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Your First 30 Days as an HR Leader

Attaining a leadership position in HR is an exciting—and often stressful—time. Planning for your success and demonstrating your worth early on can give you a good start.

team meeting

The first 30 days in a new HR leadership role are crucial to understanding your organization and establishing your place within it. You only get one chance to make a first impression on both company leadership and your team members, and many company executives expect their HR leaders to take on strategic roles from the start, according to Adam Weber, chief evangelist at 15Five, a San Francisco-based provider of employee performance management platforms. The challenge to assume a leadership position and quickly get up to speed—while not getting overwhelmed—is very real.

Taking a systematic approach to your first days on the job can help you forge relationships, gather key insights and develop your long-term agenda, Weber says. The following tips can guide you on your journey.

Take a Breather

Even if you’re eager to get started, it’s important to make the most of your time off between jobs, especially if you’re dealing with stress and burnout from your previous role. The first thing you should do after accepting an offer and saying goodbye to former colleagues is rest and recharge, Weber says. Taking a vacation or simply enjoying some downtime can help you start your new job refreshed and energized.

Lay the Groundwork

When you’re ready to dig in, revisit the research you did to prepare for the interview process, says Lindsey Garito, SHRM-SCP, director of people and culture at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York.

“When you’re onboarding into the role, consider reviewing the company website and reviewing its LinkedIn page to deepen your knowledge of the business, the structure, the people [and] how the company presents externally,” Garito advises. She also recommends going line by line through your job description and using it to formulate specific questions to review with management when you arrive on the job.

Record Your Insights

As you move through onboarding and begin to have important conversations with your new colleagues, Weber recommends creating a journal or spreadsheet to organize, prioritize and track what you’re learning. Not only will this be valuable for seeing patterns in your job responsibilities, but it will also help provide the basis for later communications about process improvements or for demonstrating your early successes.

Prioritize Listening

Don’t overlook the importance of connecting with your team members early on. This may involve reaching out informally prior to or shortly after you start. Prioritizing these conversations will help you build rapport with your direct reports, who may be anxious about leadership changes.

Experts agree that during these initial conversations, your top priority should be to listen. “Go on a listening tour,” suggests Kate Walker, SHRM-SCP, founder and CEO of San Franscisco-based Kate Walker Consulting, which works with leaders on talent strategies. Ask your colleagues what they do, what’s going well for them and what they find challenging.

“The most important thing you can do is talk to people,” agrees Weber, who also hosts HR Superstars, a podcast that features stories and insights from successful HR leaders. “I would not underestimate how critical it is just to listen, to learn and to build genuine relationships.”

Weber says asking questions of a broad swath of your new colleagues will help you identify the potential for quick wins, find opportunities for improvement and close any gaps in your knowledge of the business. Asking questions shows you’re interested in learning how to help the business succeed rather than dictating changes based on past experiences, Weber adds, and that you value your colleagues’ perspectives.

Garito calls this the “listen, learn and locate” approach. By listening to as many people as possible, learning who your external partners are for needs such as recruiting and legal counsel, and knowing where to locate important information, you can establish the foundation you need for long-term success in your new role.

Define Your Brand of Leadership

Weber says strong HR leaders share five key traits in that they:

  •       Speak the language of the business.
  •       Use metrics and data.
  •       Show courage and conviction.
  •       Don’t try to be superheroes.
  •       Share their impact with their leaders.

It’s helpful to consider the role of HR through the lens of a business partner, Walker says, and identify opportunities where you can bring your unique expertise to company leadership. Your priorities will likely be dictated by what’s happening at the company at any given time, and your success may require a willingness to pivot and wear a variety of hats. Aligning your strengths with organizational needs can help you make a big impact.

Identify Quick Wins

Understanding an organization’s  norms and culture gives HR leaders the context they need to thoroughly assess it. Garito says the milestones you set for yourself in the first 30 days and beyond will be dictated in part by the priorities of the business, the nature of your manager’s personality and the specific expectations outlined for your role. Beyond this, a successful game plan should involve taking action on any quick wins you can identify based on what you’ve learned about the needs of your new employer.

Walker and Weber agree that the onboarding process itself can be a great place to start. Since you’ve just gone through it, you’re uniquely positioned to identify opportunities for improvement, eliminate­inefficiencies or make key upgrades, such as increasing face time with leadership or creating a checklist of onboarding tasks.

Garito notes that sometimes you’ll uncover an immediate issue, such as a high-performing HR team member who is widely known to be unhappy in their current role. Solving a problem that others have already identified can be a significant win for you. It’s important to watch for those opportunities as you acclimate to your new role.

But make sure not to get too hung up on solving tactical issues. If possible, operate at a strategic level early on, Weber advises. “I’ve met too many HR leaders who got caught up in trying to solve one employee issue … and then they weren’t able to re-establish themselves as a strategic contributor,” he explains. Striking the right balance allows you to make real contributions, even as your role continues to unfold.

Demonstrate Your Successes

Experts agree that it’s important to showcase your successes. One option is to send a summary report each week to your manager highlighting what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve learned and what you plan to do going forward, Garito says. Regular, clear communication helps to demonstrate your value and can keep you engaged with your leadership’s priorities, she adds.

If you’re not reaching out to your manager weekly, have a plan of action for the 30-day mark. Don’t be afraid to show your work, Walker says. If you’ve been tracking meetings, insights and recommendations, the one-month mark is a great time to summarize what you’ve learned, detail any initiatives you recommend and explain the expected impact of these actions. Where possible, leverage technology, data and best practices to back up your proposals.

There’s significant ground to cover in your first 30 days in any new role. While your organization’s onboarding plan will guide you, experts agree that taking a listening-based approach, closing any gaps in your knowledge and maintaining lines of communication with your company’s leadership can help set you up for success well beyond your initial few weeks.

Liz Alton is a freelance HR and technology writer based in Boston.


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