Recent News

Coaching and Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

Lana J. Chandler
October 20, 2014

“One of my favorite Chinese proverbs that applies to coaching and mentoring is ‘Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will learn,’” shares Rebecca Doepke, president of Keeping It Awesome in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both coaching and mentoring are potent ways to involve employees in learning and development. So many people see mentoring and coaching as one in the same, yet this isn’t the case at all.

Mentoring and coaching share common characteristics and generally speaking, the end results for both are improved performance from the employee along with maximizing the employee’s full potential. “Both mentoring and coaching focus on goals, development, and results. Both hold the purpose of enhancing knowledge, skills, and ability so that the employee can increase their performance. And both are about change,” explains Doepke.

All mentors and coaches, says Doepke, need to possess these two key ingredients:

Defining the Two Roles

The roles of coach and mentor are very different.

For a coach, the task at hand is most important. The role of the coach is to help an individual learn specific skills that are needed to perform the job successfully within the agreed success parameters. “Coaching builds on a person’s strengths and puts the responsibility of one’s development into their own hands with the coach as their resource to help them through the change,” Doepke says. “The main focus of coaching is performance development and is geared toward developing individual performance. Coaching is an interactive process that helps individuals achieve higher levels of performance.”

“Mentoring is the journey and process of broadening a person’s values and perceptions; therefore, in mentoring the highlight is more on the individual or the person,” Doepke says. “Mentoring supports and encourages individuals to manage their own learning and development so that they can maximize their potential, career path, and longer term opportunities. And mentors do more than pass on knowledge, wisdom, and experience—they share professional and life lessons with the mentee.”

Different Focuses

“Effective coaches create a specific agenda that includes manageable action items and/or tasks. This involves enhancing current skills and techniques along with acquiring new skills and techniques,” says Doepke.

When you’re a coach, the focus is performance driven and the agenda is concise and clear. The task at hand is well defined and conversation around the task happens with a clear focus, expectations, and timelines. A good coach knows the individual’s strengths, encourages them to achieve greater results, and adapts their coaching style to each individual—the one-size-fits all approach never works.

“A mentor’s role is to guide the mentee on a journey. A journey that includes sharing advice, guiding, imparting wisdom, and sharing experiences that the mentee needs in order to further his or her career,” says Doepke. Mentoring provides the mentee with an opportunity to think about career options, possibilities, and progress. The mentor guides and helps the mentee find the right direction and helps them develop solutions. This means developing the individual not only for the current job at hand but also for the future.

“Because mentoring often deals with a broader backdrop and the focus is on the individual or the person, conversation can be more philosophical, more focused on attitude and behavior versus skills and/or tasks. When it comes to mentoring, the exploratory conversation transcends more broadly into the general work life and not just the task at hand,” says Doepke.

Every Branch Manager should Coach

Every organization needs their leaders to be good coaches. “Keep in mind that coaching is performance driven, meaning assisting an individual in developing their performance. The goal of a coach is to bring out the possibilities in an individual as it relates to the job at hand and their performance,” says Doepke.

As a coach, what you say and what you do should be driven by the intention to improve performance. Coaching involves a partnership between a coach and an individual who needs to accomplish specific development and performance goals. When you’re being coached, you are receiving specific direction from the coach on where your performance needs to go.

What about a Dual Role?

While it is possible for the same person to coach and mentor an employee, this is not a common scenario. “Keep in mind that most mentors are more senior in position and experience. Someone more junior or novice in their position/career wouldn’t have the experience to draw on for mentoring. At the same time, if a novice is a high performer, solid in their job, and consistently exceeds performance expectations—they might make a great coach,” says Doepke.

Another factor to consider when deciding if the same person can mentor and coach is their overall approach. Because coaches develop specific skills for the job, there is more structure to their approach, there’s an agenda, and there are clear goals and objectives that are set.

Mentoring is more discovery-based where the mentor is providing advice, sharing knowledge and experience on the journey. It is less structured than coaching. If you need a lot of structure and very specific “to do’s,” then mentoring will be a stretch for you. Furthermore, a mentor needs broader experience than the mentee in order to place and immerse the mentor into projects and work that will help with development.

“I once had a colleague say this to me,” shares Doepke. “Every other month I have lunch with my mentor who is a senior vice president of the company. I learn more about the industry and how the company really works at these lunches than I could have in years on the job.”

Mentoring involves a partnership between the mentor and the mentee who wants to learn from the mentor. Mentoring provides an environment where the mentee shares issues affecting his or her individual professional and personal success. The focus is on the person, their career, and support for their growth and development.

