Over the course of a career in HR, you’ll help many a new starter to find their feet. But every so often, you will be the new starter – and there’re a few learning curves as steep as stepping into a new leadership role.
While undoubtedly exciting, your first days, weeks and months as an HR leader will also be full of challenges. You’ll need to overcome the fear factor that can come with joining a new organisation while offering the insight of ‘fresh eyes’ without ruffling too many feathers.
It’s all one big balancing act, and one you don’t have much time to perfect. Just 90 days, according to most business experts…
Indeed, it’s widely accepted that the first three months in a leadership role could be the defining term of your tenure. You’ll need to gain credibility, trust and have a longer-term plan as you come towards the end of this honeymoon spell.
“The first 90 days: A survival guide for HR leaders provides helpful, practical advice on how to set your stall out in those vital first few months. You’ll learn from HR experts on how to build relationships with the right people, where to look for those crucial quick wins – and why you shouldn’t push too hard to achieve them.”
So, what are the main challenges you’ll need to overcome?
Carrying the weight of expectation
When you take on an HR leadership role in a business, the first thing you’ll need to manage is the expectation for change.
Your new employer will be hoping you can bring fresh insight to the business and look at things from a new perspective, free from the shackles of ‘the way things have always been done’. You’ve been hired to make an impact, whether that means improving HR efficiency, driving greater employee engagement or over-seeing a merger or restructuring.
That expectation can weigh heavy on your shoulders, particularly if it’s your first time in a leadership position. But charging in and making wholesale changes straight away is likely to do little more than alienate those around you.
That’s particularly true if you lean too much on past roles, and fail to take into account the differences between your old and new work environment, culture and people.
Avoiding one-size fits all solutions
Your past successes in previous organisations will have contributed greatly to you landing your post, so it’s entirely natural that you’ll want to try and replicate those wins in your new job.
But what worked in your old business won’t necessarily work in your new one – and people will quickly tire of you continually citing, ‘We used to do this back at Past Co.’.
That’s why it’s vital to gain a clear picture of the new company’s goals, operations and structure before trying to instigate significant change.
Sussing out the structure
Gaining that understanding of how your new business works will be one of the biggest challenges you face in the early months in your role – not least as organisations are quickly moving away from traditional hierarchies to more modern structures.
In establishing who reports to who, be prepared to encounter a matrix-type structure whereby employees have dual reporting relationships, for instance to a regional manager as well as a product manager.
Alternatively, you might encounter an altogether flatter structure, with fewer levels between the factory floor and the boardroom.
If you’ve come from a classic ‘top-down organisation’, it may take time to adjust…and time isn’t really on your side. So it’s definitely the time to roll your sleeves up.
Working too hard
In the quest to adapt, adjust and get early results on the board, it would be entirely understandable to throw yourself into the role and start burning the midnight oil.
But disappearing behind your desk for days on end can be counter-productive, as you can miss out on valuable opportunities to make connections and build the relationships you need to succeed.
Yes, you’ll want to be seen as hard-working, but sometimes it’s enough just to be seen. Stay visible, be approachable, and don’t hide behind a mountain of paperwork – however hectic things might get.