Employee onboarding

Why is a buddy a key component of your onboarding?

Anita Wojtaś-Jakubowska
Why is a buddy a key component of your onboarding?

He is the best companion of a new hire and invaluable support for the team manager. Meanwhile, it turns out that in many organizations, the institution of an onboarding buddy is still not functioning! There are at least a thousand reasons to change this. Today we'll tell you about the most important ones, and first of all, let's explain who a buddy is.

Let's start with the name- "Buddy", it sounds rather informal, doesn't it? And pretty right, because it's a function that almost by definition is performed in less formal circumstances. A Buddy is a colleague for special tasks. While handling his/her own duties, one simultaneously 'keeps circling the orbit of' the new employee and is the strongest support in the first days, first few weeks and even months in a new job.

Employee retention vs. onboarding: what does good onboarding change? I Gamfi Blog

Who is a buddy? An informal method of onboarding new employees

Almost everyone who has met someone like this in a new job has an excellent memory of the onboarding experience. We are not always aware of the function of a buddy, or even don't know who this person is, especially from an employee's point of view. However, when getting used to the new company causes chaos, and the mass of information overwhelms, that's when the buddy steps in. He or she is the person to whom a new employee can turn to without embarrassment, even with the most basic questions.

It is much worse when managers are the ones who do not realize who the buddy is because he/she plays a key role in the new hire onboarding buddy program. The support of a buddy not only makes new employees go through the adaptation more efficiently, but also somewhat relieves the supervisor of these tasks.

What are the main duties of a buddy?

Buddy's most common tasks:

  • mental support of a new employee (a buddy has a high enough level of empathy to take care of a new team member);
  • organising office tour ( although it is sometimes underestimated, but for a new hire it is almost as important as getting to know the company's systems, explaining how the tools and tasks function);
  • getting to know the team (an important buddy's role at the beginning of this onboarding process, which does not have to be performed by the supervisor);
  • introduction to organizational matters (Buddies answer questions such as: Where is the kitchen? How to apply for leave? Where to find help with technical issues? All this can also be as fascinating as visiting historical monuments when the buddy is a good guide).

Less obvious but key tasks:

  • Being the first contact in times of crisis for the new employee;
  • Arranging (in cooperation with the manager) the onboarding buddy program;
  • Supervising the schedule of new hire's training and onboarding meetings;
  • checking the new employee's well-being and job satisfaction on a regular basis (specifically, they collect feedback);
  • making sure the employee has equipment to work with and access to company's internal site.

Where does this distinction come from? From practice. The role of buddy is still sometimes understood quite narrowly. Usually, supervisors choose buddies to perform this function and assign them to take care of a new employee.

Well, but what does this actually mean? What are my tasks? - asks a Buddy in his mind, and then does what simply seems right to him/her, which is to create successful onboarding experiences, provide support, show the new employee around the company, introduce him or her to the current employees, point out the workplace, occasionally ask how new employees feel, and... that's it. Buddy can't imagine that more responsibilities would be added to his/her list, the manager, on the other hand, doesn't even know that a Buddy could support him/her in a stronger way during the new employee's onboarding process.

And since they don't have as much time available themselves, it usually ends up that all the responsibility for onboarding goes to the HR department. Thus, misunderstandings and frustrations appear. And yet the solution is actually at hand!

In some companies, buddy work functions as a formalized institution. In addition, when he/she sees any risks associated with the implementation of a new employee, he/she steps in. A conscious manager who knows what the buddy's role really consists of- expands his competence. That's because he/she realizes that otherwise the buddies and new hires relationship will not produce results in accordance with the company's clear expectations. So let's move on, discussing how the buddy system (the onboarding program at work) works.

Onboarding buddy program at work. What is Buddy's role in the onboarding process?

If we had to define it in one sentence.... in the process of onboarding buddies play a key role! If we look at buddy through the perspective of the 4C model (Connections, Culture, Clarification and Compliance), it becomes clear that it is this person who ties together all onboarding tasks within Connections, the area responsible for building relationships between the new hire and existing employees.

Buddy's task is to introduce the newcomers to other team members and make sure the new hires feel welcomed and comfortable with the colleagues. Buddy should also introduce him or her to less formal company's culture and teach him or her to smoothly navigate all official and unofficial company paths.

