The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more responsibility you have and the less time to assimilate into each new role. And short of the CEO, nobody feels the pressure more acutely than the executives charged with leading the people team.
Chief human resources officers (CHROs) often arrive with an immediate slate of problems to fix. To do this effectively, they need to understand a range of variables including business models, market positioning, culture (strengths and risks), growth plans, talent, what’s working well, what must be fixed, and more.
Jumping into “fix” mode without a firm grasp of these variables can create even more problems. According to a study last year by the Harvard Business Review, 70% of new executives cited a poor grasp of how their organization works as a stumbling block for effective onboarding.
This may help explain why the profile of a CHRO is changing. Many of today’s HR executives are business operators who focus on people. They view their role as aligning the people strategy to support the business needs and objectives, not just compliance and oversight of core HR functions like benefits and recruiting.
So how do successful CHROs approach their first 100 days in a new job? I put that question to more than a dozen top people executives, and their answers may help you acclimate effectively into a new leadership role, whether or not you work in HR.
Executive onboarding starts to happen during the interview process, especially for an early stage or relatively young company. Candidates can experience firsthand some of the growing pains an organization is feeling with lack of alignment among the exec team about the role, priorities, or even profile that will be successful. If you start this onboarding mentality during the interview phase, you’re more likely to get an accurate read on your ability to make an impact.–John Foster, principal at Gamut and former chief people officer, Hulu & Ideo
Develop a 30-60-90 day plan
Create an outcome-driven 30-60-90 day plan. During your first two weeks on the job, put this together and share with your CEO so they know where you are going to be spending your time. In each of your one-to-ones, bring this back to reference and discuss progress and/or impediments. It’s totally fine that new priorities emerge, but this allows you to always come back to what you set out to achieve together.–Adrienne Gemperle, chief people officer, SoulCycle
Seek to understand
Your primary objective in your first 100 days should be to “seek to understand.” You want to understand the business and build relationships with as many people as possible. Use a modification on a “new leader assimilation” process, making sure as many people get to know you as a leader and as a human being. Listening more than talking is critical in having the information you need to set priorities of the work.–Beth Steinberg, chief people officer, Zenefits
Know your key client groups
You have at least 4 key client groups–the CEO, the executive leadership team you are on, the HR leadership team you lead, and the employees of the company. Develop a thoughtful plan to devote meaningful time to get to know all of them.–Michael Ross, HR tech adviser and former CHRO, Visa
Pause and prioritize
When you come into a new HR role, there’s a tendency to want to “fix” everything you see that’s wrong, but some of those quirks are what define organizations. Ultimately you have finite time and resources to get things done, so keep a running list of questions and concerns but wait 60 days to truly identify the biggest problems worth solving versus selecting issues, teams, or organizational challenges that may not actually be the biggest impact projects to tackle.–Katie Burke, chief people officer, Hubspot
Understand the budget
Make sure you thoroughly review and understand the budget, not just headcount. Understanding an organization through the lens of its budget will help you understand what the company prioritizes and truly values.–Anna Binder, head of people operations, Asana
Prioritize your projects
Plan how you’ll get to know the organization and the people. Start a 2-by-2 chart of your ideas for initiatives and those from feedback–with one axis being High or Low impact and the other being Easy or Hard to start. Use this to plan how you’ll prioritize, as it’s different for each organization.–Ciara Lakhani, chief people officer, Dashlane
Lose the playbook
Onboarding for any new CHRO always should be heavily focused on learning, starting by listening to the people in the organization about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s missing, and what’s possible. Coming in with a predetermined playbook, without genuine humility and a curiosity to learn about the company’s history and culture, is never a good idea.–Matt Hoffman, VP people, Digital Ocean
Really listen to people at all levels of the organization and show them you care in your own authentic way. Your role is to truly care about their experience in the company. This will help you build relationships, which leads to trust. From that base, you build the allowance to try new things out and make it a great place to work.–Max Hunter, chief joy officer, Loylogic
Understand the past
Learn how the executive and leadership teams have worked with people executives in the past, and what their expectations are now. The ultimate goal is to bridge the expectations gap and clearly communicate that we are business leaders who can affect change through people-related decisions.–Sean Lee, VP people & culture, Food52
Lean into something that’s hard by the end of the 100 days. It could be taking on a big and long-term project that is intimidating but important for the company, or voicing something really tough organizationally that no one else has wanted to address. Demonstrate your insight and judgment, and also your courage.–Jevan Soo, VP talent, Stitch Fix
Understand organizational language
Gather a blend of branding, executive team perspective, customer, and staff views on culture and perceived organizational capability. Check for alignment and gaps. Conduct a language audit in parallel–what words and phrases are used among the above stakeholders as a sign or indicator of prevailing beliefs and assumptions.–Steve Schloss, chief people officer, United States Golf Association (USGA)
Collect as much data and insights as possible. Consider launching some type of engagement/employee survey and make it anonymous. Ask people to help you as part of everyone onboarding you into the company. This will inform your roadmap that shows you’re listening and addressing the themes they shared.–Mai Ton, VP of humans, White Ops
When you are a new executive, you’re often perceived as a fixer. That pressure can put you in a place where you’re constantly reacting, derailing your long-term strategy. As you consider the advice above, be sure to take time to reflect on your best path forward. That space will allow you to process all the internal and external drivers thoughtfully, and formulate a tailored plan that best meets the needs of the teams and the business.
This post is part of a new series on 21st century human resources (HR) practices. The series explores new and next approaches in the field of HR. Each month, we’ll cover topics ranging from emerging practices, HR technology, diversity and inclusion, and other areas related to the future of work. You can view the full series here.