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What Successful HR Executives Do In Their First 30 Days In A New Job!
by Alan L. Collins

Successful new HR executives don't waste any time getting up to speed when they move into new jobs.  They recognize that this is the best time to lay the foundation for impacting and influencing their organizations and building important relationships in the months ahead.  If you find yourself in this position, here's what you should do: 

Success Tip #1:  Hold meetings on the business/culture with your manager, direct reports, and your HR clients.

  • Discuss the mission, goals, and objectives of the Company or division or client group you are joining as a new HR Executive. Establish how you and your new HR team fit into the overall company.
  • Get feedback about the unit you are inheriting. Discuss operating issues, resources, people strengths, weaknesses, expectations of clients and team members, history of the group. Objectivity is important -- be careful not to be biased by untested opinions.
  • Broaden your perspective of the job by getting a description of the other locations and functions you will work with. Review organization charts where possible. Discuss:
    • What the locations/functions do
    • How they do it
    • How your responsibilities fit in with those of the other locations/functions
  • Discuss how the formal and informal systems work. Also, have your manager pair you with a peer or colleague who can "show you the ropes" and answer questions. Build a solid support system you can draw on.
  • Learn the informal expectations people have about the style of how things are done. Identify behaviors and actions that will cause friction between you and other individuals/groups.
  • Invest as much time learning the climate and culture of the company and your team as you do developing functional knowledge. Knowing what to do is not enough to succeed. You must also know how to work within the personality of the company or your team.
  • Discuss areas where you should initiate reforms or make changes. Also, identify places where itís more important to conform to the style of the company than to make changes.
Success Tip #2:  Discuss expectations about performance and management practices with your manager.
  • The process of clarifying needs and expectations begins between you and your new manager during your initial interview about the job. And, it should continue with your boss, direct reports, and your clients throughout your career.

  • Re-clarify specifically what your new manager expects from you. Make sure your charter is explicit around problems, people, and products/services you and your team will be providing.
  • Discuss again expectations both of you have about the working relationship. (e.g., What do you need from your manager to feel comfortable? What support and guidance do you need?) Periodically renegotiate your expectations.
  • Reconfirm with your boss what, in his or her opinion is, good practice (e.g., tight control, loose control, style of decision-making group vs. individual, etc.). Style issues that come from differing personal belief and perceptions account for a large portion of the problems new managersí experience.
  • Assess the appropriateness of your managerial style against the needs of the situation and the needs and expectations of those you manage. Also, assess the fit of your practice with the management practices of your predecessor.
  • Recognize there are different ways to get thing done. Your new managerís style may differ from yours. Negotiate the latitude you need to act using your own best judgment.
  • Be patient-recognize taking charge of a new unit takes time. You may not reach full maturing and productivity for some time.

Success Tip #3   Agree on how youíll establish yourself within the organization.

