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Starting a mentoring program might be the closest you'll ever get to making a business decision that has exclusively positive impact. Mentoring can improve employee satisfaction and retention, enrich new-employee initiation, make your company more appealing to recruits, and train your leaders. And the best part is, it's free. Unlike similar learning incentives like training programs or offering to pay for courses, mentoring utilizes the resources that your company already has. Here's how to get started.

Some companies, like Morgan Stanley, use group mentoring. Others use peer mentoring, bring in an expert for facilitated mentoring, have lower-level employees teach higher-level employees in reverse mentoring, or even use a speed-dating format for " flash mentoring." But the most common type of mentoring program is one-to-one pairs, and thus the most common conundrum is how to pair mentees and mentors.

" I think people really ought to think in terms of multiple mentors instead of just one," concludes Kram, the author of Mentoring at Work. And they don't all have to be grizzled business veterans. " Peers can be an excellent source of mentorship," she says.

In the best of all worlds, it's not just the protégé who benefits from the relationship. The mentor, as well, should see the opportunity as one for personal growth. " In today's context, mentors learn new skills and competency themselves," observes Kram. " It's a chance to revitalize their own learning." This story was adapted from " The Mentors," an article in the June 1998 issue of Inc. Magazine.

" Done right, mentoring one employee can motivate not only that person but also the remainder of the staff becausethe company demonstrates that it truly cares about its people, says Florence M. Stone, author of Coaching, Counseling, and Mentoring (AMACOM). But she warns of mentoring traps that can ruin relationships.

One major mentoring trap, according to Stone, is that mentors often wrongly believe that they cannot end the relationship, that only the mentee can make the break.

"What does it take to make the perfect mentoring match?

The seasoned entrepreneurs -- the mentors -- weigh in

Inc. Online : How was the business doing before you began the mentorship program?

Seth Frey : Before we started with the mentorship program, we were trying to sell everything to everybody under the sun -- we were looking at 28 markets or so. We thought, "Who wouldn't need this gift package?" But we were doing about $250,000 in business, and we still weren't profitable. Our mentors forced us to take a step back, take a look at who we are, what we do, and who we do it for.

At the beginning of the year, the company assigns a mentor to each Revere Group employee. After a bit of experimentation, Parks learned that having a manager mentor the employees who report to him or her didn't work. "It's a natural conflict," he says. "If I'm your manager and you want to make a change, how can you tell me that you really don't want to work in my area?" So he selects mentors not by titles or tenure but by their people skills and knowledge of both the company and the industry.

The employee and the mentor sit down and develop an individual growth plan that details how the employee will spend the two weeks of annual training.