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The proving ground

Congratulations on your new role and good luck! Too often the elation of getting your dream job is not always matched by a dream start as the reality you are faced with rarely matches what was promised. However, do not despair because with a bit of planning, setting clear priorities, a touch of courage, a sprinkling of humility and a commitment to teamwork you can quickly make a positive impact and set yourself up for long-term success.

Newly hired or promoted HR Professionals describe the first ninety days on the job as a key period in making their mark, becoming believable and credible as it lays the foundation for future success – what we call the ‘proving ground’.

This period is typically a time of high expectations and high uncertainty for both the individual and the organisation. For the new HR Professional, the first 90 days can ‘make or break’ their reputation. At CourageousHR ( we believe that your impact during this 90 day ‘proving ground’ will be down to how well you are able to strike a balance:

  • Developing a good enough understanding of your new organisation, your role and your team needs to be balanced against the pressure to ‘make an impact’ and deliver ‘value’. There is a degree of leeway as supportive bosses, colleagues and employees are not looking for miracles and mistakes are more easily forgiven.
  • High expectations by yourself and ‘significant others’ that you will be creating a strategic plan for the future whilst recognising that this needs to be balanced with a need to create a tactical plan for the ‘here and now’.
  • Assessing the strength and commitment of your new team whilst recognising the need to re-mould it to provide the balance of skills and strengths you know you’ll need going forward.

The challenge

Research suggests that many new starters may not be spending their time as effectively as possible and rather than taking the opportunity to understand the organisations’ drivers, establish their credibility and expectations and begin to set out their future objectives they tend to get caught up in the operational aspects of the new role.

Usually there are unclear expectations in the wider business community as to what HR can and should do and few established metrics as to what defines ‘success’. More often than not, this means;

  • The reputation of the HR function amongst organisational leaders will often be ‘mixed to poor’
  • The role and objectives of the HR function will often be unclear to both HR and the business
  • The skill levels of individuals within the function will be mixed and difficult to assess
  • There is often an expectation by both the business and you that your role is to ‘transform HR’, typically (but not always) through cutting costs and ‘adding value’. A common problem however is defining what ‘adding value’ actually means and what behaviours are associated with ‘value’.

Your level of credibility is key to your success

The need for you to build powerful and sustainable relationships within the organisation is absolutely critical if you are to have the credibility necessary to make the impact you need to make. It is the basis of your future level of credibility and if you are newly promoted, relationships need to be rebuilt based on newly acquired ‘power’.

Making the most of your First 90 Days

First 90 Days

In unfamiliar surroundings and working with (and for) people you hardly know means you need to be clear about your priorities, trust your own ability, be open enough to seek advice as well as having a good sprinkling of patience – you are not a ‘miracle worker’!

A bit of forethought as to how you are going to spend your time during your first 90 days will go a long way to ensuring you create the best possible opportunities for you to prove yourself. Based on our experience at CourageousHR we have devised a 5 step plan when buddying up with new HR Executives to guide them through this critical and career defining 90 day proving ground.

1) Setting up ‘base camp’

First things first – make sure you know what and who you have at your disposal and that it is all in place.

  • This can be as simple as understanding where you are based, your office ‘space’, what support you have (admin etc), what IT systems you need access to and ensuring you have the knowledge and passwords to use them, being placed on internal directories and so on.

2) ‘Getting your bearings’

Listening and observing are great ways to discover and start understanding your new reality. It is also a fantastic way of building robust relationships as lots of different people will want to talk to you – so give them the opportunity; it is a great way of building trust and respect. What to look out for? We would recommend you focus on:

Understanding the organisation. The skill is to discover what is really going on rather than taking everything at face value.

  • Specifically find out about the: formal strategy as well as the tactical objectives; the types of people who are employed, identify your key stakeholders as well as getting to grips with the formal and informal power structures; culture, language, heritage and ways of doing things; customers, products, market and regulatory environments

Understanding your role. The challenge is too often no one has a clear view of what they want from you beyond the high level stuff, so you need to work quickly to create your own agenda and set what you believe are realistic objectives.

  • Start with understanding what your stated objectives actually mean and then clarify what your bosses expectations are (especially the unwritten ones!); work out you’re your available resources (people, budgets etc.); critically find out if there is any baggage that comes with your new role(i.e. reputation of your predecessor, HR in general etc…); finally be clear what are your immediate actions

Understand your team. Whether you are formally responsible for a team or simply working as part of a group of other professionals, your level of success will be significantly influenced by the quality of the people around you.

  • What is their level of skills and knowledge (HR as well as organisational); their drivers, ways of working and history; their reputation; the expectations of the team members

3) ‘Making your mark’

Personal credibility and style is critical in all roles but never more so than in HR. Credibility is the quality of being believable or trustworthy and is the foundation of your professional relationship with an organisation. It is hard to win and easy to lose, is based on the perception of the recipient, is contextual and while independent of formal power relationships and organisation structure; it is initially based on them.

The first 90 days can set the foundations (positively or negatively) for your future career in the organisation. As you are not normally expected to start delivering immediately (and therefore cannot create opportunities for increasing your credibility), you need to both use your stakeholder meetings to reinforce your previous experiences in past roles and where possible, make quick and visible changes.

As important as communicating your credentials, you need to use the first 90 days to establish your personal style and image. While other individuals may believe that they will only judge you once you have ‘settled in’, research shows very clearly that first impressions count e.g. dress sense, demeanour, language used, style of interacting and a range of other ‘personal’ aspects.

Finally, the first 90 days is an opportunity to clarify the new role and set out clearly the behaviours, objectives and activities that you expect and be involved in.

4) ‘Creating One Team’ (where appropriate)

Having set out to understand your team you can then begin the process of shaping it to allocate responsibilities, identify strengths, reduce weaknesses, and understand who might be committed to your objectives (and those who may not). This objective is driven in part by your vision and the willingness of the team to engage with it.

5) ‘Shaping the future’

Your last objective is to set out, and where possible gain agreement to, your objectives going forward.

The organisation expects and often demands that you define and shape your role and future objectives. While stakeholders will seek to influence you (and this influence will be less direct the more senior you are), it is essential you bring your experiences and beliefs to your new role.

The first 90 day period is therefore an ideal opportunity to understand the existing situation; to define existing organisational strengths and weaknesses; to engage with stakeholders about the potential future state; and begin to build a plan to bridge that gap.

The level and degree in completing this ‘Plan’ will depend on many factors – the size of the potential change, the level of internal agreement, the resources available and so on – but you should be aware that the expectation of the organisation will increase as time passes.

The creation of the Plan, based on the analysis started during the first 90 days, will be an iterative process – building on the information obtained by you from before your joining date and adapted through stakeholder meetings.

You have one chance to make a good impression – take it!

Your first 90 days can be a challenging time, however it is also a wonderful opportunity for you to prove to yourself and to others that the right choice was made in hiring you. By focusing on developing your understanding of what is required through listening, observing, meeting and greeting you are establishing the foundations for your credibility, shaping your team and setting out your future objectives.

Stay close to the people that matter and never lose sight that your success depends on the success of others.