The Difference Between Formal and Informal Mentoring

January 05, 2017
formal vs informal mentoring In our last poll that we ran in our webinar, 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 [Click to Tweet], 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.

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