The subject of mentoring and coaching employees has widely come under discussion since SAQA (The South African Qualifications Authority) published standards for these developmental practices, and strongly motivated the implementation of this initiative in the workplace. The DoL (Department of Labour) who are also involved in workplace training and development support this particular move. Why is employee mentoring and coaching coming under the limelight at this time?

Academia and business have been locking horns on this subject for years. Competence is accomplished through following a natural process. Experts on the cognitive process have long since identified the three important stages of applied learning, which is also referred to as workplace directed learning. This learning process leads towards long-term competence. The simple definition of competence is, when an individual has reached a stage of being adequately capable of performing a task under certain circumstances within a particular environment. Employee mentoring and coaching is a facet of this process.

Business is hard pressed to put its bottom line first. Long learning processes with disruptive training interventions in between work is not a winning formula for success. It’s a strange paradox indeed. For people to perform at their optimal level a natural structured process of learning needs to be followed. However, business needs as much time and costs invested towards the output and as little time and monies dedicated to getting employees to a level where they can consistently perform at required levels. This thinking leads towards employee mentoring and coaching being undermined because it isn’t seen as directly contributing to the bottom line.

Now, where exactly should the employee mentoring and coaching process fit into the workplace? The three main stages of structured learning are: the theoretical and practical training intervention. This is where all aspects of the work that needs to be done are presented to the candidate. This could be as a facilitated programme, or practical workshop depending on the skill to be learnt. The second stage is, on the job coaching. Peer to peer coaching brings the best results in this stage. The candidate in training gets introduced into the actual work environment in this stage. The term environment includes all aspects of the work, such as the normal hours of work, uniform if it applies and so forth. The first part of the stage should see the candidate `shadow’ their coach without any responsibilities, accept to observe and link the facilitated or workshop learning to the real process. The second part should be where the candidate gets to perform the tasks on their own under direct supervision of the coach. The coach should be relieved of their normal work or performance targets for this part.

The final stage should be mentoring. This is in fact an ongoing process which should follow regular evaluation. Mentoring should centre on addressing the weak points identified by the assessment process. Mastery is reached through teaching so the candidate’s goal should be to reach a level of understanding and competence such that they are able to continue the process of employee mentoring and coaching with another candidate in training.