Starting out at a new company is intimidating, even for the most confident among us. New people, new faces, new processes – it can all be pretty overwhelming. The discomfort is only compounded when the company provides limited support during those first few crucial weeks.
This is where an onboarding buddy program can be a game-changer. By pairing new hires with more experienced employees, companies can provide the support and guidance that newcomers need to hit the ground running. And, as an added bonus, buddies can benefit from the experience, too – gaining valuable mentorship opportunities in the process.
What is a buddy program for new employees?
Are you familiar with mentorship? A buddy program is very similar, except it focuses specifically on the onboarding process. A buddy is someone who can help a new hire acclimate to the company culture, answer questions about processes and procedures, and provide general support during those first few weeks (or even months).
The idea is that buddies are there to make sure new hires feel comfortable and supported as they transition into their new roles. By having someone to rely on, new hires can hit the ground running – and avoid feeling overwhelmed or isolated during those crucial early days.
A successful buddy program...
- Pairs each new hire with a useful, knowledgeable buddy for the duration of their onboarding phase.
- Allows new hires to confidently set clear goals with their buddy, and get feedback along the way.
- Encourages buddies to share their own experiences and insights about the company, in addition to answering questions.
- Gives new hires the opportunity to build relationships with experienced employees from different departments or teams.
- Comprehensively prepares new hires for the specific role they will be playing within the company.
A buddy program is not...
- A way to avoid having a structured onboarding process. A buddy program should supplement – not replace – an existing onboarding plan.
- A free pass for new hires to skip orientation or other important onboarding activities. Buddies are there to provide support, not do the work for them.
- A social program purely for the sake of meeting people. Buddies should be carefully selected based on their usefulness and knowledge, not just their ability to make friends (although friendliness is important, too).
Is it really necessary to pair every new hire with a buddy?
For managers and owners of small businesses, it can sometimes feel silly or superfluous to pair every new hire with a buddy. After all, you probably know everyone in the company already, so why not just introduce newcomers to the team and let them find their own way?
In reality, though, this hands-off approach is often more trouble than it's worth. Without someone to guide them, new hires can quickly become overwhelmed – and that's when mistakes happen. A buddy program may seem like an extra step, but it's a worthwhile investment in your company's future.
Compelling benefits of pairing new hires with buddies
So, why exactly should you consider implementing a buddy program? Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Benefit 1: Improved retention rates
New employees who feel supported and connected to their company are more likely to stick around long-term. According to one particular case study by Ranstad, who ran a mentorship program and monitored turnover rates over time, mentored employees were 49 percent less likely to leave for another job.
- Benefit 2: Faster onboarding
With a buddy by their side, new hires can hit the ground running and get up to speed quickly.
The SHRM Foundation reported that employees are more likely to learn the key skills and company knowledge they need when they have a mentor. The report’s referenced studies showed that skills transfer happened more seamlessly for these employees.
- Benefit 3: Greater engagement
Ninety-four percent of employees say they'd be more invested in their job if the company invested in their development, according to a report from LinkedIn Learning. A buddy program engages employees by showing that the company cares about their development and is willing to invest in their success.
- Benefit 4: Increased productivity.
Mentorship is significantly more effective than simply training employees on company policies and procedures, according to a study by the Association for Talent Development. Training managers led to a 24 percent productivity boost, while mentorship led to a whopping 88 percent boost.
- Benefit 5: A better company culture
A buddy program can help new hires feel like they belong, which in turn strengthens the company culture as a whole. When employees feel connected to their company and its values, they're more likely to act in alignment with those values – creating a positive feedback loop that benefits everyone involved.
Evidently, there are plenty of reasons to consider launching a buddy program at your company. Not only will it improve retention rates and increase productivity, but it will also make for a better company culture overall.
What are the alternatives to 'buddies'?
Rather than investing in a 1-on-1 buddy system, some companies opt for group mentoring, often in the form of an employee resource group (ERG). While this can be a helpful way to engage employees and provide support, it's important to consider the drawbacks.
First, ERGs can often foster competition rather than collaboration. They're great for peer accountability and support – but you can never be sure that everyone in the group is on the same page. Additionally, ERGs can be exclusive, which can further alienate employees who don't feel like they fit into any of the existing groups.
Buddy systems, on the other hand, are highly individualized and can be tailored to each person's specific needs. They're also inclusive, since everyone is paired with a buddy (rather than being sorted into groups).
Examples of successful buddy programs for new hires
At Together, we regularly have the privilege of working with companies to help them build and launch successful buddy programs. Here are a few examples of our clients who've seen great results:
Ranstad's #ReloadYourStrengths program
As mentioned earlier, Ranstad has seen an incredible turnover reduction with their mentorship program. The company began using our Together platform to take a more structured approach to their buddy system, making it easier for employees to find and connect with mentors.
Both the #ReloadYourStrengths program and their onboarding strategy, the Insider Program are based around four pillars:
- Delighting people by building strong relationships,
- Performing today by securing and developing our resources,
- Leading change through the ambiguity of our world, and
- Securing the future by driving vision and purpose to motivate others into action.