In other words, the buddy's role concerns less formal advice on how to make one's way around the work environment, although it should be a formalized function in itself, as it is useful for practically every new employee (and supervisor).

Buddy's exemplary tasks have already been presented, so it's time to move on to the practical part. By convention, the supervisor selects a person whose character and empathy fits the Buddy's function. What happens next inside the company's corridors and walls?

Buddy has a magical influence on a new employee

What does the buddy role mean in practice? Frequently, it is to show new hires around the office, introduce them to other employees, offer to go out for lunch together, and, well, lots of talks. It's also worth building opportunities for joint activities in order to make new employees feel comfortable.

Often that is when, between one informal meeting and another, the onboarding magic happens: the employee gets to know the unwritten rules of how the organization works, learns about the company's who-is-who, and finds out who can be asked for help with a particular issue.

Buddy has a magical effect on a new employee I Blog Gamfi

Well, let's be honest - the HR director will not be the first contact in every company. Leader buddy in the onboarding process provides a lot of similar information, because he/she is equipped with previous cooperation with anyone the newcomer may meet on the way.

Buddy solves communication problems

Let's analyze the worst scenario - the new team member's integration takes place during a period of home office or hybrid work. In this case, the advantages of the Buddy systems become particularly evident, because communication problems between strangers are quite natural. Relationship building and knowledge sharing are things that in stationary work happen naturally, somewhere between the corridor, the desk and the company's kitchen, but in home office mode already require special support. And good relations with the team members and informal knowledge sharing make the new employee able to sit up to his duties faster and perform them correctly- right from the beginning.

At the same time, let's remember that the buddy relationship does not end after the first week of work. After he/she introduces the new team member to the organization, one should also continue to watch over the new employee satisfaction and well-being for a while. In the context of such well-done work, celebrating the completion of the newcomer's first or even third month is most welcome. The role of buddy can sometimes be very enjoyable, because if at the end of the onboarding program both sides happen to like each other, and if there is a contract extension- a celebration together is a must have!

Buddy influences positive experience

56% of new Microsoft employees

said that just one meeting with a buddy positively affected their productivity.

Two or three meetings produced this impression in 73% of respondents. After 8 or more meetings, up to 97% (!) of new employees felt a significant increase in their productivity.

Source: Microsoft

The experience of giants such as Microsoft usually serves as a model for smaller companies, which leads us to assume that every organization needs an onboarding buddy system, regardless of the fact whether the company's employees mainly use English or Polish in the office on a daily basis. What does the practice look like? Does a buddy also appear in Polish movies, or at least their managers know who a buddy is and try to introduce this function in their own organizations?

Unfortunately, not every new employee experiences this magic

Nothing but encouraging employees to act as buddies, right? However, the matter is not so simple for many reasons.

A survey we conducted during a webinar as part of our Onboarding Academy showed that as many as 59% of the companies taking part in the survey do not have potential buddies in their ranks.

Another 32% of organizations admittedly use this function, but their selected buddies, on the other hand, do not have a clearly defined role - their job is simply to accompany new hires.

Only 9% of survey participants confirmed that the role of a buddy in the onboarding program is clearly defined.

Buddy side by side with the manager

The results of the survey lead us to believe that the role of the buddy, who introduces a new team member to the organization in the first place, as well as the buddy system as a whole, remain undervalued. On the other hand, successful onboarding experience of our existing partners encourages the introduction of the buddy function.

Let's return to the onboarding context of the 4C model. If in Connection, that is, in the area related to relationship building, the buddy plays a primary role, then in Clarification, that is, where the implementation of the employee into specific duties is involved, it already falls rather to a secondary role. Which doesn't mean it's not Oscar-winning! After all, one of his/her tasks is to work closely with the manager.

Whereby, note that a Buddy is tasked with conveying to the employee unwritten rules of the organization, but does not deal with the actual implementation of the new hires into the position. This is the domain of the supervisor.

What is the division of tasks between the buddy-manager?

A Buddy should relieve the manager and help him/her coordinate the entire onboarding process. The ideal division of responsibilities, thoroughly tested at our client T-Mobile, looks more or less like this: while the manager, together with the HR employee, take care of the content and strategic elements of successful onboarding program, the onboarding buddy takes care of organizing training and other onboarding meetings.

