How and Why to Create an Onboarding Buddy Program (Free Template + Checklist)
November 22, 2021
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Bringing new employees onboard 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 eases the first day anxiety, it’s always wise to appoint a ‘Buddy’ who can introduce the new hire to your company. This ensures a positive and a productive experience, especially with hybrid work models becoming the norm.
A simple and effective way to offer support, having a buddy program in place has outsized benefits. Your new hires will be closely involved with your organization’s culture, goals, and their team.
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.
What is the advantage of the buddy system?
According to Digitate, new hires are 2x more likely to look for other opportunities if they have a negative onboarding experience.
Having a buddy system not only positively impacts retention, but also improves the speed to productivity ratio. While this may seem obvious, a lot of 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 buddy program in a 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 greatly helps 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 within the same team or similar roles that help new hires for a short and definite period. Mentors are non-peers, experienced employees that focus on both 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 buddy is strongly correlated to new employee satisfaction and provides context that a mentor might not be able to provide.
Mini Case Study: Microsoft’s buddy program + 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 onboarding buddy program by creating an internal site for hiring managers to match new hires with onboarding buddies.
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 important 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: If a three buddy system is not logistically feasible, you can turn to Slack or Teams bot to answer common questions.
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 budding program, emphasize the benefits of the buddy program that encourages 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.
The right workflow: A sample workflow
You don’t need a huge investment or resources to implement a buddy program. All you require are 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.
Match new hires to onboarding buddies
Re-prioritize the workload of buddies
Send reminders to ensure regular meet-ups
Collect feedback from new hires, buddies, and managers
Create a repository to help new buddies prep
Armed with simple and formal documentation, download 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.
Sample buddy program template for implementation
It’s a given fact that for a Buddy Program to be successful, you need to select buddies with the right qualities and abilities. It’s important 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, and can be the difference between a new hire feeling supported or feeling neglected during their onboarding. Here is a template of what a buddy program course could look like.
Sample buddy program survey for new hires
If you’re implementing the buddy program for the first time in your organization, it’s difficult to know what a new hire expects. 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 it with your new hires. It creates an effective communication channel, helps better understand your employees’ needs, and sets clear expectations.
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 HCI surveyed 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.
Sneh is an engineer turned content marketer and loves tech startups that get marketing. She is the Content Marketing Manager at Beaconstac, 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.