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Ask an Expert: Nikki Hill Coaching & Consulting LTD on how new HR leaders can make an instant impact in a remote environment

By 12/04/2021January 18th, 2022Human Resources, Leadership, Mental Health
Nikki Hill on how new HR leaders can make an instant impact

In the process of transitioning into a new role, almost half (46% to be exact) of executives across all functions struggle under the pressure of making a lasting impression. However, this only results in underperformance.

While we focus on HR leaders, their downfall will not stem from their lack of skills or experience, but because they haven’t got the opportunity to build the right support network and prepare for the changeover due to the pandemic.

As we all know, remote working has caused all leaders to rethink – to tweak, test and improve existing formulas for a more favourable outcome.

So, to aid the transition for the HR community, we got in touch with executive coach and talent consultant, Nikki Hill. We asked Nikki six crucial questions to ensure new HR leaders can find their feet and make an immediate impact within a remote environment.

1. NHR: Prior to starting their new role, how can HR leaders give themselves a head start?

Nikki Hill: Despite so much focus traditionally being from day 1 onwards, there are several ways you can make the transition smoother by preparing in advance:

  1. Find out as much as you can about the organisation you are joining – beyond what’s publicly available – as well as the expectations for your specific role.

If it’s not forthcoming, ask for more information so you can get clarity and context in a holistic way: commercially, culturally and structurally.

Here are a handful of questions to get you started:

  • What are the strategic objectives for the company this year?
  • How does your function feed into this?
  • What does success look like in this role?
  • What’s the size and structure of your team?
  • Who will be your key stakeholders?
  • How are decisions made?
  1. Compare the organisation and role that you’re moving to, with the one you are currently in.This allows you to identify potential gaps that you may need to pay particular attention to and prepare accordingly.

For example, if you’re going from leading a UK team of four advisors to a global team of experienced managers – it’s likely you’ll need to take a different approach in order to provide the right balance of stretch and support.

What do you expect to be the biggest differences? What will you need to do as a result?

  1. A large part of any leadership role involves building authentic and impactful relationships with your team and stakeholders.

How can you start connecting and laying the foundations before you officially start? You might want to consider:

  • Who have you met during the recruitment process?
  • Are you able to meet your peers and direct reports before you start?
  • How much communication have you had prior to start?
  1. Lastly, as you prepare to make a great first impression, this is the perfect opportunity to consider what you want to be known for in this new role.

Take some time to consider what reputation you want to create, and what opportunities you can identify on day 1, week 1, month 1 that will allow you to bring this to life.

How can you demonstrate that you are strategic, empowering, solutions orientated – whatever descriptor is important to you?

2. NHR: From a general perspective, how can new leaders overcome the fear of failure?

Nikki Hill: Part of this is fear of the unknown, and uncertainty of expectations. When you are clear on what is expected of you, how you will be measured and what ‘great’ looks like, you can use this as a gauge to see how you are doing and what changes might be needed to stay on track

Defining success – what this means for you, your team, your customers and wider company – is important so that you can be crystal clear on what you are aiming to achieve.  It’s the fundamental first step in setting priorities, knowing what to focus on, and creating a plan to meet these expectations

On a different angle, reminding yourself of why you are right for this role and are capable of doing this well can be helpful.

Ahead of starting, grab a notepad and pen and jot down your thoughts on the following so that you can focus on what you have to offer and refer back to it when you have moments of imposter syndrome creeping in:

  • What makes you uniquely placed to do this role?
  • Why did they decide to offer you the position?
  • What skills, experience and mindset do you have that will be valuable here?

3. NHR: As the pandemic continues to create uncertainty, how can new HR leaders adapt to managing an entirely new team while operating remotely?

Nikki Hill: When working virtually, we can often think that we need to take a completely different approach. Things are certainly different, but there are opportunities to build connection, communicate effectively and set a clear vision without being physically present.

In terms of connection: what do you want to share about yourself, and what do you want to learn about your team? How can a remote working environment level the playing field and mean you have more equal access to your whole team, especially if you work for a global organisation?

Think about what you would have done if you were in person. What are you trying to achieve – and what’s the specific problem with this being virtual instead? What platforms and options are available to you that can meet the majority of your needs?