We were thrilled to see how these programs boosted skills transfer, employee retention, and overall efficiency at Ranstad.
Cooley's new hire onboarding
As a global law firm with over 1,500 lawyers, Cooley needs total efficiency in the hiring and onboarding process to make sure every new lawyer is up-to-speed and ready to take on client cases.
They use our Together platform to run the Cooley Academy Mentoring Program (CAMP), which is designed to show every onboarding employee the ropes in a structured and purposeful way. New hires are paired with more experienced lawyers for the duration of CAMP.
The company even runs a mentoring competition to make things more fun and engaging. This incentive-based system ensures that everyone remains highly engaged throughout the program.
NetApp's intern programs
Using Together, NetApp has run two internship onboarding programs since 2021 as a way of ensuring their interns have a great experience and are set up for success.
The 2021 NetApp Intern Mentoring Program used information gathered by our platform to pair interns with the most suited mentors. They took things a step further by using results from the program to plan internship assessments.
NetApp reran the program in 2022, making one slight difference; interns were paired with an employee or AWF from a different department in order to create a cross-functional learning experience.
Of course, most onboarding programs will focus on pairing new hires with people from their specific department – but for interns, a cross-departmental approach can be very beneficial. It allows them to learn about other areas of the company and get a better sense of how everything fits together.
How to start an onboarding buddy program for new hires
Ready to start your own onboarding buddy program? It's crucial to get off on the right foot, so here's a step-by-step walkthrough of the process.
Determine what roles are being filled
Before you can start your onboarding buddy program, you'll need to identify which roles within your company will be filled by new hires. Are you starting a marketing campaign and therefore hiring a few marketing coordinators? Or are you expanding your engineering team and looking for software developers?
Once you've pinpointed the roles, you'll know which departments to source your buddies from, and how many you will need.
Find a qualified employee buddy for each new hire
You've got a solid idea of which departments and roles you need to cover – so who will you tap to be the buddies? The best onboarding buddies are typically:
- Experienced in their field
- Good communicators
- Respectful of others' time
- Approachable and friendly
If you can find someone who meets all of these criteria and is also excited about being a mentor, you're well on your way to setting up a successful program.
Train your buddies
The buddies you choose may be excellent at their jobs, but don't expect their skills to magically transfer to mentorship. Before they begin working with new hires, give them some guidance on how to best support and communicate with their mentees.
A few things you might want to cover:
- What an onboarding buddy's role is (e.g., help the new hire acclimate to the company culture, introduce them to people in their department, provide feedback on their progress)
- What an onboarding buddy is not (e.g., a replacement for HR or a personal assistant)
- Tips for being an effective mentor
- A roadmap for how often they should meet with their mentee and what topics they might cover
- A clear timeline of the onboarding process
Consider providing your buddies with a literal checklist of things to cover with their mentees, as well as some conversation starters and general guidelines. And if you're worried about overloading them with information, consider breaking up the training into a few sessions rather than one long meeting.
Pair buddies with the new hires
The time has come! Your new employees have arrived, and it's now up to the buddies to help them get acclimated.
How you pair your employees is up to you; some companies like to have a group meeting with all of the new hires and their buddies present, while others prefer to let the pairs connect on their own.
If you go with the latter approach, make sure each buddy has all of the contact information they need for their mentee, as well as a way to easily access any materials or resources you provided. Here's an excellent handbook you can print for each mentor, or you can create a digital version to share via email.
Support the pairing relationship
You've done most of the practical work, but the process doesn't end here. Continue to assist your buddy pairs by providing them with resources like session agendas and discussion questions. Our platform has plenty of resources for planning sessions and tracking process.
Monitor and evaluate the program
The final step – and arguably most important – is to monitor the progress of your onboarding buddy program. How are the new hires doing? Do they feel supported by their buddies? Are there any areas where the program could be improved?
You can track this informally, through conversations with employees and their buddies, or more formally, through surveys and performance reviews. At the end of the day, what's most important is that you're constantly striving to improve the program so that it benefits everyone involved.
At Together, we've got an incredibly handy survey tool that collects information and feedback from employees about their experience with the program. We've also found that setting up regular check-ins (say, once a month) between buddies helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and offers an opportunity to address any concerns early on.
Level up your onboarding program with Together
Starting an onboarding buddy system doesn't have to be overwhelming. (Even if it feels that way at first!)
With a little planning and prep work, you can set your new hires up for success – and feel confident that your investment in their onboarding process is paying off.
Don't forget to make the most of our tools and resources at Together. With our platform, you can plan every type of mentorship under the sun; we'll help you set up any structure you'd like, from your classic buddy and 1-on-1 systems to more complex models like reverse mentorship.
Sign up for a free trial of Together today to get started. You'll be amazed at how much more streamlined, efficient, and beneficial your onboarding process can be.