Every New Employee Needs an Onboarding 'Buddy'

By Harvard Business Review
October 3, 2019

Bringing a new employee onboard is both exciting and stressful. And while managers play a critical role in shaping a new employee’s first weeks and months, a broader effort can ensure the experience is positive and productive.

women-1209678_960_720At Microsoft, we’ve been working to improve our onboarding process. We learned right away that managers having one-on-one meetings with their new hires during their first week on the job has outsize benefits. We’ve also concluded that “onboarding buddies” play an important role. After piloting a buddy program involving 600 employees, we found that onboarding buddies help hires in three key ways:

THEY PROVIDE CONTEXT: Knowledgeable onboarding buddies can help new hires determine who relevant stakeholders are and how to navigate the matrix of different organizations. They can also share cultural norms and any unspoken rules.

THEY BOOST PRODUCTIVITY: We found the more the onboarding buddy met with the new hire, the greater the new hire’s perception of her own speed to productivity: Fifty-six percent of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days indicated that their buddy helped them quickly become productive in their role. That percentage increased to 97 percent for those who met more than eight times in their first 90 days.

THEY IMPROVE NEW-EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION: After their first week on the job, new hires with buddies were 23 percent more satisfied with their overall onboarding experience compared with those without buddies. This trend continued at 90 days with a 36 percent increase in satisfaction. Those with buddies also reported receiving more active support from both their manager and the broader team.

After studying our data, we decided to expand our pilot program by creating an internal site for hiring managers to match new hires with an onboarding buddy, along with guidance on what makes a good match. We still have quite a bit to learn, but here are some of our early insights and tips:

REPRIORITIZE THE WORKLOAD: You may need to help reassign or deprioritize work so the buddy has time to support the needs of the new hire.

COMMUNICATE TIMING: Make clear this is a time-bound partnership. Buddies may be more likely to offer their services if the duration of the engagement is established in advance.

REPORTING STRUCTURES MATTER: Our research shows that onboarding buddies reporting to the same manager as the new hire receive more favorable ratings than those who report to a different manager. Why? We think it’s because buddies who report to the same manager may be more familiar with the new hire’s role and responsibilities.

BEING A BUDDY IS MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL: Serving as an onboarding buddy provides an opportunity to demonstrate and develop managerial and leadership skills. Teaching others can also strengthen one’s own knowledge base.

The most important thing a new hire needs for success is support. All it takes is a planful manager and a dedicated onboarding buddy to ensure a new hire has a positive and productive first few months on the job.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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