Sneh is an engineer turned content marketer and loves tech startups that get marketing. She is a Content Marketing Manager at Animalz, moonlights as a content marketer and strategist, and hosts a podcast - Bet On People. When she’s not online, she can be found reading books, petting her dogs, or vibing to music.
How and Why to Create an Onboarding Buddy Program (Free Template + Checklist)
Bringing new employees on board is a continuous process in any thriving organization. This time can be exciting and stressful for both - the new hire and their manager.
While an efficient onboarding program creates structure and assurance, it’s always wise to complement it with a ‘Buddy’ who can take away the anxiety and serve as a trusted individual to relate to at all times.
This ensures a positive and productive experience. One that is especially important with hybrid work models becoming the norm.
New hire buddy programs are among the most simple yet effective measures to creating a lasting first impression at the workplace.
❓ What is an onboarding buddy program?
A buddy program is exactly what it sounds like — assigning an existing employee to greet and orient new hires to your organization.
Buddies help new hires to get acquainted with all the essential information while sharing unstructured knowledge on topics like - workplace culture, company policies, perks and benefits, and more.
📈 14 Reasons why you need a buddy system
New hires are 2x more likely to look for other opportunities if they have a negative onboarding experience, according to Digitate.
Having a buddy system not only positively impacts retention but also improves speed-to-productivity. While this may seem obvious, many companies fail at connecting the dots between an employee's success and a buddy program.
A personal ally guarantees psychological safety amongst new hires who are working remotely. Google defined this as a "key building block of a successful team." This was following the success of 'Project Aristotle' that found out team members thrive in their role when they feel safe at work.
Gabrielle Schofield, Instructional Designer at Amazon, further pointed out the benefits of a new hire buddy program in her LinkedIn article:
"A buddy helps to build on the standard knowledge that is communicated in onboarding courses and also expands on topics that aren't."
So how does this translate for employees that undergo virtual onboarding?
Cindy Xinyi Zhang, a Data Scientist at Pinterest, has the answer. She went through her onboarding process online and benefited greatly from its buddy program. She recounts:
"We held 1:1s every week to discuss project details and Pinterest culture. The Buddy Onboarding Program was planned for 6 weeks, but we decided to keep it going in this new, virtual world.
It's such a relief to know an experienced teammate has my back when I am exploring new territory."
One of the underrated benefits of the buddy program is that it dramatically helps work buddies, too. Sharing knowledge with new hires deepens the understanding of their role, making it an effective way to develop their leadership and managerial skills.
🆚 What is the difference between a buddy and a mentor?
At Pinterest, the lines between a buddy and mentor seem slightly blurred. But for the most part, a buddy and a mentor share a different context.
Buddies are usually peers who help new hires for a short and definite period. They are often from a similar role - and sometimes rather focus on the cultural aspects.
Mentors are non-peers, experienced employees who focus on short- and long-term career goals.
So is it important to introduce a buddy program if you already have a mentor program?
Most definitely, yes.
Microsoft’s pilot program found that having a work buddy is strongly correlated to new employee satisfaction and provides context that a mentor might not be able to provide.
🛠 How to create an onboarding program (Template + Checklist)
There are three ingredients to create a successful onboarding program:
- The right buddy;
- The right workflow;
- The right system.
The right buddy: Choose onboarding buddies for new hires
Microsoft's pilot program determined the right buddy should have:
- Sufficient knowledge about the new hire's role;
- Strong job performance history;
- Time to assist the new hire.
This brings up a potent question:
Should you choose buddies or have employees volunteer to participate in the buddy program?
A paper presented at the Project Management Institute described the right buddy as an employee that has a "willingness and ability to mentor others."
So it's a little bit of both.
When piloting the buddy program, emphasize the buddy program's benefits to encourage more employees to participate. You can then apply filters to find the most skilled buddies.
An onboarding buddy should be someone that upholds your organization's values and helps instill a sense of pride and loyalty in new hires.
After careful observation of data, and speaking to people who’ve participated in a buddy program, we created this free checklist to help you select the right buddy:
🆘 Do you need help identifying the right onboarding buddy? Say no more. Check out our 2 survey templates you can use to match up buddies to new hires..
You can use these to:
- Send them to new hires and potential employees.
