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Articles     by The The Growth Connection
© Copyright The Growth Connection Pty. Ltd. 1999-2012


Formal v Informal Mentoring - What's The Difference ?
by Imogen Wareing

Many organisations feel they are familiar with - may even have plenty of - mentoring taking place amongst their people. However, there are differences between informal mentoring and a more formal, structured mentoring program. Both forms of mentoring are valuable, and may happily co-exist within the company, but they are not the same things.

To summarise how the two compare:
Informal MentoringFormal Mentoring Program
Mentoring is initiated and maintained solely by the mentoring partners.A mentoring program coordinator manages the start-up, progress and evaluation phases of the program.
Mentoring partners are matched by chance or serendipity, often with the mentor choosing the mentoree. Partnering the 2 people is a facilitated process, with the mentoree having the responsibility of choosing the mentor.
Aims of the relationship may be non-specific, non-existent or suggested by the mentor. The aims of the relationship are specific, directed towards achieving goal/s which the mentoree has clarified.
A primary criterion for accepting the mentor is a feeling of liking and respect. A primary criterion for selecting the mentor is his/her ability to assist the mentoree to achiever identified goal/s.
The relationship may not be called or recognised as "mentoring". Both partners identify the relationship as mentoring, and seek to apply the appropriate skill and expectations to it.
There is no mentoring agreement. A mentoring agreement forms one of the early cornerstones of the partnership.
The relationship grows "like Topsy", as needs or circumstances. The relationship works within an agreed framework of frequency of meetings, timeframes, communication methods, structure, etc.
The relationship is rarely, if ever, evaluated. The relationship is regularly evaluated, and measures established for assessing progress towards the goal/s.
The relationship may be very long-lived - sometimes many years long. The relationship has a finite duration, beyond which the partners can elect to conclude it, extend it, or exchange it for a friendship.
The possibility of win/win benefits. The likelihood of win/win/win benefits (for the mentor, mentoree and the organisation).

There are, of course, many similarities between informal and formal mentoring relationships. These include:

  • the requirement of free choice by both partners
  • dependence on a high level of rapport for success
  • the opportunities for learning for both partners
  • the possibilities of crossing departmental or hierarchical boundaries and achieving improved networking.
  • contagion: the opportunity to take the learning from one mentoring relationship into another, leading to continual improvement for all concerned

Supporting Informal Mentoring

An organisation can encourage positive informal mentoring relationships in a number of ways:

  • use of the intranet for locating willing mentors.
  • provision of an explanatory booklet or guidelines on successful mentoring practice.
  • putting together a "kit" with workbooks and tips for both mentors and mentorees.
  • lunchtime information sessions, showing of videos, etc.

At The Growth Connection we view increased informal networking as a successful outcome of formal programs and put together support kits to facilitate the process.

What if my organisation does not obviously support mentoring?

You will need to initiate an informal mentoring relationship.

Many people, especially women, miss out on the advantages of having a 'career friend', or mentor to assist them at critical points in their career. There are many reasons for this, including:

A reluctance to seem 'pushy' or 'aggressive'
Not wanting to 'use people'
Exclusion from power networks and contacts
Ignorance of how to go about finding one

Informal mentoring is a voluntary relationship - never underestimate the satisfaction and personal rewards a mentor gains from an effective mentoring relationship. They are free to withdraw from it if it becomes unproductive or onerous. The mentored individual can therefore enjoy the advantages of the mentor relationship without guilt.

The starting point is to be very clear on how a mentor could help you at this point in your career. What specifically do you need? This will be personal to your circumstances but might include one or more of the following:

  • Career direction/guidance
  • How to handle office politics
  • Options for skills development
  • Professional/technical coaching
  • Second opinion on difficult work situation
  • Support through a decision making process
  • Objective feedback
  • Organisational information/knowledge
  • Managing home and career

It is very likely that you already know the person who can best assist you.

If not, start asking your colleagues, friends and relatives if they know someone with the skills/knowledge that you need. Quality information about new fields of work can be found in members of the relevant professional association.

Start networking!

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For more information on The Growth Connection Services please call
Imogen on (02) 9787 2748 (International +61 2 9787 2748) or email us.


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