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HR Directors: How to set yourself up for success in the first 90 days

HR Directors: How to set yourself up for success in the first 90 days

By Annabel Sweet: People, Culture and Change Lead

The first 90-day period within an organisation is crucial for any HR Director. Failure to make the most of it, because you’ve not invested your time and energy effectively, can ultimately mean that you don’t leave the lasting legacy you envisioned, nor make a difference to the company’s bottom line as you were brought in to do.

As drastic as that might sound, being new to the business affords you an opportunity that expires once the three-month period has elapsed: the chance to see things through a fresh pair of eyes. It’s also the only time you’ll have to watch and listen to the organisation, away from the ‘noise’ of the day-to-day.

A unique opportunity to see and learn

Once you get past the initial 90 days, it’s easy to become ‘blind’ to the realities of the organisation. When you see something every day, you don’t always notice things like you did when you first joined – everything becomes normalised – which is dangerous when you’ve been hired to make a step change to the company’s people strategy and culture. So, it’s important that you try to see the company and its culture for what it really is – making the most of your fresh perspective – before everything becomes ‘the norm’.

Being new to the business has other benefits, too. It gives you a free pass to ask probing questions of employees at all levels of the business – under the guise of curiosity and knowledge building – in order to build a true picture of the organisation’s culture and people offering.

You can put things to leaders without them perceiving there to be an agenda to your questioning. Similarly, employees will likely speak more candidly with you, having identified that you are at your most impressionable. But this ‘window of honesty’ won’t last forever.

Nor will the time you’re given to learn about the business. While it’s tempting, when starting a new job, to want to make an immediate impact, the first three months will be your only opportunity to gain a complete picture of the company culture without the pressure of meeting project deliverables. Favour long-term impact over short-term gains and keep your hands clean until you’re expected to show some tangible output.


Gaining a complete picture of the company culture

The first 90 days should be about learning rather than doing. Ultimately that means having as many conversations with as many different, relevant stakeholders – employees, leaders, customers and suppliers – as you can, capturing diverse perspectives, to build a 360-degree view of the company culture.

How you go about building a clear picture of the company and its culture largely depends on the size and structure of the organisation. But here’s a loose structure on which to base your knowledge building:

1. Get to understand the business

The People strategy needs to be aligned with the organisation’s overarching strategy, so you can’t think about whether the culture is a good fit until you fully understand the business.

Build knowledge around:

· The organisation’s business strategy
· The company’s strategic and tactical objectives
· How the organisation generates money
· How the organisation retains customers
· The power structures of the business
· The company’s competitors and the industry within which it operates
· The company’s key people priorities
· The firm’s employer value proposition

2. Talk to employees at all levels of the business

The more people you speak to, the better. Make sure you hear from people across a diverse range of ages, ethnicities and genders. Give people a good listening to.

· Speak to the leadership team about the culture they’re trying to create (What are the pain points they feel when managing their teams etc?)
· Talk to individual employees about the culture in practice (What makes work life difficult for them?)
· Experience the culture first hand by shadowing employees in their work
· Cover all of the organisation’s sites/locations
· Find out about what employees think the business does well/not so well
· Ask the obvious questions
· Create both informal and formal settings for people to offer their opinions

3. Bring data into the mix

Your ability to draw on data will be set by the organisation’s systems. In some companies, data will not be freely accessible, or it might be raw and requiring enrichment before it can be utilised.

Data that could prove useful:

· Long-/short-term absence
· Diversity
· Reasons for leaving
· Time when most people leave
· Employee retention
· Recruitment ROI (cost per hire/time to hire)
· Budgeting including revenue per head
· Employee survey results
· Skills
· Training costs (including attendance figures)
· Benefit uptake

It’s then a case of bringing the data sets together and attempting to make sense of them, identifying trends and hotspots, before combining your quantitative and qualitative data.

Take a balanced view

When trying to build a clear picture of the company culture, it’s as much about getting a sense for the positive aspects as it is the negatives. It’s normal to want to go looking for the things the organisation isn’t doing in those first 90 days, but it’s just as important to acknowledge the things that the company seems to be getting right.

Leaders want an accurate insight into the company’s people strategy and culture in practice. Using your fresh pair of eyes, you can combine data and analysis with insights to hold up a mirror of the organisation for the CEO and the leadership team. That 360-degree view of the company is something they don’t have the time or the impartiality to see by themselves, so by providing it, you will be seen to be making a meaningful contribution from – if not day one – day 91.

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