Figure It Out: Coaching vs Mentoring

As EQUES® Law Group seeks to grow and develop it has been on my heart and mind for many years to develop a superb onboarding system. As HR director with a teaching background, I have never been satisfied with showing people a few things on our system and then telling them “figure it out”- in other words, i’d prefer to coach them through it.
Unfortunately, because of the lack of time or system in place, this has been the case with many of our onboarding situations. We know it doesn’t work and we know that it sets people up for failure so why do we do it? A couple reasons.

  1. We have never taken the time to walk through each step of what we do in order to share it.
  2. We don’t have a coaching mentality. And this is where I want to focus today.


We have been exploring the word “mentoring” but for the purposes of this article, I would like the word “Coaching” instead. Mentoring implies one person, probably someone who has been doing the job for many years and is overseeing every aspect of a person’s job. But coaching has another view for me. If you look at a coach or a teacher they go through a process of working with a student or team.

  1. They instruct, or they show you how to do it.
  2. They give you exercises to give you practice on how to do it.
  3. They check in, usually by giving an assessment or in a team situation they would play the game.
  4. They review…what did they not do right?, What do they not know?, and the teacher or coach figures out a different way of communicating the information so they learn the skill or the knowledge.
  5. They start over


So, what does this imply? It means that as employers we have the challenge of making sure our new employees know what they need to do and how to do it according to our company and its culture but it also means that we can be intentional in how we onboard our employees. It also means that every person in the organization can be empowered to be a coach. Meaning that no singular employee has to be responsible for bringing on new employees. But that also means that a system must be put into place. I am encouraged by this realization but it is also a daunting task that is essential to the growth of an organization. Turnover can be the most expensive aspect of the company and as leaders in our organization (everyone is a leader) we must be willing to accept responsibility for the success or failures of our team members. Doing it right will reduce turn over, it will empower people, it will give people joy to work for us and it will encourage new employees than to become coaches for other new employees reducing the burden of one singular person to raise people up.

How do we start? When given the opportunity to coach an individual we should start with observation. Whether this is the new employee observing how you do it or reading how someone else has done it, they need the opportunity to observe. As a coach, this does not mean they are going to “get it” the first time they watch you or read something. Most people learn by repetition. When I was a former teacher I don’t know how many times I would repeat the same words over and over again day after day. Just because they were teens does not mean anything. My college professors would do the same thing, repeating the same information day after day. As coaches in our professions, we should expect that repetition will be part of our responsibility.

Second, have your employee do it. They will probably fail the first time and this is ok. It is our job as coaches to gently with patience either show them again or allow them time to take notes or have them walk through it again on their own, or simply write back a critique on how to improve.

Third, give them a chance to study. Sometimes they will just need the opportunity to research, push buttons and figure out what doesn’t work. Some of our greatest teachers is figuring out what doesn’t work for us.

Forth, check in with them. Have them walk you through what they know. If they can re-teach it back to you then they have it. If not, then try to figure out the holes and give instruction.

Fifth, start over again. Each time increasing their knowledge base.

I estimate for any new employee depending on the complexity of the job of 3 months to a year to learn the basics of the job. This is why turnover is so expensive.

Using the above and purpose to not being in a hurry are the secrets to being a great teacher/coach. My hope for you is that this will be a useful tool in taking the mystery out of mentoring/teaching/coaching and that the morale of your company will increase.


Jaime White

Human Resource Manager

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