Guidelines for Creating a Buddy System for New Hires

It would be difficult to find a time in the annuls of U.S. business when employee retention enjoyed the heightened interest it does today. Every company, big or small, has some sort of strategy, practice, or approach that strives to help retain its talent. Is this attention deserved? Consider the following:

“New employees decide whether they feel at home or not in the first three weeks in a company and 4% of new employees leave a job after a disastrous first day.” The Wynhurst Group, 2007

“6.2 months is the breakeven point for new managers.” Monster.com, 2007 Survey

If nothing else, the aforementioned brings home the old adage that first impressions are important. Getting off to a firm footing is equally critical for a new employee and the employer because this impacts performance and satisfaction, which influence retention. And considering the investment in new hires, employers want the investment to pay long-term dividends.

Buddy Systems are becoming increasingly popular as a means for retaining new talent. While they are traditionally found as a component of employee onboarding programs, they can add value even if part of a de-facto onboarding process or as a stand-a-lone organizational practice. Also, they can be deployed with all new hires, whether the new employee is from the outside the company or an internal transfer to a new department.

In a Buddy System, the new hire is paired with an existing employee who performs the role of advisor, coach, or hero. Identifying the right people to serve as buddies is important; everyone in an organization doesn’t fit the role of a Buddy (see Guidelines below). The Buddy is not intended to replace the employee’s manager. Instead, the Buddy complements the manager’s and/or team’s efforts to acclimate the employee to the group and company, make the employee feel welcome, and give the employee license to ask questions and seek help.

Establishing a Buddy System doesn’t have to be overly complicated but it does require thought and due diligence. In this spirit, the following guidelines serve as guard rails for creating a Buddy System in your department, organization, or company. They are offered as representative examples and your organization’s specific circumstances should determine which of the following would be applicable.

• Program Description – there should be a formal overview of the program defining what it is and explaining its scope, benefits, and purpose.

• Program Objectives – the intended outcomes should be clearly articulated and related to the overall strategy of the organization and/or business.

• Buddy Selection/Pairing – the criteria for the consideration and selection of individuals to participate as buddies, as well as the means for pairing buddies with new hires, needs to be communicated and adhered to.

• Role of Individuals – expectations of the manager, Buddy and new hire in playing their respective parts need to be detailed, distinguished, and monitored.

• Scope, Frequency, and Timing of Engagement – the types and breadth of activities that should be engaged in, and the amount of time invested in doing so, need to be agreed upon and adhered to with minimal impact on the business.

• Length of the Buddy Relationship – the parameters around the start and termination of the Buddy relationship need to be clearly defined.

A successful Buddy System is critically impacted by who serves as a Buddy and the ability of that person to execute the role as it is outlined. A set of specific criteria should be established to identify people to serve as a Buddy. As an example, you could consider individuals who:

• Possess a strong record of performance over time.
• Have experience in the position the new hire is in.
• Understand of the company culture and environment where the work is performed by the new hire. [Consider a minimum tenure of 6-12 months.]
• Exhibit interpersonal, communication, and teaching/training skills.
• Are held in high regard and considered trustworthy by coworkers and management.
• Appreciate and can fulfill the confidential nature of the role.
• Have the time to execute the role with minimum impact to her/his own job performance.
• Advocate for the Company.
• Aspire to serve in a leadership role.

There are other criteria that can be considered, but the point is to establish selection standards that make sense for your organization.

Equally important is ensuring that a prospective Buddy understands and commits to meeting the expectations of the Buddy role. Following are examples of such expectations.

• Assisting in navigating the corridors and cubicle farms within the workplace.
• Being a resource for answering questions, brainstorming, and avoiding land minds.
• Explaining work-related rules, policies, procedures, unwritten policies/practices, and cultural nuances.
• Aiding the socialization process by engaging others via joint activities that promote teamwork, are instructional, and create fun at work.
• Providing feedback to management regarding issues/concerns.

Upon concluding the Buddy relationship, there should be a formal assessment to identify what worked and what didn’t. This information can be captured via a questionnaire, survey, or other non-confrontational or intimidating manner. The point of the data collection is to develop best practices to improve the program’s effectiveness and fulfil its promise.

The end game of Buddy Systems is to facilitate the effective acculturation of new hires into the workplace, even if the new hire is transferring internally from one department to another. The transition process should aim to infuse a sense of belonging, caring, and camaraderie while dispensing important information to promote high performance, job satisfaction, and eventually, employee retention. Given what is at stake, can you afford not to consider a Buddy System?