Friday, April 10, 2015

Formal or Informal Mentoring?

Formal and Informal Mentoring

In our last poll that we ran on this blog, 71% of respondents reported that they found a combination of formal and informal mentoring to be more effective than just formal mentoring or just informal mentoring.

We’ve definitely found at Insala that informal mentoring enhances formal mentoring, and vice versa. The continuing problem, of course, is that informal mentoring is not measurable or reportable by definition.


Informal Mentoring and Social Learning

However, there’s a growing movement toward using social learning and/or mentoring software to facilitate informal and skills-based mentoring. Through this model, an individual seeking training or information on a certain and specific skill would be able to access a database of subject matter experts at their organization, find a “mentor” who is willing and able to teach them that particular skill, and form a “mentoring” relationship that lasts only as long as the “mentee” needs it – which may be only a few meetings.

For example: Say an HR person moves into more of a PR role, and discovers they need to know best practices around using social media. They can access the database, find someone who can teach them those best practices, give them a call, set up a few meetings, and it’s done.

Benefits of this model include:
  • Just in time 
  • Self-driven
  • Fast and immediate networking
  • Everyone can use it
  • Minimal maintenance from the organization
  • Can be built out to be as measurable as you want it to be
  • Can tie into your formal mentoring programs – including measurement. 
  • Can morph into formal mentoring relationships. 

Cons of this model may include:
  • Not formal mentoring
  • Harder to measure
  • Can’t tie strategic objectives to it

Formal and Informal Mentoring Reinforce Each Other

I’ll say again that it’s best when used in combination with formal mentoring – it definitely shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for formal mentoring, in any case – as it reinforces the knowledge transfer and individual development that formal mentoring provides, and can even serve to help fill some specific knowledge gaps that a formal mentor may have in either their area, or a completely unrelated area.

Going back to our example HR person above, say for example that her formal mentor has a lot of traditional PR experience – but not a lot of social media experience, especially around PR. This kind of mentoring is a way to get the best of both worlds, and positively reinforce the mentee’s learning experience from all sides.

Like formal mentoring, it’s mentee-driven at its core, but with an added dimension of being very self-directed at the same time – even if it happens to be under the guidance of a formal mentor.


Learn more about how mentoring software can help your organization’s learning initiatives.



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