Starting Your New Role as CHRO

Your first 100 days in a new CHRO position is a unique window of opportunity before you become fully entrenched in the demands of the role. A new report from Spencer Stuart says that getting off to a fast start (and preparing before day one) can earn your CEO and organization’s confidence and give you the momentum to achieve great long-term performance. Let’s take a closer look!

April 14, 2022 – Regardless of whether you are a freshly minted CEO or chief human resources officer, many of the same lessons apply about how to get off to a fast start in your new job. A deliberate and focused transition plan is critical. According to a new report from Spencer Stuart, mapping the way can dramatically improve a leader’s ability to build relationships with team members and other stakeholders, develop an effective leadership style, begin shaping a vision for the HR function, and observe the culture and how work gets done. “As you might expect, a thoughtful, well-orchestrated transition plan is even more important in today’s remote- or hybrid-working environments,” the firm said.

Spencer Stuart created The New CHRO Playbook as a resource for ensuring an impactful transition and early momentum that will help position HR leaders for long-term success, incorporating the best onboarding advice and flagging pitfalls to avoid.

Talent continues to be at the top of the CEO’s agenda. Recent events have escalated the need for a strategic CHRO who can help shape the human capital agenda, especially around culture, retention, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Companies are increasingly relying on HR to lead the charge on the return to the office and manage the various complexities involved, while ensuring that people across the organization continue to have a positive employee experience. As a result, Spencer Stuart notes that it is essential to build momentum early and create a foundation for your (and your team’s) longer-term success.

Point 1 — Prepare Yourself During the Countdown

Prepare yourself physically and mentally as your stamina will be tested; a rested mind and body will allow you to rise above the busy-ness that comes with starting any new job and help you maintain the perspective and mental space to ascertain what is most impactful vs. seemingly urgent, according to the Spencer Stuart report. “Do your homework before you start — whether that is physically in the office or via Zoom,” the study said. “What are the most important questions you will need to ask your key constituents?”

Spencer Stuart also says to begin your “listening tour” even before you start by speaking with other top management, your boss, other employees (including alumni), trusted confidantes, and other critical stakeholders. “As many of these initial meetings are likely to occur virtually, you will miss out on some of the natural small talk that occurs when meeting in person — offers of coffee, comments about a personal photo, or other element of the surroundings,” the Spencer Stuart report said. “To put people at ease during these virtual conversations, consciously take a few minutes at the start of these discussions for a personal warm-up and to demonstrate humanity.”

Recognize what “polishing” any of your skill areas may need — and consider a coach for any specialized training that may help close these gaps. Spencer Stuart said to “also know that if you are like many, your own self-assessment may not accurately reflect what the rest of the world sees, so getting an external perspective is useful, including asking for feedback from your interview process. Remember, there is a reason that the world’s best athletes leverage personal coaches.”

“Draft your 100-day plan with specific tasks and rough timing so that you have a foundation from which to iterate when you start,” the report said. “Maintain a journal and makes notes of everything you learn. Develop an overt plan to cultivate relationships with your peers in the C-suite. Think about how best to get to know them, building a bridge for the future. Ask questions, be vulnerable, and ask for their advice.”

Point 2 — Align Expectations

Learn from your boss about what he/she specifically expects you to get done and how success will be measured so that you can effectively cascade that to your team. Make sure you find common ground about these expectations and put them in writing, the Spencer Stuart report notes. Leaders transitioning in the current climate should push for an explicit conversation with their boss about how the context and priorities for the role have changed due to the pandemic. The report says to ask these questions: Have there been layoffs? Are people feeling too stretched? Do they have too much time on their hands? Has the crisis made it possible to accelerate planned changes to certain processes or ways of working?

Spencer Stuart also says to think about how you introduce yourself to the team. “Be candid about who you are, what motivates and excites you about this opportunity, what they can expect from you, and what you hope the team can accomplish together,” the firm said. “Continue to share your leadership philosophy to set the tone for your change agenda and align with your team on important norms and behaviors. Engage in one-on-one meetings and pose key questions in order to ensure your strategic agenda reflects the institutional knowledge, insights, and perspectives of your team.”

Point 3 — Shape Your HR Team

“Use your one-on-one meetings with team members to quickly determine whether you have a strong enough team to reach your aspirations,” Spencer Stuart said. “Establishing a strong team is the best first step one can take towards implementing and executing the strategic agenda. Strive for a diverse team, including people from underrepresented groups, that matches the company’s challenges. Remember that diverse teams have been shown to yield better results.”

Related: Are Today’s HR Leaders Ready for Tomorrow’s Challenges?