  • Soothe any "ruffled feathers" that may exist if you were brought into your new HR role above someone who thought they should have had your job. Position yourself with your staff and the people you will manage. Ask your boss to position you before your arrival to minimize rumors and speculation and upon arrival as a "getting to know you."
  • Jointly identify something you can bring to the party that adds value in the eyes of subordinates/colleagues.
  • Introduce yourself to key players/clients whose support and sponsorship is needed. Describe the value you think you add to the operation. (e.g., Answer the question Ė "What do you have to offer you clients?)
  • Find out from you new manager which colleagues/peer are good resources to draw on. Donít hesitate to use their skills and abilities.
  • Meet informally with your staff and others youíll need for support to get to know them. The earlier in the orientation period you meet. The better. People personally support those they see as "friendís and allies." People distrust the motives of those they donít know.
  • Establish credibility with key people who can support what you need to do. Identify a knowledgeable person who can act as your coach and sponsor.
  • Hold a staff meeting on your first day to:
    • Express your enthusiasm and optimism about the new HR assignment.
    • Share background information about yourself.
    • Discuss your style of working
    • Share initial expectations you have of your staff.
    • Make beginning work assignments (e.g., collect background information you need).
  • Take time to learn about the new organization before making decisions and acting-learn, about the products, the people, and the problems. Ask experienced subordinates and colleagues their opinions about problems/opportunities. The greater the difference between the old and new company, the longer the learning curve.
  • Provide credit and recognition to the group for what they did well in the past. No one likes to think everything theyíve done up to the point of your taking charge has been in vain.
  • Review and discuss individual performance objectives with. Each staff member. Where needed, renegotiate your staffís performance objectives so everyone knows what you expect and how their performance ties to what youíre trying to achieve
Success Tip #4:  If possible, arrange a meeting with your predecessor.
  • Take advantage of any overlap in time that exists between when you start and the previous person leaves. Meet to discuss the operation and share thoughts.
  • Ask the departing HR Leader to provide an overview of the job and schedule a "get acquainted" meeting to discuss the operation.   Review: 
    • List of operating issues
    • Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities of the unit
    • Key Human Resource issues
    • Important contacts
    • History of the group
  • Jointly review the operating issues of the unit around people, products/services, and resources. Prepare a list of the short-term, mid-term and long-term issues you need to address. Ask the departing employee for beginning recommendations on how to address the issues. Record actions already taken that set precedent for future action.
  • (Where appropriate) Walk through the unit with the exiting employee and learn the important parts of the operation. Stop periodically for introductions and short informal chats with members of the staff.
  • Discuss the performance objectives the departing employee has been working on. Review where things stand against each objective and what remains to be done.
    • Ask the outgoing employee to transmit his/her view of what the group can become or can do.
    • Donít feel obligated to use all of what is offered.
  • Ask the departing HR Leader to review the Human Resources issues with you
    • Discuss the Human Resource decisions you need to make in the first six months. (e.g. performance evaluations due, probationary action pending, required Management Planning Reviews, pay decisions, etc.)
    • Review the past performance and strengths/developmental needs of each member of your new group. Be careful not to be biased by the departing manager-"consider just the facts.
    • Study the files the departing employee has kept on Human Resource issues (e.g., critical incident files, salary histories, past performance appraisals, management planning worksheets, job descriptions.)
    • Acquaint yourself with the help your Human Resources representative can provide.
  • Develop a Support System
    • Together develop a list of key clients/peers you should get to know within the first month. Identify and list the resources and support each can provide.
    • Find out who is a knowledge person you can use as a sounding board when questions arise.
    • Use the, exiting employee as an on-going support system. Stay in touch after he/she leaves. Donít hesitate to ask if there are questions. (If possible) arrange informal get-togethers (e.g. coffees/lunches) after the current employee leaves to talk about how itís
Success Tip #5:  Jointly develop written performance objectives.
  • Clarify with your new boss expectations he/she has about what is effective performance. Set goals and objectives to describe in specific and measurable terms what you are to accomplish. Without common understanding, each side in the relationship inevitably will stop trusting the other.
  • Test your assumption about how things should operate. Look at the operation with a fresh perspective. Offer new ideas about what to do to bolster performance.
  • Jointly develop a list of initial work assignments to guide your efforts during the first several weeks in the job.
  • Involve yourself in a high profile project you can succeed at quickly to build personal confidence and credibility.
Success Tip #6:  Negotiate the support and expectations you need.
  • Get your new bossís help in buffering anything that takes you away from the task of getting settled-in and taking charge of the operation.
  • Negotiate exceptions that allow you time to build momentum within the group. However, be sensitive about how intense to negotiate and when to withdraw.
Success Tip #7:  Jointly prepare an individual development plan.
  • Jointly author a plan that describes the knowledge, skills, and development experiences you need during the first year.
  • Agree with your manager on the time you need to learn about the new job. Take every opportunity to learn more about the new operation. In the initial take charge period, learn from your mistakes. Keep your boss informed to avoid second-guessing or premature judgement of your actions.
Success Tip #8:  Establish an accountability to talk with clients.
  • Talk with your clients to find out how the group is perceived and how well it's servicing the organization.
  • Whenever possible, work on needed changes by using a task force of those the change affects. This increases the chances everyone knows what to do. It also increases ownership of the changes you decide to make.
  • Obtain feedback on planned changes, even if you're unable to involve others in the decision-making upfront.
  • Sell your new ideas/proposals by first determining the needs of clients and those whose commitment you want. Show clearly, how your ideas/proposals meet those needs. Pre-sell the key decision-makers. Sell new ideas in small manageable chunks to allow people time to get use to them.
Success Tip #9:  Develop an initial "map" and list of priorities.
  • Develop energy and enthusiasm within the group as early as possible.
    • Develop a rallying cry, theme, or challenge to unite the group.
    • Sponsor a group celebration.
    • Champion a cause team members are excited about.
  • Build in lots of involvement for members of your new staff (more than usual). For instance include them in:
    • Planning
    • New Decisions
    • Discussions on how to execute plans/changes
  • Develop initial priorities and a "map" to guide you. Remain flexible and change direction as you learn more about the organization.
  • Avoid going for the home-run hit on early decisions. Recognize youíll have to redo later some of the changes you make in the early stages of taking charge.
  • Recognize complex problems require some immediate, stop-gap action, but may also take several attempts to find the underlying causes. In short, experiment ("do it, try it, fix it") when handling complex problems.
  • Initially, act to correct near-term problems where there's good support or where there's some clear need to act. Avoid making premature decisions on long-term issues before you know all the facts. Itís more important to establish a track record on smaller issues than to make your mark on major issues before you have the important facts. Managers brought in to "turn around the operation" sometimes fall victim of this need to act.
  • As an insider taking charge of a new operation, test your assumptions about key people and the problems of the unit. It is especially important to question perceptions and beliefs about individuals youíve worked with. Change in structure and reporting relationships change personal relationships. Be willing to renegotiate old relationships as well as form new ones.
  • As an insider, look at the job as an outsider might. Be innovative-be willing to abandon the status quo. Adapt goals and strategies to the new challenges of a growing business.
  • Figure out the pressure points in the new unit. Focus the groupís energy on 1-2 carefully chosen projects that improve performance and provide an early success. Choose projects based on importance and the readiness of the group (e.g. creativity, energy, and determination to succeed). Take care of the rest of the unitís responsibilities on a business-as-usual basis. Resist the temptation to do everything at once.
  • Exercise the latitude the organization gives you as a new manager. Be willing to take a few risks. Determine if others will give you the benefit of the doubt if things donít work out.
  • Develop written plans for the hi-impact, hi-visibility projects. Let people know what part they play so they can commit themselves to the task. With the group's help, spell out who's to do what, when. and the authority and responsibility of those accountable. Describe the desired results and how you'll measure progress and results. Get feedback from your team.   Be clear on who has sponsored past practices and policies and why before making changes.
    • Take initial action where you have the most functional knowledge.
    • Allow time between the changes you make to be sure they accomplish what you intended. Those affected by the changes may also need time to get used to the new ways of doing things. Remember: "The more radical the change and the less people know of your motives, the longer it takes for them to adjust."
    • Establish check-points for feedback on how well the changes are working.
    • Share credit for success on important projects with subordinates and peers who "help make it happen."
Success Tip #10:  Hold a meeting with Human Resources on key systems (Note: HR needs HR too!!)
  • After the settling in period, find out more about the Human Resource systems you need to use in the first year. (e.g., Performance Planning and Review, Management Planning, Pay Systems, Management Development Opportunities/Programs, etc.) Identify the Human Resources people who can provide additional information, guidance, and support.
  • Work with the Human Resources group in managing personnel issues. Take time to get acquainted with the Human Resources person assigned to your group Ė if there is one. Learn how the various Human Resources systems work. 

