At Management Mentors, we advocate formal mentoring rather than informal mentoring.
Here's a brief recap of the differences.
Formal mentoring programs include:
- Connection to a strategic business objective of the organization
- Established goals
- Measurable outcomes
- Open access for all who qualify
- Strategic pairing of mentors and mentorees
- Mentoring engagements lasting 9-12 months
- Expert training and support
- Direct organizational benefits
Informal mentoring programs include:
- Unspecified goals
- Unknown outcomes
- Limited access to the program
- Self-selection of mentors and mentorees
- No expert training or support
- Indirect organizational benefits
That said, we're also realistic and realize not every person has access to a formal mentoring program, especially in the workplace.
Informal mentoring is definitely better than no mentoring, and if approached right, informal mentoring can be enriching and rewarding.
Here are five tips for getting the most out of informal mentoring, most of which address the bullet points above.
Note: We're addressing this from a mentoree's viewpoint—specifically a mentoree in the workplace (as opposed to school or the community at large, for example).
- Have a couple of concrete goals in mind. By having some goals in mind, you'll have a better handle on the type of mentor you need and how long the engagement might need to last. For example, if you want to work on developing your leadership skills AND get better at balancing personal life with work, you now have a roadmap for your informal mentoring sessions with your mentor.
- Define what success means to you. "Develop leadership skills" is broad and a rather abstract topic. Get into specifics. "I'll know that I've successfully improved my leadership skills when I accomplish THIS." Define what "this" is. (And "this" probably will be more than one thing.)
- Take the time to understand different communication styles. In this article, we discuss four different communication styles. Which one resonates with you? Can you think of other traits/characteristics you'd want in a mentor?
- Take the time to understand what mentoring is…and is not. Mentoring is not coaching. This is usually the biggest mistake people make. We have a free white paper that talks about the differences between mentoring and coaching. Read it. And once you have a mentor, ask him or her to read it as well.
- Discuss your mentoring experience. Let your manager know you're working with a mentor. If your manager sees your personal and professional transformation firsthand (and the reason behind it), he or she might be more willing to consider instituting a formal mentoring program in your company and/or approaching upper management about it.
What do you think? Do you have any other tips for getting the most out of informal mentoring? Share in the comments.