Remember back when I said I had never experienced a formal onboarding? It’s true! No formal anything beyond what I would categorize as “orientation,” which focused on paperwork. However, the one thing most of them did do was provide me an experienced peer to observe and question.
Did you know that 47% of organizations currently use this as an onboarding approach? (Techjury, 2023)
What does it look like? Are they mentors? Are they buddies? Are they peer partners? Call ‘em whatever you want.
What I have seen when working with customers on this is that if they already have a mentorship program somewhere in their organization, calling the people who support onboarding “mentors” can get confusing. I have seen companies call them onboarding buddies, just buddies, peer coaches, etc.
Remember fun? It was mentioned in the first article and will come again later—but why not come up with something unique? What is your culture? Does your company have a mascot? Play on words. Just because you are “formalizing” the role by giving it a name doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun name.
When I think of a formal program I am thinking about metrics, processes, calendars, consistent activities, etc. When I think of informal, I am thinking about sitting a newbie down in the guest chair next to a harried staffer who has been “voluntold” to “work with the new person.” And to be fair, there are probably some out there that are somewhere in-between.
For those who are doing this informally and it seems to be working, why not support those claims of success with metrics? Start with the expected outcomes—what do the newbies need to know and when do they need to be proficient? Gosh—if there was only a way to gather the detailed information that would indicate success? Oh yeah! Analysis can reveal those. <WINK, WINK>
Break these outcomes down to weekly goals for the first month and then spread it out a little bit, maybe monthly. You will quickly see where gaps are for the new hire that may need to be supported by a more formal learning event, or allow the mentor or buddy to spot areas of support they need to provide.
One of my favorite things to do is create a list of discussion points or observations for newbies and their buddies to work through together that is scheduled to take place a few days AFTER a formal training event like a required eLearning or even an ILT/VILT course.
It not only provides reinforcement for what was learned but also allows your new hire to ask questions they may not have wanted to ask while in class or were unable to ask in an eLearning. We often couple this with job-shadowing activities and reverse shadowing (where the mentor or buddy observes the newbie) activities as well.
Pro tip: Give the newbie a checklist or “observation worksheet” or something they can use when job shadowing that has them watch for specific items as their buddy works. It gives them responsibility for their learning and makes them an active participant. Do the same for the buddy when they are the one doing the observing.
Don’t forget the mentors/buddies
This type of approach is really two-fold. There are two “audiences” here. The newbie and the mentor/buddy. They have different needs and they have different objectives.
Not everyone can teach. There. I said it. It is just true. Fight me!
Just because someone is a SME, someone wants to be the mentor, or you want to assign someone to do it—is not the way to do it.
First, the people who participate as mentors or buddies should be able to volunteer. It lets you know who WANTS to do it. It then becomes “why” do they want to do it? The salty personality who is seeking some sort of power or has the “it’s my way or the highway” attitude is not the one. The person who wants to do it because they want to help someone be successful is the one.
You basically have to interview them to find out the motivation and use your gut. Do they have patience? Empathy? Can they give honest feedback, even when it is not positive? Are they critical thinkers who know how to find resources and network? Are they a good listener?
Once you have them, you need to provide some training. I know–leave it to a training vendor-type to say you need training–but in all seriousness, they at the very least need guidance on what is expected and what the outcomes are for these new people.
Pro tip: We often build playbooks that include the information they need to be great mentors or buddies. These playbooks include foundational info about the program itself, the expectations, and the outcomes. They also include all those activities, checklists, and discussion points in one place and matched up with the formal learning events they are based upon for convenience.
Did you know that according to research from National Mentoring Day, 67% of businesses that utilize mentoring programs in onboarding reported an increase in productivity and 55% saw a profit boost? (eLearning Industry, 2022)
The proof is in the pudding
Remember those metrics mentioned earlier? Evaluate them. Try out your new program for at least six months and then review some stats to see what is happening. Talk to the mentors, talk to the victims—I mean, newbies—to see what is happening. Does something need to be added? Does something need to be removed? What is most valuable?
I would wait to make any major changes at six months. Unless it a glaring problem, let it all ride for the next six months. This will allow for a higher comfort level of the newbies who are suddenly not new anymore and for the mentors who may be new to that role.
Can it be sooner? Sure! If you are running a program that is covering a lot of people and can provide enough data to make decisions, then go for it.
Pro tip: Pilot it with a small group first. If things seem to be going well after six months, roll it out to some more people—a different audience—and see if the results are similar. Everyone yells at me about these timelines but research is tricky and making decisions without it can result in costly changes or abject failure.
Should you incentivize mentors/buddies?
This is a point of debate. I think it would be great to provide something. These tasks usually fall under the “other duties as assigned” portion of a job description. I would change THAT for sure. If there is an expectation that employees at some time may be called upon to act in this capacity, they need to know it up front.
And then pay them for it. Whether it is money, company incentive plans, or a stipend of some kind, it doesn’t matter. But acknowledge it with more than a pizza party.