Success Tip #11:   Hold discussions/meetings to establish your group's now direction.

  • In the early stages of taking charge, involve the members of your team in defining the groupís direction. The direction describes where the unit needs to get and how the team needs to work together to get there. Frequently hold discussions with the team to redefine the direction. Check what else you need to do to bring the team together. (Bringing the team together includes things youíll do more of/less of as well as things theyíll do to promote better working relations).
  • Give credit and respect to the old-timers and experienced people in the group. Seek their opinions and listen to their recommendations. Develop your staff as a group of allies. Let them guide you through the initial period of taking charge, until you can learn the important facts about the new operation. Some practical strategies include:
  • Ask lots of questionsÖbe sure you understand the answers.
  • Let people know you understand and appreciate their viewpoint.
  • Build upon otherís ideas versus killing them.
  • Implement the ideas you get from people within your group.
  • Provide public recognition for good ideas from the group.

Success Tip #12:   Make the staffing/structure changes necessary to execute your new direction.

  • Avoid quick changes in staffing and structure just for the sake of saying you've taken action. Explore uncertainties and concerns you have about staff members and the structure of the organization with your boss and others. Assess the staffing and structure of your organization against the yardstick of its ability to carry out the new direction.

Success Tip #13:   Re-immerse yourself in learning more about the operation.

  • Take time to reassess the initial assumptions you made when you inherited the job. Periodically immerse yourself in learning more about the operation. Frequently reassess how it's going and identify needed fine-tuning.

Success Tip 14:  Schedule periodic sessions for feedback and coaching.

  • Establish frequent opportunities to discuss with your manager the details of changes you are proposing. Augment your limitations in experience or skills with coaching. (Donít confuse coaching with "Here's how you should do it.")
  • Anticipate potential problems you will have because you lack company experience. Develop adequate back-up support.
  • Solicit frequent, frank, informal, timely feedback on how things are going during break-in period as natural opportunities occur.
  • Informally talk to your peers, colleagues, and clients about how it's going during the take-charge phase. Learn from the positive feedback you hear.
  • Ask your new boss to provide early-warning to you when problems exist or as issues arise.

Following these guidelines will put you well on the path towards realizing your goal of getting off to a fast start as a new HR executive in a new role.

About the Author:  Alan L. Collins is Vice President - Human Resources for a global, well-known consumer products company.  His accountabilities include developing strategies for attracting and retaining talent, building organization capability and leading large-scale change and transformation.

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