An onboarding buddy is an employee in a similar role who supports a new hire through onboarding. The onboarding buddy is a dedicated resource for new hires, and can help them when they have questions or hit roadblocks while adjusting to their new role. Assigning an onboarding buddy helps new hires feel comfortable, adjust to company culture, and get up to speed quickly. 

Onboarding Buddy Benefits

A new hire’s onboarding period is a stressful and exciting time for both the new hire and their employer. While managers have a large impact on the first weeks and months for a new hire, a broader team effort that includes an onboarding buddy can make onboarding more welcoming and efficient. The specific benefits of assigning an onboarding buddy include:

  • Helping navigate new surroundings. This includes the basics of finding the office kitchen or joining online team chats. It also includes more nuanced navigation of company culture and manager expectations. 
  • Speeding up productivity. Having an onboarding buddy to answer questions as they arise can help new hires feel comfortable in their role and become productive more quickly.
  • Building employee satisfaction. When an onboarding buddy has experience in a similar role, they are well placed to train the new hire and show them what success looks like in the role. Having a clear understanding of what a role requires and seeing their onboarding buddy doing well helps new hires build satisfaction in their new role. 
  • Improving retention. At the most basic level, onboarding buddies can make sure new hires don’t feel abandoned during onboarding and connect them with what they need quickly. This level of attention is key to building a strong onboarding experience. Research by the Brandon Hall Group has found that a strong onboarding experience can improve retention by 82%.

What’s the difference between a buddy and a mentor?

If your organization already has a mentoring program in place, perhaps you aren’t sure if an onboarding buddy is also necessary. A mentor is also a supportive connection, but their purpose is not the same as that of an onboarding buddy, and they both perform different roles.

Mentors have formal support relationships with their mentees that are intended to continue on a long-term basis, and their primary goal is to help employees identify career growth opportunities. 

By contrast, an onboarding buddy is an informal relationship that is focused only on the onboarding time frame. Onboarding buddies are also intended to be employees in a similar role to the new hire. Mentors are more likely to be further along in their career and so less able to assist with navigating the work environment in the role the new hire currently holds. 

Organizations can benefit from establishing both onboarding buddy and mentoring programs, but they should not be confused as providing the same support. 

What Does an Onboarding Buddy Do?

As an informal relationship, the specific tasks handled by an onboarding buddy can vary depending on what each new hire needs. However, there are some tasks that every onboarding buddy should perform. These include:

  • Connecting before the first day. This introduction helps the new hire know they have someone to turn to for help right from the start. Share how the new hire can contact the onboarding buddy and encourage them to reach out with questions.

This connection can be made through a formal welcome packet, or the recruiter can email an introduction to the new hire and include the onboarding buddy’s contact information. 

  • Setting up a first meeting and making introductions. The onboarding buddy can arrange to meet the new hire when they arrive at the office for their first day so that the new hire has a friendly face greeting them as they walk in the door. The onboarding buddy should also start introducing the new hire to their new coworkers. 
  • Answer new hire questions. This is a key task for the onboarding buddy. They should be able to answer questions easily and share their firsthand experience along the way. It is important that you pair each new hire with an onboarding buddy who has experience with the new hire’s department and skill set.

At a minimum, the onboarding buddy needs to understand your organization’s resources so that they can help connect the new hire with someone who can answer questions when the onboarding buddy does not know the answer.

  • Tour the office. Whether it’s finding the employee break areas or connecting to an online meeting, the onboarding buddy should give the new hire a tour of any areas where the new hire will be eventually expected to navigate on their own. For remote workers, this can be tricky since there is not a physical office to tour.

Remote new hires should be given a virtual tour of the software and applications that will enable them to connect with others at work. Consider setting up virtual meet and greet appointments on the new hire’s behalf to help them start building relationships remotely. 

  • Help navigate new tools and tasks. The onboarding buddy should help familiarize the new hire with company software, communication tools, and general tasks required in the new role. If the onboarding buddy handles similar tasks, they may invite the new hire to shadow them as they perform those tasks.  
  • Introduce company culture and guidelines. Onboarding buddies provide a reference point for new hires as they navigate the corporate culture and begin to find where they fit in the organization hierarchy. 
  • Schedule check-ins. The onboarding buddy should continue to reach out to the new hire even as they begin to settle into their new role. By scheduling regular check-ins, the onboarding buddy can help make sure the new hire continues to feel supported and has an outlet for raising questions or concerns. 

How to Build an Onboarding Buddy Program

An onboarding buddy program does not need to be a formalized system, but you will need to plan for how you will identify, pair, and support onboarding buddies before connecting them with new hires. The following steps will help you build an onboarding buddy program that works.

