To Buddy Or Not To Buddy?

Onboarding New Employees: The Buddy System

To buddy or not to buddy?  Orientation buddies are existing employees who have been working in your organization for several years. They are good performers who act as a role model for your new employees. They are valuable new employee allies because they can provide information, including the inside scoop about your organization’s people and politics.

Assigning an orientation ‘buddy’ to new employees during the first months of orientation and onboarding pays big dividends. It speeds up the orientation and onboarding process so employees become productive faster and more efficiently. Having an assigned orientation buddy also gives new employees someone with whom they can immediately form a positive relationship. They gain the time, attention, and guidance of a seasoned employee who knows in-depth information about the job, unit/department and organization.


Orientation buddies also benefit because they are recognized and rewarded for their expertise and desire to share what they know and can do with others.

Learning About the Informal Policies, Procedures and Practices

There are informal policies, procedures and practices that only existing employees know about. This information isn’t written down. There’s no intranet site that lays out how your organization really works. For example, when a new employee first goes to lunch, where do they sit in the cafeteria?  Some areas are known to be the turf of certain employees. How do new employees get the needed supplies from the supply ‘warden’ without upsetting her? What senior executives will they see and/or meet while on the elevator or in meetings? What are the unique quirks of these key executives?  I know, it sounds more like prison etiquette. But, in reality, there are known rules and then there are the hidden rules that if not followed, cause problems for new employees.

Orientation Buddy – Not a Replacement for the Manager

Since the orientation buddy is not the new employee’s direct manager, the new employee will feel more comfortable talking about their work performance issues. They will also more likely own up to job challenges and get help sooner, rather than waiting until their manager is available.

The only real drawback to assigning an orientation buddy is if the manager delegates too much authority and abdicates their new employee responsibilities. Managers are ultimately responsible for ensuring their new employees are efficiently and effectively oriented and onboarded to their new job.

The more formal checkpoint discussions should not be delegated to orientation buddies. Managers should book these meetings (i.e., to occur at the end of the first day, first week, first two weeks, first month and first three months) with their new employees.  These are the critical time periods when new employees consider leaving their new job.  The best employee retention strategy is for managers to actively schedule and conduct the check-in discussions with their new employees to ensure they are being integrated well within the organization.

Orientation Buddy Role and Responsibilities

Once selected and assigned to a new employee, a manager will typically ask the orientation buddy to do the following:

  • Ensure the new employee has the needed resources and tools
  • Take the new employee out to lunch on the first day
  • Facilitate informal introductions with others employees within the unit/department
  • Check in with the new employee at least once a day to see how they are doing
  • Answer the new employee’s questions throughout the initial weeks on the job
  • Share information about the organization’s informal policies and practices
  • Conduct on-the-job training, as needed
  • Job shadow the new employee’s interactions with customers and provide feedback, as needed
  • Provide feedback to the manager on how well the new employee is adjusting to the new job

Manager Verus Onboarding Buddy

Whether or not you assign an orientation buddy to a new employee depends on each manager’s availability and expertise. Do they know the job function well enough to teach their new employees about their job accountabilities? Maybe they are fairly new to the organization and don’t have the organizational knowledge. If they do, can they make time in their schedule to be available to their new employees on a regular basis for a couple of weeks?

If your managers have a more limited span of control with only a few employees reporting to them, then assigning an orientation buddy doesn’t make as much sense. It may be better for them to take on full responsibility for new employee orientation and onboarding.

Manager AND Orientation Buddy = Best Case Scenario

The worst case scenario is for new employees to start a new job with little or no support. The best case scenario is to have managers who are well prepared and available to guide new employees through the initial weeks of employment, supported by well-respected team members who are assigned ass orientation buddies or ‘guides on the side’.

It’s not difficult to find existing employees who are more than willing and able to help others succeed.  Don’t forget to use the knowledge, skills and abilities of orientation buddies.  They are a very valuable resource.


Valerie Dixon, President of Learnware Design Inc., is a leading expert in the field of Training and Development. Valerie has over 40 years of in-depth experience in all aspects of performance needs analysis, learning strategy development and learning design for all types of media, in both the private and public sectors.

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