Posted on February 25, 2013 by


Formal and informal mentoring programs can speed the development of talented staff and help develop a wider pool of talented future leaders and managers within the organization. Mentoring, in essence, is a relationship in which senior members of an organization provide support and guidance to junior members of the organization in either an informal or formal arrangement.  Informal mentoring is typically initiated based on common factors between the mentor and protegé such as perceived similarity and rapport (Allen, Eby & Lentz, 2006).  Formal mentoring is the result of an organizationally established, structured program that may use a variety of strategies to link and manage the contact between mentor and protegé (Allen & Eby, 2003; Allen et al. 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wade, 2008).  Leaders should not only support internal mentoring programs but should also understand the role of mentoring and potential benefits of mentoring to both the mentor and protegé.

Formal mentoring programs vary in terms of how they are managed as well as the extent to which participants are able to provide input regarding the  mentoring process. While studies encourage organizations to allow for voluntary participation and for a natural gravitation of protegés to mentors, more often times, the program is structured, requiring participation and limiting input in the selection process (Allen, et al., 2003; Allen, et al. 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wade, 2008).  By allowing mentors and protegés to have some input or seek each other out, there is an increased ownership of the mentoring relationship and it’s outcomes.  Additionally, it is recommended that formal mentoring programs provide training for participants to clarify the purpose and parameters of the training as well as skills in dealing with difficult situations to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the program.  Such training may increase mentor enthusiasm for the program and protegé appreciation for the commitment of the mentor (Allen, et al., 2003; Allen, et al. 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wade, 2008).

As mentioned earlier, informal mentoring is more of an organic process in which mentor and protegé gravitate towards each other based on commonalities and rapport.  In some cases, another member within the organization may initially connect the mentor and protegé.  In other instances, the protegé identifies a potential mentor based on factors such as competence, influence within the organization, experience and character (Allen, et al., 2003; Allen, et al. 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wade, 2008).  Protegés with a higher perceived sense of control over their future, emotional stability and self-assurance are more likely to initiate mentoring relationships (Wade, 2008).  Because of the informal nature of the relationship, training is not provided by the organization to support the mentoring process. Instead, mentors and protegés may seek information from others, utilize reference material, and use their initial meetings to better understand their roles, define the parameters and expectations of the relationship, as well as the frequency of contact.

Whether informal or formal, mentoring provides the opportunity for leaders within the organization to develop future leaders and create an organizational legacy.  Further, intangible cultural factors such as heritage, traditions, heroes, values and beliefs, and expected behaviors can be passed on from mentor to protegé through the relationship.  Additionally, mentors can provide technical guidance and support to help protegés acquire and refine skills.  Thus, mentors become internal ambassadors to the organization for new and existing hires, creating a culture of knowledge transfer and employee engagement.

Allen, T. & Eby, L. (2003). Relationship effectiveness of mentors: Factors associated with learning and quality. Journal of Management, 29, 469-486.

Allen, T., Eby, L. & Lentz, E. (2006).  The relationship between formal mentoring program characteristics and perceived program effectiveness. Personnel Psychology, 59(1), 128-153.

Hezlett, S.A. (2005).  Protegés’ Learning in Mentoring Relationships: A Review of the Literature and an Exploratory Case Study. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(4), 505-526. DOI: 10.1177/1523422305279686.

Wade, M.W. (2008). Getting of the Ground: Factors Related to Protegés’ Initiation of Mentoring Relationships with their Formal Mentors. ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis, 2008.