Why Mentoring and Training Are Not The Same Thing

Many people talk about mentoring and yet a relatively small number of people actually do it.  Despite this, the benefits of mentoring are sometimes so obvious that we cannot see them right in front of us.  Similarly, everyone knows why training is important, and much lip service is given to it as well.  However, it is vital to understand the subtle differences between the two. 

How is it that mentoring and training are not the same thing?  As leaders in our hotels and in our organizations, we talk frequently and act (hopefully) to ensure that our team members are as well-trained as possible.  This means providing them with the specific skills necessary to do their jobs; how to present the menu, how to clear a plate, how to welcome a guest arriving at the front desk, etc.  Much has been written, even in this space, about the importance of devoting proper time and resources to training at all levels of a hospitality operation.

Our conversations about mentoring, on the other hand, are typically in the context of finding some very worthwhile local outpost, i.e. high schools, vocational schools, community centers, etc. where we can provide guidance and direction to potentially-aspiring hospitality industry professionals.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach.  In fact, it is an admirable way to increase your hotel’s awareness in the local community, while also providing a valuable service to that community’s young people.  In this respect, the difference between training and mentoring starts to emerge.

Now for the practical application of these two important concepts.  How much thought have you given to establishing a bona fide mentoring program within your own hotel(s)?  Typically, our hotel teams consist of individuals with a wide range of experience, from those with decades of background to those who are in their first “real” job.  There is no better, more-deserving (and more potentially mutually beneficial) source of mentees than our own associates.  Think about it this way; we want our leaders to truly lead; this means that they must continue to hone their leadership skills all the time, and not only when they are in the earlier parts of their careers.  A true mentorship program with active engagement from both mentor and mentee provides this opportunity to all concerned.  The creation of a mentorship program is not the creation of another task.  Rather, it is the creation of an opportunity for employees of very different backgrounds and experience levels to proactively learn from one another. To have senior leaders to mentor less experienced associates can be incredibly valuable, just as training can be, though they clearly fulfill very different needs.

In making your commitment to an internal mentoring program that is most rewarding for all concerned, it is important that the program itself is well thought-out.  First, hotel leadership should come up with a method of creating a list of “targeted mentees” or existing associates who would be most likely to become model mentees.  This will not only help the program to get off to a good start, it will also help to build excitement for the program going forward.  If we can successfully frame the program as an incentive or reward for our high achieving associates, it stands to reason that other associates will aspire to be “selected” for the program in the future.

Next, the commitment that you make to launching this program must be long-term.  Your new Mentorship Program cannot be seen as a one-off “gimmick,” lacking true support from leadership.  It will need to be well planned, not only in terms of content but also in terms of attendance.  It will likely be easy to identify the first “class” of mentees, but what about the second, third, and so on?  It would be a mistake to launch a program without having a roadmap in place to identify future participants.

Ultimately, leadership’s most important goal through the creation of such a program would be the development (or further development) of a culture of growth and opportunity for our associates.  Too often, growth for our colleagues is measured only in promotions and merit increases.  The reality is that a commitment by hotel leadership to its own associates in the form of a mentorship program can send a strong message about how important our associates truly are to that which we deliver to the guest.  I urge you not to forget that our associates pay very close attention to what leadership has to say.  The introduction of a mentorship program created specifically for the purpose of creating greater opportunities for those associates can be a very powerful tool to benefit all concerned. 

Mentoring is another, deeper way to demonstrate your commitment to the training of your teams-- not only does it benefit the mentor & mentee, but it makes everyone’s hospitality experience a more valuable and impactful one.