is one of the top reasons why diversity succeeds in an organization.

So, those are the three reasons why people do mentoring. Knowing that they have a strategic objective, that they have to figure out what are the competencies, what are the things that the people are going to learn during the mentoring relationship? Are they going to learn leadership skills, supervising skills, communication skills, etc. Companies use competencies which they have developed as a basis for the focus of the mentoring relationship.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So an organization then, like Cathy and I see—sometimes we bring this to organizations to help them decide what are the key competencies and the leadership competencies. Then you are saying that becomes a subject matter in skill enhancement of the mentoring relationship—these specific competencies.

Rene Petrin: Exactly. That way the pair know what they are supposed to work on. What generally happens is you may have to listen to 10-15 competencies and the mentor will choose ones that they think are most important, maybe with the input of the manager, and the mentor has expertise in different areas and that is how it gets done.

That’s the focus, the really important point is to have a focus. Then it’s a matter of training people, and then after that making sure that the Program manager is holding people accountable so that the pair are meeting and having a positive experience.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So that’s the piece I think that probably gets left undone, at least in organizations that I’ve been in, is they want to do mentoring, they start it off, but there isn’t a program manager that constantly is holding the accountability and maybe some of the support and resources.

Rene Petrin: Yep. The program manager will come up with guidelines to give people what to do. So even though I’m put together, where are we going to get together, how often are we going to get together. The golden standard in the industry for mentoring is to meet every other week for about an hour to an hour and on half and that’s probably what 98% of the people have in the mentoring programs.

Some people have once a month, which is doable, but it’s pushing the envelope a little bit. It’s within those ranges that people have to have some guidelines to how often it’s supposed to be and for how long. It may be for an hour an hour and ½; so there is a standard that people can be measured against for them to say that this is working or it’s not working.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So when you train people to engage in a mentoring relationship successfully, what does that look like?

Rene Petrin: Basically we use a lot of exercises to be able to engage them on discussing issues about mentoring. So, for example: “what are your expectations of your partner in the relationship? What do you think your partners expectations are of you in the relationship?” They both do that and then they discuss what that is like. In doing that they are beginning to define and create their relationship.

Sometimes people ask, what do you do with mentoring training. I say, we don’t focus on communication until we focus on understanding mentoring, which is understanding the dynamics of the relationship and how to create one successfully. It means really defining and clarifying and empowering.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’m glad to hear about the expectations because I think that’s so important an ingredient in any relationship. It’s usually one of these under-expressed topics. So that’s one of the things when they first start off, that they are really talking about their expectations of each other.

Rene Petrin: Yes, because they are now beginning to define their relationship together and we are helping them do that obviously through the process, but the key is, that’s the first step. Let’s see what we are. What you’ll find out is people say things like, I thought you were supposed to do this, no, no, I’m going to do this and then they start discussing what makes sense, and then we tell them what they should be thinking about.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Now you have a process within both your book and at your website around feedback. Can you talk around the subject of mentoring pairs and how you believe the feedback should work. We also want to talk about what some of the challenges are of starting a mentoring program, and what do mentors and mentees get out of that?

Rene Petrin: Well, in terms of the challenges of starting a mentoring program, it’s really the case of do you do it yourself or do you go out and get a consultant. Do you do it quickly or do you take the time to go through it. Again, creating a structure, as we talked about before; making sure you are clear about the goals, you train people, you prepare them properly and you follow up.

For mentors and mentees; both parties benefit a great deal from the experience. Mentee is pretty clear, obviously I’m getting the wisdom and knowledge of the mentor, and having the support and all that kind of stuff. For mentors, what is interesting is what you hear from mentors often is that they’ll say, I probably got more than they did out of it, because what they are gaining out of that is an ally in the organization, and increase in network, they are getting feedback about themselves. They way to give feedback to each other is really important.

One of the things that we recommend is that we have a mentoring agreement that we use in our process. You sit down and you negotiate with each other how you are going to give each other feedback. So, for example, if I work with you Cathy, I would say to you, Cathy, how would you like me to give you feedback when this thing is not working? You might say, well, Rene I’m the kind of person that just wants to hear right away, just tell me. Okay, that’s what I’ll do. Or you might be somebody who says, you know, I don’t like to be surprised, so what I prefer you do is give me a call first, tell me what the issue is, I’ll ask some questions, and then I’ll think about it so I’m prepared to talk about it when we get together again. Something as simple as that gives people permissions to give each other feedback, and that is really, really important.

The other thing that I recommend is that at the end of meeting, you give each other feedback on how that meeting went that day. Did we accomplish what we wanted to do today? Is there anything missing? Did I give you what you needed? What would you have liked to have more of? That kind of stuff, if it’s done on a regular basis it becomes second nature to the pair.

Learn more about the differences between coaching and mentoring and if staring a mentoring program in your organization is for you. Listen to the complete recording of our interview above.

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