Step 1: Find the right employees to be onboarding buddies

The employees you rely on to be onboarding buddies should meet some minimum criteria. They should be friendly, willing to support a new hire, and knowledgeable about most of your company’s employee resources and infrastructure tools. 

You can solicit employees to serve as onboarding buddies through surveys or internal communication bulletins. If you don’t have an onboarding buddy in your pool that matches well with an incoming new hire, then you will need to work with the hiring manager to identify a good onboarding buddy candidate. 

Remember that serving as an onboarding buddy takes time away from the employee’s regular job duties. An employee whose workload is too high to accommodate onboarding buddy duties is unlikely to perform the onboarding buddy role well. You can support your onboarding buddies by communicating time demands to the employee’s manager and making sure the manager supports the employee helping in this way. 

Step 2: Pair buddies with relevant new hires

Each new hire should be paired with an onboarding buddy whose experience is similar and relevant to their new role. For instance, an onboarding buddy who works in public relations is unlikely to be the best match for a new software engineer hire. 

Instead, try to match your new hire with an onboarding buddy who has a similar job or skill area. Matches within the same department are usually the most helpful, but you can look further afield if the onboarding buddy has prior experience or institutional knowledge that would help them connect with the new hire. 

When you have more than one potential onboarding buddy, you might consider sending a survey to the new hire and their potential onboarding buddies to help make a good match. 

  • Ask the new hire if there is anything you should know before you assign them a buddy. For instance, a new hire may prefer to have an onboarding buddy who has the same work schedule or is of the same gender. 
  • Ask your potential onboarding buddies about their current availability and ensure they do not have significant time off scheduled when the new hire is starting out. 
  • Ask both the new hire and potential onboarding buddies about their interests and communication style preferences. This will help make pairings between individuals who are more likely to enjoy working together and could even lead to new friendships. 

Asking these questions will help ensure you make a match with an onboarding buddy that is available, who will make the new hire comfortable, and who may also have some shared interests with the new hire. 

Step 3: Establish relationship rules

An onboarding buddy is meant to be an informal relationship, but that does not mean no rules are required. Setting expectations at the start can help avoid any confusion or conflict. These expectations should include:

  • The onboarding buddy is not the new hire’s manager and should not direct the new hire’s work.
  • The onboarding buddy should introduce the new hire to HR, IT and other support areas to ensure the new hire can reach those support areas as needed.
  • The onboarding buddy should keep the new hire’s manager in the loop on the new hire’s progress.
  • The new hire should defer to their manager rather than their onboarding buddy if they need guidance on the goals of their work.

In general, onboarding buddies should focus on helping new hires transition into their role and place in the organization smoothly.

Step 4: Measure outcomes with feedback

You will want to check on the performance of your onboarding buddies to make sure the program is providing value. The simplest way to check in is by scheduling feedback check-ins with the new hire and the onboarding buddy. These check-ins should be scheduled separately so that both the new hire and the onboarding buddy feel comfortable providing honest feedback even when they have concerns.

Ask new hires how helpful they have found having their onboarding buddy, how available their onboarding buddy has been, and how comfortable they feel overall. 

Ask onboarding buddies how well the new hire is integrating with coworkers, whether there are any obstacles the onboarding buddy has not been able to help the new hire overcome, and whether you can provide the onboarding buddy with any assistance. 

Feedback from new hires and onboarding buddies should inform ways you can improve the onboarding process. Soliciting and acting on feedback helps strengthen your relationship with both your new hire and the employee who has served as an onboarding buddy. 

Onboarding Buddy Tips

Before you assign an onboarding buddy to their first new hire, share these tips with them:

  • Go slow. Remember how you felt on your first day and don’t expect the new hire to pick up everything immediately. It is ok to repeat some guidance and stay focused on helping the new hire feel confident. Don’t try to squeeze in too much information too fast.
  • Give the relationship time to develop. Don’t expect the new hire to feel close to you right away. It takes time to develop any relationship, and this is no different. Keep in mind that personality and communication styles can differ while still allowing you to make a meaningful connection with time. 
  • Offer feedback gently. Keep criticism constructive and don’t forget to offer praise when the new hire is doing well. When you see the new hire struggling, offer advice on how they can change their approach to improve. 

Conclusion

Including an onboarding buddy program in your overall onboarding strategy will help new hires build their comfort and productivity more quickly and help them integrate into your culture.

Having this informal resource available ensures that the new hire always has someone to turn to when they have questions or concerns during onboarding and may even build relationships that last beyond their onboarding journey. 

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