Is a coaching and/or mentoring program right for your organization? “Quite simply, both build a stronger organization. In addition to investing in your greatest asset—your people—it will help you attract top talent, recruit more experienced employees, and increase retention,” Doepke continues. “It can help position your company as an attractive and interesting place to work. And people who are coached and mentored are often more productive and less stressed.”

Rebecca Doepke is president of Keeping It Awesome and has spent the past 24 years in training and development. Contact her at1-262-893-6404 or e-mail Reprinted with permission from Branch Manager’s Letter. Contact publisher Lana J. Chandler at 304-343-0206 or

Plan to Fly High With Employee Retention Efforts

October 15, 2014

One in five (21%) of survey respondents plan to switch jobs this year or next, despite the fact that 59% of workers are generally satisfied, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

Dissatisfied employees are most likely to leave, citing salary concerns (66%) and a sense of not being valued (65%). Others consider departure due to lack of opportunity to advance (45%), unhappiness with work/life balance (39%), two year or less tenure with the employer (35%), high stress (39%), and unhappiness with the boss’s performance (37%).

A majority of workers (70%) say the best employee retention tool is increasing salaries, while 58% point to better benefits, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey.

Flexible scheduling, more recognition, and special perks like on-site fitness centers and catered lunches might also help boost retention.

HRhero sounds another employee retention alarm: “Management consulting firm Hay Group released research at the end of last year predicting that the global employee turnover rate would see a steep increase in 2014.”

Further, a cited survey indicates “a whopping 83% of the people surveyed said they planned to look for a new job during 2014” and “employers are smart to focus on retention.”

A few suggestions to keep workers around include:


The Wows and Woes of Cross-Training

Debbie Varney
October 13, 2014

Businesses use the athletic term “cross-training” as it relates to training employees to do more than one specialized job within the company. Many financial institutions incorporate cross-training into their risk management programs. According to the article “What Banks Learned about Risk Management in 2013” by Frank Santora and Susan Palm in American Banker, “banks need better talent management.”

The article goes on to say that, “amidst increasing risks and compliance complexity, it became clear in 2013 that there just aren’t enough people with the right skills to do what needs to be done. The work of the human resources department is more critical than ever, and banks need to get smart about their talent management programs. Rather than hire and train new staff, the focus should be on employee retention, training and professional development opportunities.” This makes great sense if the employee is worth keeping! That is why it is important to choose employees wisely in the beginning.

Santora and Palm also indicate that “creating centralized knowledge repositories that contain the collective wisdoms from the crowd will help ensure that critical knowledge doesn’t ever just rest with a handful of people. Organizations should depend on systems to retain and retrieve critical information in real-time, not on individuals.”

Branch Specialists

As financial institutions and their branches continue to change and evolve, cross-training will be essential in other ways. Some institutions already incorporate rotations and call their branch positions more generic terms such as team member, personal banker, or branch specialist.

A branch specialist can serve a client on any level needed in a branch (teller/cashier, open/close account, loan applications, and client service issues). This concept is designed to keep jobs interesting, attract highly skilled, competent employees that can learn a variety of skills, are versed in all products and services and can cross-sell more readily.

The branch specialist can be scheduled to serve in a capacity for a specific period of time, rotating to each position or to serve continuously in a position that is trained for all tasks. While this concept isn’t for every organization, having a few branch specialists moving throughout your organization solves some of the risk management issues.

The Wows

Did you notice anything so far? Many of the benefits for the institution also translate to the individual employees as well. Win-win—that’s hard to beat!

The Woes

Thinking It Through

Before implementing a cross-training program (as with any program) it is best to analyze the need, costs, pros, and cons for each situation. Here are some thinking points for you to consider:

Getting Started

As branch manager, it is imperative that you create a “safe” learning environment. Make sure everyone understands that it is okay to ask questions. Develop trust and instill confidence that this process is designed to help one another and to become a better team. The environment needs lots of positive reinforcement by all concerned, especially you! Ask how things are going and encourage positive communications.

Consider segmenting the cross-training so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. Employees that feel pressure to “get it” right away may shut down. Sometimes it is good to stop if an employee isn’t “getting it.” Allow time for learning and processing information. Don’t micro-manage employees while they are working together; let them come to you with any questions.

The Bottom Line

Cross-training employees can reduce your institution’s potential risk of losing valuable knowledge or becoming over-reliant on certain people. Remember, your employees are your biggest liability and biggest asset. Employees need attention, guidance and support. Treat them like they are your TALENT and TEAM (like in sports). Positive coaching and cross-training employees can create the team you never thought you could have . . . touchdown!

