In starting a new role, have you ever wished you could fast forward through the first few months, skipping over those awkward moments of confusion? For many new hires, the learning curve is steep, and when it comes to settling into an unfamiliar company, they don’t want to do it alone. This is why implementing a Buddy Program as part of your employee onboarding can be so helpful, and improve the employee experience.

Strategic Employee Onboarding is about making great hires great employees. By buddying up with a seasoned employee, new hires gain insight to inside information and receive the encouragement they need to get comfortable in a new workplace. Quickening this transitional period leads to a faster ramp-up time for new employees.

Employees who have a best friend in the office are 7 times likelier to be engaged at work. A Buddy Program that encourages workplace friendships helps to achieve onboarding goals sooner and raise levels of Employee Engagement for new and existing employees alike.

Here’s the run-down on why and how you should include a Buddy Program into your Employee Onboarding process.

A Buddy, Defined

The role of a buddy is different to that of a mentor, manager, or coach. This relationship is far less formal, with its core purpose being encouragement and friendship.

Zappos, a company winning the Employee Onboarding game, promotes workplace friendships. As CEO, Tony Hsieh expressed, “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust.”

A Buddy Program should be supportive, casual, and private. Highlight the factor of trust and confidentiality between buddies. This way, new hires will feel comfortable asking questions without the fear of details getting passed around the office.

Employee onboarding buddy program

Buddies are not responsible for a new hire’s Employee Development — goal setting and formal training are responsibilities exclusively for a mentor or manager. Instead, general office-related questions are directed towards the buddy, so that manager-employee time is saved for more important matters.

Buddy duties include more than offering directions to the bathroom and printer. They should share useful, socially-focused information to help with the new-hires cultural acclimation, such as:

  • The best nearby coffee shop
  • Great after-work happy hours
  • Unspoken kitchen rules (Ben’s soymilk is not communal… don’t find out the hard way!)
  • The nearest pharmacy
  • Favorite lunch spots
  • Weekend access hours
  • Just how informal are Casual Fridays? (Leopard print leggings — Yea or Nay?)

Looking for a head start? Use Sapling's Free Buddy Program Template.

Playing Matchmaker in a Sustainable Buddy Program

A strategic Buddy Program will breed new volunteers to welcome future hires. During their first week, 56% of new hires want a buddy. Once these employees’ Buddy Programs end, they’ll be eager to help out the next newbie. A positive experience encourages employees to pay it forward.

Pair up buddies within the same department so that more relevant information can be shared. A Buddy should be an engaged employee who is wholly understanding of organizational values and goals, and can translate these to new hires.

As volunteers, Buddies genuinely want to contribute to the onboarding process, boosting Employee Engagement levels for both themselves and their new hire counterparts.

  • Having trouble rounding up volunteers? Create simple incentives for joining the program, such as license to splurge at that (overpriced) gourmet coffee shop during Buddy meetings. The temptation of an almond croissant is more powerful than you might think.
  • Arrange the buddies to have their first meeting before the new hire begins work. This will calm first-day nerves and offer new employees a familiar, friendly face straightaway.
Picking the right buddies for employee onboarding

Make the Most of the Buddy Program with Routine Meetings and Feedback

The structure of a Buddy meeting should be relaxed — coffee, lunch, or a sit-down in the common area. For remote workers, a simple Google Hangout or Skype session will do the trick.

Depending on how long your Buddy Program lasts (we suggest 3 - 6 months), the meeting calendar should look something like this,

  • 1x/week for first month
  • 2x/month for months 2 - 3
  • 1x/month for months 4 - 6
  • 1 end of program meeting to recap and explore the new-no-more hire’s interest in becoming a Buddy

A time allocation isn’t necessary, given the relaxed nature of these meetings. It’s fully up to the duo whether they’d like to grab a 15 minute coffee, or enjoy 2 hours of after-work drinks.

To gain valuable feedback on what is and isn’t working, implement short, monthly surveys.

Survey questions to consider:

New Hire

  • In your own words, how would you describe the business’ goals and vision?
  • Do you feel comfortable around your new coworkers?
  • How would you describe the organization’s overall attitude?
  • Have you been comfortable asking your buddy any questions that arise?

Buddy

  • Do you feel the new hire has a solid understanding of company goals and vision?
  • Do you think the new hire is adapting to company culture?
  • How has the new hire’s confidence progressed?
  • Over the past month, have the new hire’s queries increased, decreased, or remained constant?

The end of program survey should review overall satisfaction and effectiveness, with compulsory comments on program strengths along with suggestions for improvement. Candid feedback will guide you in polishing your program so that new hires are getting the support, information, and friendship they need to excel.

How did Sapling build their Buddy Program?

Sapling has found great success with their new hire buddy program, co-run by our VP of Marketing and CEO. It is a structured experience for new hires ranging from team-specific creative get togethers to all-hands yearly offsites that promote new hire relationships, learning, and includes regular social events.

Here are the elements Sapling tried to keep in mind when building our own Buddy Program:

We put our Buddy Program to the test at a recent offsite sponsored by Sapling. Our organization had all of our new hires alongside our entire team at our SF headquarters attend and participate in team building exercises for two days in Lake Tahoe. Exercises included an eight mile hike together and a structured ropes course. For both exercises, employees were partnered as part of our Buddy Program with employees from different teams and this helped our teammates form bonds, learn from each other, and find out about top challenges for each department. 

 

When we asked our attendees and employees about the importance of the offsite and the Buddy Program in an employee survey, and how much it contributed to their new hire success, all agreed it had played an important role and see the Buddy Program as a significant value add and contribution to our team’s culture.


Want to learn more about how employee onboarding can foster engagement and productivity? Download Sapling’s Essential Guide To Employee Onboarding Success or sign up for a product demo below.