Social Mentoring: Taking Center Stage
Organizations are increasingly using mentoring in creative ways. One evident trend is that mentoring programs are becoming more social. Social mentoring is a form of informal mentoring in which mentoring opportunities arise ad hoc, starting and ending quickly based on a specific learning need. A key aspect of social mentoring is that protégés are capable of self-initiating informal mentoring with any mentor or group in the program community at any time.
To a large extent, the trend toward more social mentoring is driven by the increase in online mentoring over the past several years. From our perspective, this is a natural evolution of an online mentoring program, rather than something completely new. The reason is modern online mentoring systems (such as Chronus Mentor) are based on a social network approach which promotes broader interaction.
Beyond the inherent social qualities of online mentoring programs, another factor driving an increase in social mentoring is people. In general they have become quite comfortable interacting within online social networks. According to recent Nielsen study, of the total time spent online, 23% of it is spent in social network applications. This percentage is even higher in Millennials who are projected to represent over 40% of the workforce by 2015.
When considering adding a social mentoring component to your program, assess how it will fit with the goals of the program, the culture of your organization, and the demographics of participants.
Program Goals: Programs focused on exposing protégés to a wide variety of content or perspectives benefit most with adding social mentoring elements. Examples include: onboarding programs, reverse mentoring, situational (topic or role based), and flash mentoring.
Conversely, if your program is focused on outcomes that are highly dependent upon driving deep mentoring relationships, then the social aspect is a secondary consideration. For example, in high-potential leadership development programs, the protégé benefits from a strong and sustained relationship with a mentor who can share ongoing insights and provide feedback. Though a social element could provide added learning, it would be important to ensure a social element does not detract from the core purpose of the program.
Organizational Culture: Though online communities within organizations are increasing in popularity, some organizations struggle to realize the benefits and instead watch them stagnate with spotty and infrequent participation. One key reason is organizational culture. For social mentoring (or any online community) to succeed, it must develop into a “trusted community” in which members share in a common purpose (such as to learn) regardless of title or seniority and there is clear support from organization management to participate. When either is lacking, the community will stall. Take for example an organization driven by billable hours. Though employees may share a common need or interest to engage in informal mentoring, participation will likely be very low if their time in mentoring is characterized as non-productive since it is not billable.
Participant Makeup: Your program member makeup also impacts whether social mentoring is right for your mentoring program. Social mentoring is easiest to jumpstart in programs where participants come from a variety of roles, functional units, and locations, yet have a common focus. For example, in an onboarding program, where “getting up to speed” is the clear focus, there is a natural motivation to connect. Having access to experts across the organization in various functional groups and locations adds to the power of the network.
In summary, social mentoring is a mentoring format where any member can reach out to others in the program community and seek informal mentoring. It requires an online mentoring environment built upon a social network framework. Whether social mentoring is right for your organization depends on several things. Three of the key considerations are how it aligns to your program goals, organizational culture and makeup of participants.