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The difference between coaching, training and mentoring

Coaching, training and mentoring are all great developmental approaches. But they’re used for very different purposes. Read on to discover the difference between the three, so you can be in a better position to decide which one to use to manage your company’s performance problems.

If you want to nip skills-based performance issues in the bud, it’s important you understand the difference between coaching, mentoring and training. That’s because these approaches are very useful when used correctly.

Revealed: The difference between coaching, mentoring and training


Coaching is a set of management behaviours designed to improve employee performance. Essentially, it focuses on achieving a specific objective usually within a preferred time period.

This is a one-on-one intervention that helps employees to acquire practical skills on-the-job. It works best when an employee is willing to perform but doesn’t know how.

For example: James, a labelling machine operator at a large FMCG plant has a reputation for being a hard-worker who takes pride in his work. But he’s struggling to load the labels into the company’s new labelling machine correctly. His labels are coming out torn, skew and crumpled. And, as a result, his quality standards are dropping.

His supervisor, Mark, steps in to help James learn how to load the labeller quickly and efficiently. He shows him how to manoeuvre the lever on the labelling machine so the labels slide into the slot cleanly without moving sideways.

Mark lets James load the second batch of labels and notices Johannes’ broad smile when the labels slide out perfectly onto the cans without a hitch.


The basic purpose of training is the transfer of skills from those who have them to those who don’t. This happens when you’ve identified a gap in what your employee can do and what he should be able to do to perform his job effectively. Training courses are useful where larger numbers of employees all have similar learning requirements.

For example: Angel’s Logistics Co. has just taken delivery of their new logistics software and the entire Scheduling Department can’t wait to start using the cutting-edge satellite-linked programme.

Angel, the owner of the company, knows she’ll need to send her employees on the required software training so they can get taught by the software experts how to make optimal use of the software’s capabilities.

She calls the supplier to book a group training course for the schedulers, the Distribution Manager and herself.


  • Mentoring is an open and evolving agenda that deals with a wider range of issues over a longer period of time.
  • Mentors serve as role models for mentees to observe and emulate.
  • Mentoring works best when the objective is to work with a single employee over an extended period of time across a range of issues.

Here’s an example of how mentoring works: Griffin is a young, vibrant go-getter who’s worked in the Investment Division of a bank for about seven years.

His manager, Matthew, recognises that with the right kind of guidance and support over the next few years, Griffin could be one of the bank’s leaders of the future. He discusses his views about Griffin at the next Executive Committee Meeting. He’s happy when his recommendation receives unanimous support.

Matthew identifies one of the bank’s senior managers, George, as the ideal mentor for Griffin. George agrees to take Griffin under his wing for the next two years to ‘show him the ropes’ and create specific challenges for him to grow and to reach his true potential.

So when should you use coaching, mentoring and training?

It all depends on the area you believe your employee needs to improve on. But knowing the difference between the three will help ensure you chose the correct method.

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