Often when I’m coaching managers they talk about their role as both mentor and coach within their team or department.  Yet, how they describe their approach in sharing their knowledge and experience, often leaves me a little unsure as to how clear they really are about these two different roles.  And also leaves me unsure if they know when is the best time for them to coach, and when would be better for them to be a mentor.

So, to help clarify, here are some basic guidelines on the differences of when to train, when to mentor and when to coach.


The CIPD recognise that the majority of training follows the 70:20:10 model, whereby 70% of training happens as ‘on the job training’, 20% in the form of ‘observational training’ such as shadowing, and only 10% of training as formal class or online training with a tutor.

Training that takes place in-situ, supported by colleagues and providing real-time scenarios is a great way to impart knowledge, experience and train new staff members, or even remind colleagues of the approved approach or process.

When to Train can be based on a myriad of things including:

  • Self-motivation to learn and progress careers
  • Lack of skill, knowledge or experience in a particular work aspect
  • To support new employees in their role
  • When someone is continuously repeating the same mistakes
  • An opportunity to ‘step-up’ and stretch into a future role.

Training can last minutes or last days, and for most people is a career-long commitment to continuous professional development.  These days, training can be delivered using TedTalks, podcasts, through E-Learning modules or via relevant literature – offering even wider and more flexible learning opportunities.


Mentoring brings together an experienced business person or expert in their field (mentor), with someone with less experience (mentee) who can benefit from the mentor’s real-life work experience, knowledge, network as well as life experience to help further their career.  What makes mentoring relationships impactful is having a clear focus and outcome for professional development, which the mentor can guide, support and encourage the mentee with.

Research tells us that mentees are promoted 5 times more often than those without a mentor. And there are also benefits for the mentors, as they are 6 times more likely to be promoted.

Mentoring relationships can last for months and even years and are often on a more formal basis, with regular meetings set up, and agreed milestones or goals to measure against.  To be a mentor, there can often be an element of training as they need to incorporate some the foundational skills of a coach.

When to Mentor can include some of these elements:

  • Mentees desire for career progression or professional development
  • Mentors need to delegate and let go of control of projects or teams
  • An organisation’s approach to cascading knowledge from senior to junior employees
  • An organisation’s approach for continuous professional development for both mentor and mentee
  • To support skills or knowledge gap.


Within a business environment, coaching can be formal with time set aside to have a coaching conversation that provides time and a safe space for a member of staff to share their thoughts, feelings, challenges and aspirations.   Opportunities such as one-to-one reviews, project feedback, and even more challenging conversations, are probably readily recognised by managers as being typical coaching moments. Equally, coaching can take the form of an informal approach – those kitchen coaching moments – where someone is just looking for 5 minutes of your time, which can easily turn into 5 minutes of informal coffee-cup coaching.

Unlike training or mentoring, which can often be based on projects, people, or patterns, coaching can include more personal and introspective conversations such as confidence issues, fears, aspirations, imposter syndrome, stress or anxiety as well as family challenges.  Managers need to be confident as to the boundaries of their role as a coaching manager and know how best to signpost for additional support.  With many organisations now having internal Mental First Aiders and access to employee assistance schemes, signposting has become easier.

Both mentoring and coaching use similar foundational skills: active listening, powerful and open questions, feedback, reframing, reflection, goal setting, and accountability.  However, coaching aims to avoid advice-giving, something which is expected of a mentor.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) tells us that coaching improves confidence by 80%, improved relationships by 73% and improved communication by 72% and 86% of companies recouped their investment in coaching and more.

When to Coach can include some of these elements:

  • A deeper dive into both the logical and emotional challenges someone is facing
  • When someone has a dilemma, a decision to make and is looking for a sounding board
  • The need for a confidential space to ‘think out loud’
  • An opportunity to come up with their own solutions, action plans, and targets, knowing that you will be held accountable for them
  • Opportunity to experiment and to learn from both successes and failures.

So now that you know the difference – what do you do? 

Well for most managers, the reality is that you’ll find yourself moving along this imaginary sliding scale with coaching at one end, training at the other end, and mentoring in the middle.  During a conversation, you may need to tell someone what to do as well as ask them, how would they go about it.  Even within a more coach-like conversation, there may be a need for a mentoring moment, where you share your wisdom, insight, or key contact in service of the person moving forward.

The awareness most managers don’t always have is realising that they are often stuck in one area of the sliding scale – their default place of telling rather than asking.  If you ask yourself, ‘where are most comfortable on the scale?’, ‘where do you tend to inhabit?’, or ‘where you believe you should be?’ you may notice a pattern of behaviour that is based on your habit, rather than the needs of the conversation.

As with most coach approaches, the first step is to notice where you are on the sliding scale, make a decision to make a change to this pattern, and consciously choose to move closer to the coaching end of the scale.

If you’d like to experience coaching first hand, then get in touch and arrange a free coaching session with us today.