The Microsoft example: why do your new recruits need a Buddy?

Jeanne Onda
2 February 2022

Welcoming a new employee is both exciting and stressful for line managers who play a key role in their onboarding experience in the first few months. An overall team effort can secure the new recruit's experience in a positive way and accelerate their ramp-up period.

For some years now, Microsoft has been working to continuously improve its onboarding process for new recruits. Their research on the subject tells us that even very simple initiatives - a one-on-one with the manager in the first week, for example - have a significant impact on the satisfaction of the new employee in their onboarding experience. One element of the onboarding process that is particularly appreciated is the Buddy Program implemented in the onboarding process. Assigning a buddy to the new employee is not yet a practice that has been fully adopted by French companies, even though this onboarding stage no longer has to prove its effectiveness. Microsoft conducted a study on more than 600 new talents and found that the Buddy program benefited its organisation in three different ways:

Setting upa buddy programme helps to provide context for the new recruit.

Employees who have been with the company for a certain period of time - more than a year - know the context of the company and the issues surrounding it inside out. For new employees, this context is the main mystery to be unravelled from the day they arrive. Without a grasp of this context, a new recruit will find it very difficult to understand their role within the organisation or how to contribute positively to the achievement of its objectives. Having access to a buddy can provide important information in an informal setting - over coffee, for example - that is not available in the famous employee handbook. For example, a knowledgeable buddy can help the newcomer to determine which people to meet first in order to understand the organisation of the team, its operational methods and rituals, its hierarchical relationships, its cultural norms, its vocabulary, etc. The buddy will act - without necessarily having to be a member of the team - to help the newcomer to understand the team and its culture. The buddy will act - without necessarily realising it - as a guide to reveal to the new recruit all the unspoken rules that do exist within the new working environment.

The Buddy will boost the productivity of your recruit.

Accelerating the ramp-up of your new recruit, i.e. putting him or her in a condition of operational readiness, is a major challenge of integration. By starting a new job, the recruit fills an operational "void" in the company. The company has two expectations following recruitment: to meet the needs of its team with a new set of complementary skills and to quickly see a return on its investment - the new recruit. At Microsoft, field observations showed that the more time the recruit spent with their buddy, the faster the recruit felt they were getting up to speed: 56% of new hires who met with their buddy at least once in the first 90 days said their buddy helped them get up to speed faster on their new role. This percentage increases to 73% for those who met their buddy three times in their first few weeks; to 97% for new recruits who said they had seen their buddy four times.

Having a Buddy improves the satisfaction of your new recruit.

With over 120,000 employees, it is easy to imagine the challenge of the onboarding phase for a new recruit at Microsoft. To understand the added value of a buddy program, we compared the perception of new recruits who had been assigned a buddy vs. those who had not. The testimonies collected show that new recruits who had access to a buddy were 23% more satisfied with their onboarding experience compared to new recruits who did not have a buddy. This trend was even more evident from the second month in the company: new recruits with a buddy were 36% more satisfied.

Microsoft believes that they can go even further by continuously improving their sponsorship programme. In the meantime, here are the lessons they share about their first iterations on the subject:

- Prioritise the workload. When appointing a buddy, ensure that the current workload will allow him or her to fulfil the role seriously with the new recruit. 

- Communicate clear timing. The buddy will feel more comfortable in fulfilling his role if he knows in advance what is expected of him and when. 

- The buddy programme does not only benefit the new recruit. The buddy/new hire relationship has mutual benefits for both parties: for the buddy it is an opportunity to develop a whole set of management and leadership skills. A few years ago, Microsoft surveyed its employees to find out what qualities made a good manager. Two of the most cited qualities, communication and support, are skills practiced as a buddy. A very good exercise, therefore, for career development.