Debbie Varney is a seasoned banking professional who is now a business and HR consultant. Contact her at Reprinted with permission from Branch Manager’s Letter. Contact publisher Lana J. Chandler at 304-343-0206 or

Employment Law Update

Michael Patrick O’Brien
October 6, 2014

A national employment law firm news site is reporting that the rate of employee positive drug tests has increased for the first time in about a decade. The entity making the study handles drug testing from employers all across the country. The study indicated that use of marijuana and amphetamines have fueled the increase, notably in the states of Colorado and Washington where recreational marijuana use is now legal under state law. You can read the news report here:

Benefits Litigation Trends

 The primary federal law regulating employee pensions and benefits, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is 40 years old this year. On this anniversary, there have been a number of articles discussing the impact of the law. One notes five interesting trends regarding issues currently under litigation involving ERISA. These trends are: (1) disputes over an employer’s obligation to negotiate lower fees on pension and 401(k) plans; (2) types of behaviors that breach plan fiduciary duties and the remedies for the same; (3) disputes over lost plan or employee records; (3) the impact of the Affordable Care Act; and (5) whether drops in stock prices or a restructure of benefits is a breach of a plan’s fiduciary duties. Happy Birthday ERISA!

EEOC Severance Lawsuit against Employer Dismissed

A federal court in Illinois has rejected and dismissed a lawsuit against an employer filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the employer’s severance and release agreements. The EEOC had sued a large pharmacy company alleging that its severance release agreements are improper. The lawsuit attacked common provisions such as nondisparagement clauses and covenants not to sue—provisions it has previously approved in a similar context. One of the EEOC’s stated-concerns was its belief that such clauses will make an employee believe he/she cannot file an EEOC charge, something that can be done even if a release agreement has been signed. Yet, the challenged agreement itself contained a clause making sure the employee knew he/she retained such filing rights. The court ruled during a hearing and promised to issue a written opinion explaining its ruling. Stay tuned!

Major Employment Verdicts, Settlements, and Fines

A national computer products company has agreed to pay almost $12 million to settle claims that it improperly denied certain employees overtime pay required under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The case involved the alleged misclassification of workers in jobs involving technical consulting and service information development. A Utah hotel company has agreed to pay a $2 million fine to resolve claims that it inappropriately hired undocumented workers. The hotel apparently had been warned about the problem in 2011, fired 133 employees but then re-hired over 40 of those same workers via temp staffing agencies. A national shoe retailer will pay just under $1 million to resolve claims of age discrimination and retaliation resulting from a reduction in force. The company must also train all its employees in the involved locations on the prevention and eradication of age discrimination and also revise its anti-discrimination policy.

NLRB Rulings Continue to Vex Employers

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has continued to issue rulings that vex employers on the issue of employee rights to engaged in concerted activity under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The latest rulings involve a privacy policy and Facebook activity. The first case involved an employee privacy policy at a school. The NLRB struck it down, concluding that it was overbroad. Specifically, the agency held that the privacy policy could be read to punish employees for discussing their wages and other matters related to the terms and conditions of employment. The policy language prohibited employees from disclosing any information about the school, its owners, students or employees. The second involved the discharge of two employees who had participated in a discussion about their employer’s state income tax withholding errors. One of the discharged employees had “liked” a comment made by a co-worker. The NLRB ruled that the Facebook activities were protected even though the employer had contended that the profanity-laced comments were defamatory and disparaging. The employer has appealed the NLRB ruling to a court, meaning that employers may soon get some case law guidance on whether the NLRB’s aggressive approach on these issues is valid.


Michael Patrick O'Brien is an employment attorney with Utah law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough ( He also serves as the Legal and Legislative Director for Utah’s Society for Human Resource Management chapter. Contact him at 801-534-7315 or

Guard Against Employment Practices Liability Claims

September 24, 2014

Economic volatility, changing demographics, and employees’ increasing awareness of their rights are fueling a rise in employment practices liability (EPL) claims, says Theran Colwell, director of risk management for CUNA Mutual Group.

As the workforce ages, “more people are falling under certain legislation, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” he says.

Most EPL claims involve multiple allegations, Colwell adds, namely wrongful termination, retaliation, and discrimination. Such claims expose organizations to a range of potential penalties, such as high-dollar settlements, back pay, state or federal fines, legal costs, or injunctive relief.

“And don’t forget about reputation costs,” he says.

Colwell suggests four steps credit unions can take to help prevent EPL claims:

1. Have up-to-date, board-approved anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and other personnel policies.

2. Have an expert employment practices attorney review those polices annually.

3. Train employees, board members, and other volunteers on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination behavior. Also, train managers on anti-retaliation.

4. Document employment actions and retain this information.

For more information, visit CUNA Mutual’s Protection Resource Center or its employment practices liability website.


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