- Create the perfect match based on criteria like role, availability, and much more.
The right workflow: A sample workflow
You don’t need a huge investment or resources to implement a buddy program.
All you require is a set of answers to some questions that will help you to design a program that perfectly suits the needs of new hires and your organization.
We’ve created a sample workflow for you that serves as guidance on what makes a good buddy program.
To get started, write down the answers to the following questions:
(You’ll also find sample answers to help point you in the right direction)
What is the purpose of the buddy program?
- To help orient new employees.
- To improve retention, satisfaction, and productivity.
- To provide support in remote-first settings.
How will it work?
- Match new hires to buddies.
- Ensure regular meetings.
- Loop in managers.
- Collect feedback from new hires, buddies, and managers.
What filters will you apply to choose the right buddy?
- Must have at least a year’s worth of experience.
- Enthusiastic, skilled, and willing to help new hires.
- Strong job performance history.
- Strong interpersonal skills.
- Strong communication skills.
- Has time to prioritize orientation.
How many buddies should be assigned to a new hire?
- 1:1 buddy program (most common) or three buddies inspired by Buffer’s buddy program.
What should buddies do with new hires?
- Learn more about new hires through their CV and the hiring manager.
- Prepare their workplace for them.
- Help them set up their systems.
- Introduce them to the team.
- Include them in social situations.
- Share company values and vision.
- Share unstructured knowledge.
- Encourage them to bring their authentic self to work.
- Encourage them to think strategically.
How long will the buddy program run?
- As long as onboarding lasts - 90 days, a year, or forever like Google does.
- Indefinitely in remote settings.
💡You can download the free sample workflow as a PDF checklist here.
The right system: Finding a system that works for you
Microsoft’s buddy program works on an internal site and uses automated reminders to everyone involved to move the process along. But if that’s not possible, don’t sweat it.
What matters is that you’re taking enough time to ensure you’re meeting the requirements of selected buddies, and especially the new hire.
Armed with simple and formal documentation, follow this checklist to implement a buddy program in your organization:
This checklist works well for lean organizations or when you’re piloting a program to establish its efficacy. But keep in mind, doing this manually requires considerable effort for growing and larger organizations, making it challenging to scale.
If you’re looking for an employee onboarding solution that integrates with Slack and is fully automated, talk to an onboarding expert at Zavvy, and we’ll hook you up.
And yes - you can even automate the buddy process! We have a ready-to-use template for you.
📝 Sample buddy program templates for implementation
It’s a given fact that for a New Hire Buddy Program to be successful, you need to select buddies with the right qualities and abilities. It’s vital that you establish guidelines for the buddy and the new hire in advance.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented, most Buddy Programs were not set up to support the current hybrid and remote work reality. So, choosing the right buddies and setting proper expectations is critical. It can be the difference between a new hire feeling supported or neglected during their onboarding.
➡️ Here is a template of what a buddy program workflow could look like for you.
💬 Sample messages for your buddies
Guiding both buddies and new hires along the way is essential if you want both parties to get the most out of the experience - without spending too much prep time themselves.
If you're using Zavvy, our templates are full of sample messages you can customize. But even if you're not, you can get some inspiration from the below examples.
Sample message - Day 1
Sample message - After 30 days
📊 Sample buddy program surveys
If you’re implementing the buddy program for the first time in your organization, knowing what a new hire expects is challenging. And it’s only natural that you will make some mistakes along the way.
Creating a buddy program that new hires can benefit from is a continuous process. To help you in this journey, we have designed a survey you can use to improvise your program.
You can save these two surveys and share them with your new hires. It creates an effective communication channel, helps better understand your employees’ needs, and sets clear expectations.
For new hires
For current employees (buddies)
💡 Looking for more inspiration? Check out 15+ additional onboarding templates. We can guarantee there is something for you.
🏢 Mini case study - Microsoft’s buddy program: Key results
Microsoft has been continuously tweaking its onboarding process and came to a simple conclusion:
Onboarding buddies play a pivotal role in successful onboarding experiences.
Their pilot buddy program involved 600 employees across the organization and had three key findings:
- Onboarding buddies provide much-needed context: Employee handbooks set the foundation, but onboarding buddies take it a step further. A manual can't possibly contain unspoken rules or an understanding of how to navigate the organization matrix and cultural norms that lead to a smoother experience.