In short: the HR employee sets the whole onboarding process in motion, the manager gives it a direction and meaning, and the buddy makes everything run smoothly and pleasantly. The manager introduces the employee to the duties, the buddy helps perform them, has to provide support, acquaintances and the right tools. All together they are a dream team!

Is a buddy the person to collect feedback on a new hire's skills? Not necessarily. Is the buddy the one who evaluates whether he or she sees further cooperation with the person being implemented in the onboarding process? Again, no. The onboarding Buddy system is about something else, although, of course the supervisor may count on the Buddy's opinion.

Ambassador and guardian of the company's vision

We already know that buddy systems play at least several important roles in an organization. We haven't mentioned one more: the role of the company's informal ambassador. All the knowledge about the organization that a new employee acquires from the recruitment process, during the day one is confronted with the first impression of the real workplace.

A Buddy is responsible for this first impression. The way he or she speaks about the company, what he or she knows about it, or how communicates with other employees will shape the final image of the organization in the new hire's mind. Will it result in professional love at first sight or perhaps a feeling of immense dissonance with expectations and, in the worst case, even leaving the job? It all depends on the actions of a particular person.

It's hard to hide the fact that in a competitive job market, the role of effective buddy system will become increasingly important in the onboarding process. Finally, the probationary period nowadays is a trial not only from the employee's point of view, but also from the employer's. A freshly hired employee may change the mind after the probationary period if the buddy' s role, as an ambassador, for the organization is not fulfilled as expected.

Who is the ideal buddy?

The role of a buddy should always be taken willingly, but still, it must be assigned to someone. To whom? How do you recognize a born buddy?

  • a person wants to be a buddy. Simply, he/she sees himself/herself in this role, perhaps he/she has even performed it informally before.
  • a person works in the same team as the new employees.
  • a person has a good relationship with the team manager.
  • He/she has a full set of information about the company culture and has worked there for some time.
  • a person is distinguished by being sociable, patient, understanding and well-organized and has good communication skills and positive attitude. He/she is able to give positive feedback. He/she keeps up to date with employees' interests.

It is important to distinguish the function of a buddy from the role of a mentor. The former is tasked with monitoring the progress of an employee's entire career at a given company. He/she advises the new person professionally and provides him/her with long-term support on the path of promotion. A mentor, almost by definition, should be characterized by extensive experience, broad knowledge and long work experience.

A Buddy, on the other hand, is assigned to a new hire for a specific period of time - usually for the first few months. His/her role is much less formalized. The buddy personally also doesn't need to have many years of work experience behind, as well. It is enough to be comfortable with the meanderings of that particular company. The main task is to emotionally and practically support the new hires.

Buddy? Why should I actually be one? A few words about motivation and difficulties

It is no great secret that few employees want the role of onboarding buddies. From their perspective, it is often an additional, troublesome duty that comes with considerable responsibility and, at the same time, little prestige. Those aspiring to the role are concerned that they may not meet the expectations of their supervisor. Another worry is that new responsibilities may stand in opposition to the fulfilment of daily tasks. What are the most common problems associated with the topic of successful onboarding buddy programs in an organization?

Why is a Buddy a key link in your onboarding? [GIF] | Blog Gamfi

It is often the case that buddy:

  • doesn't even know that he/she has this role;
  • does not have clearly-defined responsibilities;
  • doesn't feel support in the manager, often because the manager himself doesn't know what role the buddy has in the company;
  • doesn't have the time or feels that being a part of buddy programs, will neglect his/her own responsibilities;
  • doesn't feel motivated enough, to put it simply - he/she doesn't get anything out of it;
  • is not equipped with the right tools and technology;
  • does not know the broader context of the onboarding buddy programs,
  • "doesn't feel chemistry" with a new hire because he or she is too different in temperament or character.

Unfortunately, often the company itself also has no idea of the successful onboarding buddy role and does not formalize it in any way. This under-definition of the role at the organization level and throughout the new employee onboarding buddies programs makes the topic potentially frustrating.

How can you change this? Define the buddy's responsibilities clearly. Create a check-list of tasks for him/her to complete. Automatize appointments making and ongoing communication. And finally - reward the buddy for fulfilling this role. How to go about all this? You'll organize it all in the Gamfi Onboarding app - we invite you to test it for free. And for more tips and useful techniques, see our text "Buddy onboarding: how to support and motivate him/her?"

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