Coaching and mentoring employees

Despite what Hollywood might suggest, coaches don't always stand on the sideline shouting and blowing a whistle...there's a little more to it

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 07, 2024

Coaching in the business world is a much more subtle affair, encouraging talents to shine through nurturing and attention.

Having said that, shouting and whistles might work for some; successful coaching relationships are highly dependent on the personalities involved.

What is coaching?

Coaching at work is designed to help employees learn or enhance specific skills. It focuses on one individual over a defined period of time, helping them to develop effectively. It can be used to:

  • teach new skills in a focused way
  • improve performance in a particular area of work
  • build ‘soft’ skills like confidence, interpersonal relationships or planning

The objective of coaching at work is to help an employee make a distinct improvement in an agreed area. That improvement might be measurable through KPIs, or it might be a softer target. To achieve it, the employee receives support and constructive feedback from a designated coach.

Coaching is a powerful tool for employees, but your company will also reap the benefits of a specially trained workforce.

The great benefit of coaching is that you are likely to see quick, positive results as an outcome. This is because coaching is participative and people tend to learn and adopt new habits more easily when they are actively engaged in the learning process.

Is it the same as mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring can have similar outcomes. Both use practice and discussion as teaching methods, but the approaches are slightly different.

Coaching is always provided by a trained coach. In contrast, a mentoring relationship usually involves a senior individual passing on their knowledge and experience to help a more junior colleague.

Mentoring relationships often last longer than coaching arrangements, allowing for longer-term skills development.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring involves the use of the same models and skills of questioning, listening, clarifying and reframing associated with coaching.
Traditionally, mentoring in the workplace is usually where a more experienced colleague uses his or her greater knowledge and understanding of the workplace in order to support the development of a less experienced member of staff.

Deciding if coaching is the right approach

How do you know if coaching will work for your company? In truth, it can depend on the context and the people concerned.

Some employees will respond enthusiastically, especially to the right coach, and will come on leaps and bounds. For example, you could use a professional coach to:

  • bring out the full potential of a gifted employee
  • help technical experts improve interpersonal skills
  • train managers to handle conflict situations

Although coaching at work is normally very effective, it doesn’t suit every situation — or every personality. Other options to consider might be external training, mentoring or online learning.

Who the coach should be

Coaching is a skill in itself. This is one reason why you might consider bringing in external professionals to coach staff members. Or, you could organise for managers to become coaches in specific areas. Either way, a coach should always be trained.

It’s also worth noting that many organisations find coaching to be more effective when there is some professional distance between the coach and mentee. For example, a member of a technical team could be coached by a manager within HR, who has a different skill-set to offer.

Coaching the coaches

Because it can be demanding, coaches themselves can find coaching useful. Opportunities to learn about methodologies, reflect on experiences and talk to other coaches are invaluable ways to improve their skills.

Organising regular meetings between coaches (internal and external) can be the simplest way to achieve this. These meetings can also ensure that all coaches are using best practice and are kept up to date with organisational change.

Thea Watson

Chief International Growth and Marketing Officer

Share this article

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for UK business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

More on training for your employees

Risk Assessments

At work, it’s important to spot health & safety concerns where possible. You are legally required to assess the risks in the workplace so you can ...

female teaching a group of colleagues

What is the apprenticeship levy?

Recently our articles have looked into why apprenticeships are a good idea for your business. From employing an apprentice to also considering how ...

female in sunflower field

Employee engagement

Employee engagement is a reflection of the relationship between an organisation and its employees. An "engaged employee" would come across as ...

Two people having a one to one meeting

One To One Meetings

Your employees are the foundation of your business. Their happiness, engagement and productivity all affect your companys efficiency. Which is why ...

female teaching a group of colleagues

Training courses for your employees

To cope with that change, employees need to keep learning new skills and your organisation needs to keep developing. There’s a whole world of ...

female working at laptop

Employee self development

Employees have a unique insight into the requirements of their own role — and when they direct their own development, with support from line ...

female facing away with arms out to her sides

Employee competence

Odd question, you might think, but when put on the spot it is difficult to actually quantify how we measure success in the workplace. For any ...

What is career development?

Helping an employee to put together a personal career development plan means outlining what your business expects of your employee, and what your ...