- Meeting onboarding buddies frequently boosts productivity: There's a strong correlation between 1:1 meetings with onboarding buddies and the new hire's perception of their speed-to-productivity. 56% of new hires who met their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days contributed "a lot more" to their team's success.
- Employees with onboarding buddies report greater satisfaction: When compared to employees without buddies, new hires with buddies were 23% more satisfied after the first week on the job. At the 90 day mark, those with buddies reported a 36% increase in satisfaction.
Following the pilot program's success, Microsoft decided to expand its new hire onboarding buddy program by creating an internal site for hiring managers to match new hires with current employees to buddy up.
📱 Mini case study - Buffer’s buddy program: Learnings from a remote-first program
Buffer, a remote-first company, took sweet time to perfect its onboarding program. They replaced their 45-day boot camp in favor of an onboarding process that promotes diversity, offers psychological safety, and enables new hires to enjoy the same benefits as other full-time employees.
Their buddy system is incredibly unique. Buffer employs a three-buddy system with defined roles and different meeting frequencies to help new hires:
- Leader-buddy - team member with lots of experiences akin to a manager.
- Role-buddy - an employee that knows the role of the new hire and is a peer.
- Culture-buddy - most experienced buddy that helps recruits learn about the company’s vision, culture, and strategy.
This has served new hires at Buffer so well that even Google adopted a similar system.
Companies looking to implement a similar remote buddy program must consider two significant aspects:
- Mode of communication: All communication cannot be held synchronously. Adopt ways to meet asynchronously. It's vital that both buddies and new hires have sufficient time to connect. They need to be aware that this is a time-bound partnership.
- Tech stack as a substitute: Being a work buddy for a new hire shouldn't feel like too much additional work. Guide existing employees through the process by giving them advice and structure right when they need them - and where they are.
👥 How (and why) set up your new hire buddy program with Zavvy
If you're planning to do it well, running a buddy system can be a lot of work. Your project's success will also depend on whether you
- Give all parties involved guidance to get the most out of the program
- Engage and remember people at the right time instead of overwhelming them with a huge guide
- Collect feedback to improve the workflow continuously
With Zavvy, you can make onboarding buddy programs a central part of your onboarding process.
Step 1: 👤 Find the right buddy for your new hire
There are many ways for you to decide who the buddy of your new hire is. For example:
- Choose buddies and assign them to every new hire individually,
- Send a survey in your company and ask for volunteers to be randomly assigned, or
- Ask a new hire’s manager to choose a buddy.
🤖 You can automate this with Zavvy’s question step. Just include a question-step to the new hire’s manager a few weeks before the new hire’s start date and ask them to answer with the name of a buddy. This way you don’t need to spend time to find a buddy for every new and can just assign the buddy their manager proposes.
You can add the new hire’s buddy anytime, even after the Onboarding journey has started.
Step 2: 📅 Create steps for buddies in your Onboarding Journey
- Day 1: 🚀 Welcome the new hire
- Day 5: 🌯 Go for a lunch
- Day 30: 🎉 Check-in
You’re free to create whatever fits best with your company’s processes. However, to get you started we created a library of templates for messages, tasks or questions to send to your buddies.
Step 3: ⚙️ Run everything on autopilot and relax
- Automatically send reminders via Slack or Teams for weeks, months, or years.
- Have people meet and focus on the conversation, not the preparation.
- Collect feedback at every milestone.
➡️ Buddy programs are an easy way to improve your onboarding process
According to HCI, 87% of organizations that implement a buddy program report improved new hire proficiency, but only 47% of organizations have one.
With a solid plan, experimentation, and openness to feedback, your organization’s buddy program can help achieve onboarding goals faster and easier, ensuring a smooth transition to benefit all parties involved.
You don’t need a complicated or an over-the-top buddy program. What matters is that you’re able to offer the right kind of support to your new hires, and help ease them into their new role. A buddy program is just one of the few essential elements of an onboarding program.
To learn more on how you can welcome new employees during these remote times, grab our FREE remote employee onboarding checklist here.
📅 Take our onboarding software on a spin and book a demo today!