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Differences between coaching, mentoring and consulting

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Clients often struggle to understand the differences between coaching, mentoring and consulting. Knowing, identifying and explaining them is a core competence of accredited members of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).

Recognising the differences will help you choose the appropriate business support, and make sure you receive value from the different types of services.

Here is an overview of the three types of support.

Having practiced all three roles in my career, I regularly notice clients' confusion in the level of service. It lies mainly around focus, questioning style and deliverables so I will attempt to clarify each one of these areas.

What coaching is, and is not?

Top coaching associations agree on defining coaching and mentoring as "activities within the area of professional and personal development with focus on individuals and teams and relying on the client’s own resources to help them to see and test alternative ways for improvement of competence, decision making and enhancement of quality of life."

For instance, my role as a business innovation coach for Horizon Europe EIC Accelerator is to "challenge your assumptions and let you consider new options in a learning-and-solving manner".

Similar to a sports coach who motivates you to change your lifestyle and to start exercising, business coaches push you and your team to achieve your dream goal and encourage you to adopt a new behavior and routine. We might even "high five" together!

What will you "teach" us?

When discussing an engagement, it's usually the question asked. Yet most clients have done management or marketing training, worked year in small and large corporates, read books, watched best practice videos and are acclaimed scientists.

What clients find hard is not so much the knowledge but the application of the knowledge. This might include how to design a go-to-market strategy, identify market segments, build a quantified value proposition or a business case, set OKRs quarterly or practice Account Based Marketing (ABM).

If one has no knowledge in a specific area, I deliver micro-learning and/or propose external training, books, podcasts, videos and trade articles to understand a range of methodologies, discover possible solutions and best practices in between coaching sessions. At which time, I specify when the training starts and the coaching stops. In other cases, where there is potential with skills, I help you leverage what you know and build capacity within the team.

Other clients struggle to mobilise their team to achieve their goal. Here, through listening, questioning and practicing activities, a business coach will consequently seek a shift in team culture, team performance, team alignment or more. In fact, an organisation coach will also seek systemic change two (2) where the system may include your organisation, its workforce, the supply chain, consumers, investors, staff, city, and society at large. For example, technical consultants in the water sector (see case study) wanted to improve customer experience across the teams of employees, contractors and the alliances using a new digital solution.

What will the business coach deliver?

When this introductory client question is associated with deliverables, it is a perfect hint for a coach or a mentor to reframe the conversation around expectations. With coaching, the bulk of the work will always lie with the client. So if you need resources to prepare a strategy paper or a market report then you should consider hiring a business consultant.

This said, coaches do measure impact delivered, value and ROI and their methodology and assessment tool depend on their practice type e.g. executive coaching, team coaching, life coaching, etc.

As you saw, there are some substantial differences between the three types of business coaching, mentoring and consulting services and having sufficient insight is critical when choosing the best suited intervention for your needs or to mix and match as required.

Sources: Kent State University, ICF, EMCC.

All rights reserved, 2021. Last edited 17 June 2022.

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