Why One Mentor Isn't Enough

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It takes a village of mentors to help employees learn and grow. Imagine a culture in which leaders and managers implemented mentoring in a reflexive and democratic manner—a culture in which people viewed mentoring as a daily activity, practiced across functions and titles. In this type of organization, veteran employees intervene proactively whenever they see someone struggling or eager to acquire knowledge; they perceive themselves as mentors to all rather than a select few.

            While this vision of mentoring isn’t a widespread reality, companies are starting to embrace it out of necessity. There is more to learn than ever before, and there is less time to learn it. New employees are expected to hit the ground running, but in today’s fast-moving, fast changing environments, that’s tough to do without help—without lots of help from lots of people.

            In our ad agency, we have 20 new employees. While they go through training based on their specific jobs and functions, this isn’t enough. My goal is for these people to feel like they can turn to any senior person for help, and for every senior manager to look for ways to assist less experienced employees. I don’t want any of them to think of themselves only in functional terms—as creative, media, accounts, billing, digital. I want them to develop knowledge and skills across a span of disciplines. I want them to get to know and learn from employees in every area of the agency. I want them to understand our agency’s history, the relationship with our parent company, the distinctiveness of our culture.

This is only going to happen if they have multiple mentors. One senior person, no matter how knowledgeable, cannot accomplish this objective.

            To jump start the multiple mentoring process, we have started holding “lunch labs”, sessions devoted to a wide variety of advertising and agency topics. Senior people run these sessions and provide information in a relaxed, lunch-time atmosphere where newcomers are more willing to ask questions and develop relationships. Ideally, this creates the groundwork for mentoring outside of the lab setting.

            To break down the silos that have always been part of hierarchies and function-driven businesses, we need multiple mentoring. When young people are exposed to a diversity of knowledge and senior staff, they are more likely to add value and deliver results—and do it faster than ever before. They can integrate their work with others in different disciplines because they have gained an understanding of those disciplines.  They can figure out the best ways to execute because they’ve tapped different mentors for knowledge about how to get things done in a particular culture.

            The days of highly narrow, one-on-one mentoring are over. It’s time to change the mentoring dynamic so that it reflects the evolving needs of our companies and our younger employees.