Determine what motivates each individual on your team and uncover if they are spending their time in ways that make best use of their abilities. And like the conversation with your boss, align on clear expectations with each team member and put them in writing. Spencer Stuart says to think about how to shape the interface with your team. What is the right cadence of meetings? Are there sub teams that you should meet? How often should you have one-on-one meetings and what should they cover?

Point 4 — Craft Your Strategic Agenda

Build your strategic plan as a team and find the right balance between the compelling picture of where you want to lead the group but leave wiggle room to adapt as you go, the Spencer Stuart report notes. “Diagnose the HR team’s opportunities by listening to constituents,” said the study. “Use this diagnosis to build your short-term strategic agenda, making sure to under-promise and over-deliver. In addition, expect some level of pushback on your agenda but, rather than resist, coalesce that input in a positive way to maximize buy-in.”

Finding HR Leaders and Diversity Chiefs Remains Hot Spot for Executive Recruiters
More and more, chief executive officers have recognized the strategic role that the human resources function plays in the core strategic issues their companies face, including growth strategy, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, increased board oversight, and evolving governance and reporting. HR can also ensure that clear changes are made to recruitment and capability-building processes by determining the characteristics of a “purpose driven” employee and embedding these attributes within recruitment, development, and succession planning.

“In my 30-plus years of working with HR executives, this has been one of the most critical times I have seen for a company to have a highly capable HR function with strong leadership,” said Alan Berger, vice president, human resources search at StevenDouglas. “Setting and implementing a strategy of how to make sure the workforce stays engaged and highly productive in an onsite, hybrid or remote setting, with the headwinds of a labor shortage and unprecedented resignations, is incredibly challenging. In the end, the work has to get done and deciding on how that can be accomplished and under ever changing COVID rules and mandates falls squarely on HR leadership’s plate.”

Spencer Stuart also says to use your strategic agenda, which is by definition a work in progress, to help you and the HR organization make decisions, see what’s working and what’s not, and adjust as needed. “Secure some early wins,” the firm said. “Look for flaws in the organization and fix them quickly to establish your credibility as a leader and change agent.”

Point 5 — Start Transforming Culture

Work to understand the culture of the company and the HR organization, identifying how “things work around here.” Diagnose how significant of a change is required. Spencer Stuart says to look across other functional areas within the culture to see how your HR team will need to lead or follow others that may be working well.

“Search for the knowledge networks, key influencers, decision-making protocols, and the unwritten and unspoken conventions that are the central nervous system of any organization,” the firm said. “Look for clues about how things get done at the company, then listen and learn; within most appearances and generalizations there lies an inner core of truth.”

In addition, the report says to solicit views on the culture from a wide of range of people. Then create the conditions within your team for cultural transformation. “Adapt measures of success, expectations and operating processes; empower change leaders; and lead by example,” the report said. “People are the most receptive to change early in your tenure, so make your first moves count. You may need to make structural and people changes but do so with the bought-in support of the key power center (along with your CEO).”

Point 6 — Manage Your Boss

Share your onboarding plan with your boss to ensure alignment with your mutual goals. “Given his/her broad mandate, be succinct in your communication about how your plan reinforces your boss’ strategic priorities and how it will drive profitable growth across the enterprise, understanding the stated and unstated motivations,” Spencer Stuart said. “Keep your boss aware of each phase of your initial plan. Many skilled CHROs have misstepped early on by not keeping their boss involved during each phase of their initial plan. Managing your CEO requires a different approach from what you may have experienced previously.”

Also, the report stresses the need to establish your credibility by having a sound strategic agenda, be on top of the details of the business, and implement an effective communications protocol.

Point 7 — Communicate

“Tailor your message and your style to your audiences’ readiness and to what they care about,” the Spencer Stuart report said. “Stakeholders will want to hear your ideas, and it is key that you are consistent and continually reinforce your messages to get your plan embedded with your team.”

“Know the communications settings that you are most comfortable in and play to your natural strengths,” the report said. “Use new modern approaches in your communication, intimately intertwined with the organization’s culture. Having all the answers is usually the wrong answer. In your stories, quote other key leaders in the company or offer ideas captured from your customers or consumers. And while this requires significant time investment, it will pay back in enhanced credibility, trust, and stakeholder engagement.”

Point 8 — Avoid Common Pitfalls

“Listen, develop a plan, test, communicate, and commit,” said Spencer Stuart. “Failing to connect with the board — the new CHRO should work quickly to connect with key board members, particularly around C-suite succession and your role in navigating this for the organization.”

Picking the wrong battles — avoid focusing on issues that will ultimately have little impact on the CHRO role, pulling your attention away from critical priorities, the report notes.

Lastly, not addressing your team — lay out clear expectations for the function; how your team executes your initiatives enables your impact as CHRO, Spencer Stuart says.

To read the full white paper, The New CHRO Playbook, click here!

Related: How HR Can Help Build the Organization of the Future

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments