Mentor or coach? Here’s why you need both

Lars Schmidt posted this intriguing question on LinkedIn this month, “Why don’t more companies have internal career coaches to support internal mobility?” A lively discussion followed.

This CXR take on the subject comes from a panel Gerry Crispin moderated last November at ERE with top notch early hires from Hilton, Walmart, and Avery Dennison. These articulate, passionate and fully engaged employees responded to several questions but their answers to two key queries were notable. 

What is one thing you’ve found since you joined your employer that has confirmed you made the right decision? Their answer: Mentor

What will your employer need to do to keep you two years from now? Their answer: Coach

Coach & Mentor: Two important retention tools

While often used interchangeably, the two roles aren’t the same. The person helping young [or experienced] professionals be more successful in the context of their job, company culture & values with the goal to developing and guiding them on their internal paths to build an internal career (as well as impact retention) is a Mentor.

Mentors are best able to provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and [be a] role model. As a trusted adviser they share a depth of experience about succeeding ‘here’ but aren’t necessarily professionally trained or expected to be knowledgeable about careers in general or able to counsel about what lies outside the company. They are committed [primarily] to satisfying the company’s needs. They are looking for best fit over time and growth with the resources available all within the context of the employer. 

Coaches would be less likely to have full knowledge of the cultural nuances within a given company that contribute to success. However, a trained professional Coach would (and should) support their client’s goals – even those that include developing skills and competencies less valuable to their employer to create a pathway that takes them elsewhere. The job in the context of a career and a career in the context of a life are not always in concert with an employers’ immediate workforce planning.

A quality coach would be an incredibly valuable asset for individuals facing a rapidly evolving world of change. Any employee losses would be less disruptive because they would be better planned and the performance and engagement of employees would likely be higher. Mentors and Coaches both have an important place in a 21st century HR toolbox. One without the other might be sending the wrong message.

Picture of Gerry Crispin

Gerry Crispin

Gerry co-authored eight books on the evolution of staffing and has written 100s of articles and whitepapers on similar topics during a career in Human Resources that spans more than 40 years from HR leadership positions at Johnson and Johnson; to boutique Executive Search firms; a Career Services Director at the University where he received his Engineering and 2 advanced degrees in Organizational/Industrial Behavior; and, GM of a major recruitment advertising firm even as he launched CareerXroads 25 years ago.

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