If it’s having an ‘all hands’ meeting to share important information and updates then depending on the size of your team, a mass virtual meeting could be an option. Many platforms allow for people to use chat, Q&A and ‘raise hand’ functions to allow for interaction, as well as having a gallery view to see those on the call and get visual feedback cues. Teams that are too large may need more of a webinar / broadcast platform and whilst visual cues may be missing, tools such as or Mentimeter can still allow audience interaction and immediate feedback through polls and Q&A.

Conversely, in some ways 1:1 meetings may even be easier now. You don’t need to book a meeting room, or take time to move from one space to another. If you want to build a more personal connection, both of you being at home can provide opportunities to see one another as people with lives beyond work.

Lastly, once you’ve had initial conversations over video so you can see one another and pick up on facial expressions and body language – and even just know what you each look like – if your conversations don’t require looking at documents, can you have a walking meeting over a phone call so you can get up and move around rather than being chained to your desk all day?

Overall, it’s worth investing the time to consider how you want to communicate and build relationships – 1:1, small groups and en masse – in terms of the message itself, how you want people to feel and the technology options that allow you to do this.

There’s a Maya Angelou quote I was introduced to early in my career that has stuck with me ever since: “People forget what you say, they forget what you do, but they never forget how you made them feel”.

How do you want your teams to feel?  What can you do to create that?

4. NHR: Do you feel the new virtual landscape has heightened the need for leaders to be more transparent and visible in order to enhance personal connections?

Nikki Hill: I do think that there has been a need to be more conscious and deliberate about communicating when we can’t rely on being in the same physical space and assuming that messages will spread organically.

Finding opportunities to communicate at scale naturally leads to being more visible. Being open, honest and authentic allows for a transparent message and deeper connection between leaders and their teams.

5. NHR: Especially as HR leaders can’t meet face-to-face with their peers; how can they establish a solid level of credibility?

Nikki Hill: First and foremost, get to know one another rather than just diving straight into a work task. Find out more about their role, background and what their priorities are. Share the same about yourself and find the common points of connection. How can you partner together to achieve a common goal?

Credibility, and reputation more broadly, involve delivering high quality work and people knowing what you are doing. How can you understand needs effectively (so you can meet them) as well as communicate progress?

It’s also important to understand what you want to be known for – and this will vary by person and situation. ‘Credibility’ could mean thought through, data driven proposals and recommendations.  It could also mean having a deep insight into customer preferences, being able to anticipate challenges and risks or coming up with novel ideas and solutions that address needs whilst challenging the status quo.

Be clear on what this means to you and your situation first, then find ways to actively bring this to life.

6. NHR: Finally, what’s your best advice for HR leaders looking to make an instant impact in this remote environment?

Nikki Hill: First of all, consider what impact you want to make. This isn’t a one size fits all approach – it depends on the company you’re joining, the reason they’ve brought you in, as well as your own longer term career aspirations.

This also taps into two different areas: building a strong reputation and delivering meaningful results. What do you want to be known for? What does that look like in practice? What are your opportunities to bring this to life?

Get clear on your number 1 priority.  It may help to recognise that this can be hard, many of us like to take on more and find it hard to limit our options, Focus is important here. Once you have a specific priority to work towards, there are two different approaches you can take.

  1. Understand the obstacles that stand in the way. What’s one thing you can do to remove these? Do that. Repeat.
  2. Alternatively, what’s the first step in delivering against this priority?  What’s a minimum viable offer that can get people moving in the right direction and adding value in the short term, that can be enhanced over time?

Whilst they look at how you can achieve success in different ways, they can be complementary rather than an either/or approach.

About Nikki Hill:

Nikki is an executive coach and established talent professional whose career within multinational, FTSE 100 and privately owned organisations has spanned luxury fashion, telecommunications, food retail and financial services.

She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Organisational Behaviour and in 2019 gained her ICF accredited Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching from the AoEC.

Nikki is an accredited by the British Psychological Society to administer and interpret psychometric assessments. Born in the UAE, brought up in Hong Kong and having worked in Shanghai for two years, Nikki has first-hand cross-cultural experience that she’s drawn upon in regional and global roles partnering across APAC, EMEIA and Americas. She now lives in South London.








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