Supporting New Employee Success with Peer Coaches

Brett Zawadiuk - 31 August 2021

Overview of the Peer Coach Role

Peer coaches are a new onboarding support that Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment (HRHSE) is formally introducing across the institution. The idea and role of a peer coach has already existed informally in many departments for years, as it’s been quite common for colleagues to serve as informal mentors, resources, and supports to help “show the ropes” to a new person joining the team. We recognize the value in having this peer connection during onboarding, and want to support this as a consistent experience for all people when they are hired or transitioning to a different position at the university.

Peer coaches play an important role in the onboarding of employees. It is a rewarding experience, as they have a direct impact on shaping the onboarding experience of the new employee and contributing to that person’s overall success. Peer coaches provide invaluable guidance to a person adjusting to their new role and team. Additionally, they act as cultural role models and provide hands-on support to navigate systems and processes.

Throughout a new employee’s first three months, peer coaches have regular contact to offer assistance and support. This includes welcoming the new employee with a first day tour and having bi-weekly check-ins to build rapport and answer questions.

An excellent onboarding equips the new employee with the core skills to perform their role, a sense of belonging with their team, and the mindset to support and contribute to the U of A. The peer coach role provides hands-on support to this experience and the navigation of the environment, systems, and processes.

Selecting Peer Coaches

In many cases, the peer coach will be identified by a supervisor based on the interest, capacity, and experience of members from their current team. It’s typical for a peer coach to work in a similar role, have at least six months of experience, and have both the time and a keen interest to support the onboarding experience. Resources exist on the HRHSE website to help with identifying and preparing a peer coach for their role.

With that, it’s not uncommon for a peer coach to be a person from another team or functional area. As a leader, it’s important to communicate with your team and determine the best approach based on your current circumstances, resourcing, work location, and environment. Options for sourcing a peer coach if you need to look outside the immediate team include:

  • An individual from another team you supervise
  • Check in with other supervisors in your department; they may have a similar role on their team with a person who would make a great peer coach
  • Reach out to other functional areas you regularly collaborate with; again, they may have a person who would be an excellent fit!
  • If your team works in dispersed locations across the U of A’s five campuses, there may be someone onsite from another team who could fill the peer coach role

Options Beyond the Traditional Peer Coach Model

Sometimes appointing a single peer coach just isn’t the right fit. Your whole department may be in transition, you could have a large number of new hires, you may be building a brand new team, or any number of other scenarios. Below are some options you can explore on your own team, or they may spark other ideas that would work best for your context.

Start a new employee peer group: As the team’s leader, you can step in and perform some of the formal activities such as the first day tour and team introductions. From there, set-up weekly/bi-weekly meetings for your new employees to meet without you and discuss a list of conversation prompts. This will help ensure they’re taking time to build relationships and will give an opportunity for them to have discussions, learn, and problem solve as peers, including:

  • Review recent learning from training and development activities
  • Discuss questions and challenges they’ve encountered so they can try to resolve them
  • Share tips and tricks with navigating your software and systems
  • Give shout outs about accomplishments, recent proud moments, and good news stories
  • Highlight new people and campus partners they’ve worked with and met
  • Create a list of questions or roadblocks they need the supervisor’s support to resolve

Create a list of experts and resources: Remember that even if your team is all new, it is still filled with very talented and skilled people. If your whole team is new to their roles, host a meeting in the first two weeks where you start to catalogue and list peoples’ strengths and abilities.

  • Does someone have PeopleSoft experience from a previous role at the institution?
  • Is someone trained on conflict and deescalation?
  • Does someone come from a previous job where they used the same model of equipment or machinery?

Capitalize on these skills! Having your team share their abilities, they will know who they can check with when a question arises. Building this culture on your team will also support the team’s creativity, connectedness, and overall success.

Another advantage of this exercise is it will help you identify any expertise gaps. As a leader, this can help highlight where you may need to be more hands-on, which types of technical or core competency training you may need to prioritize during onboarding, and who you may need to provide as external support resources for your team (e.g. service partners, colleagues on another team, centres of expertise, etc.).

Additional Resources and Feedback

We are committed to continuous improvement, and these resources are works in progress. We will update materials on an ongoing basis, so revisit the HRHSE website for the most current materials when you onboard new employees to the institution, a role, or your team. Your feedback on the tools, as well as suggestions for new content, resources, and priorities, are welcome and can be shared through our Google form.