The first few weeks of working any new role is overwhelming — but when that role is the head of HR, the to-do list can make your head spin.
Whether you’ll be the solo employee running HR for a 100-employee company or heading the human resources department for an organization of 10,000, there are a few standard steps to take during the first several months in any HR leadership role.
Below is a helpful checklist to get you started.
Learn the Business
Do you know the organization’s primary goals, both short- and long-term? Do you understand the essence of its mission statement (beyond buzzwords)? Do you have a grasp on the structure and hierarchy of each team, and how they interact with one another?
Perhaps most importantly, do you understand how the company makes money?
Invest some time learning the organization’s financial metrics to get a sense for its foundation.
Invest some time learning the organization’s financial metrics to get a sense for its foundation — as well as for projections for growth over the next three, five, and ten years. You may consider creating a cash-flow map that visualizes the business’ formula for generating revenue. Alternatively, you may ask to see the latest presentations for investors, and/or meet with the company’s strategy and finance teams to talk numbers. If the company is publicly traded, you may also want to speak with analysts and investors to determine what they factor into the organization’s valuation-driving intangibles.
As part of an initial housekeeping sweep, it’s also crucial to review the benefits administration handbook, current hiring practices, and FLSA classifications.
Lastly, familiarize yourself with the business’s product or services. If it’s a retail company, spend some time quite literally walking in the company’s shoes; if it’s a software company, ask the product team to walk you through the software’s intricacies.
Assess Engagement and Culture
As part of an initial evaluation of company culture, spend a couple of months developing an understanding of what every role, from the interns to the CEO, is responsible for. Through a culture audit, you’ll also begin to glean levels of employee engagement.
It is important to meet with all levels in the organization to understand the current culture, start measuring engagement within the organization, and promote the building of relationships.
“One of the first steps in the process is to conduct a listening tour,” says Dawn M. Cacciotti, a human resources consultant at EngageHRnow, LLC. “It is important to meet with all levels in the organization to understand the current culture, start measuring engagement within the organization, promote the building of relationships, ask probing questions that will enlighten you to the history, current strengths, and areas that may not be working very well.”
Cacciotti also suggests that, as you gain insight, ask each team and manager how they believe HR can help them achieve their goals and long-term, strategic plan. Ask questions such as: Do employees feel as if they have open lines of communication with their managers, and do they feel as if the current performance review system is adequate? Pay particular attention to managers and the management tactics they employ; good management often goes hand in hand with employee engagement.
Determine Areas of Improvement and Stability
“My first priority when going into a new organization is to understand what’s in place and what’s missing,” says Amanda Haddaway, managing director of HR Answerbox. “It’s really important to identify if there are any gaps, especially in the compliance arena.”
Haddaway suggests taking a holistic look at all facets of the existing HR function. “It’s not easy to know everything that’s required of employers, because [the requirements are] constantly changing,” she explains, adding that this may be particularly true in the case of small businesses.
“Small business owners want to do the right thing by their employees, but they don’t always know everything that needs to happen under that big and ever-growing HR umbrella,” she says.
Earn a Seat at the C-Suite’s Table
The first formative months of your role also present an opportunity to earn the trust and respect of the C-Suite.
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“An HR leader can have an immense impact on creating and weaving the bonds amongst the leadership team, which is essential if the company hopes to become a ‘great’ organization,” Cacciotti explains.
The first part of earning a seat at the table is to figure out why you were hired in the first place. Know exactly why you were brought into the organization: To change its direction? To help the company scale? Having a clear understanding of the company’s motivation for hiring you will help you begin to designate top priorities, and begin implementing your own set of goals — ones that align with the company’s long-term vision.