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on December 19, 2016 Engagement Onboarding

Buddying Up for Great Employee Onboarding

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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? Unfortunately, with every new job comes new uncertainties.

When it comes to settling into an unfamiliar company, new hires don’t want to go it alone. And with the help of a Buddy Program in Employee Onboarding, they don’t have to.

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.

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?)

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.

50% of employees with a best friend at work feel a strong connection with their company.

  • 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.

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 Apartment List built their program?

Apartment List, a San Francisco based Technology company (and partner of Sapling), has found great success with their new hire buddy program, or PEEP (personal employee experience person) program.

The PEEP Program is run by their Director of People - Lauren Burris - and is a structured experience for new hires that promotes new hire relationships and informative conversations, and includes regular social events.

Apartment List Buddy Program

At a recent Buddy Happy Hour event sponsored by Sapling, they had 25 new hires and their PEEPs (personal employee experience person) come to bond, chat, and celebrate joining Apartment List.

We asked them a few questions such as "What's the most important thing you learned from (or taught to) your new hire?" - the results were not surprising, covering the softer sides of new hire onboarding.

Ranging from how to use internal systems:

  1. "Small improvements (a performance management tool) isn't a huge essay for performance reviews."

Understanding employee benefits and stock issuance:

"Reinforce the importance of the GoNavia transit benefits and how they work."

"How shares work, covering stock options, grants and tax items."

And most importantly:

"The culture of the company."

"Definitely a lot of historical or background information about our clients, business and product"

When we asked attendees the importance of the PEEP Program to new hire success, all agreed it had played an important role and see it has a significant value add from the People Operations team.

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.

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Jeni Fahy

Jeni Fahy is a contributing author at Sapling, a culture-first organization helping People Ops leaders deliver employee experience programs with consistency, visibility, and analytics. If you’re interested in enhancing your employee experience with strategic employee onboarding, schedule a demo with the Sapling team.