Align your priorities
As an interim HRdirector, it has been essential for me to make an impact in a new role as quickly as possible. Companies generally only call in an interim when things have become pretty desperate and you are only as good as your last assignment. However, the points below are still valid for someone going into a permanent role.
The most important thing is to set priorities to meet the needs of the business. Ask to see the business strategy (if there is one), then make a time to meet the Chief Executive and question him or her about how ready the people side of the business is to meet the strategic needs of the business. For instance, if the main drive for the year is organic growth, question how effective the business development/sales function is; do they have the right people with the right skills; are they properly targeted and incentivised? If there isn’t a written strategy, spend time teasing out from the CEO the key business development areas.
From this discussion, draw up a list of the urgent and important areas for improvement for people matters. Present this back to the board and get their agreement to move the business forward. Then, make sure that you and the team spend a good proportion of your time on these strategic areas - in HR there's always more than enough day to day ‘stuff’ to fill your time; make sure that you rise above that to move things forward.
Know your team
Over the years I have walked in to find a team which had no idea I was coming, one which believed that as a ‘temp’ I was not going to be managing them, and numerous teams inherited as part of acquisitions who resented being part of a larger entity. However, whatever you find, these are the people who can allow you to succeed or make you fail.
Make sure that the team, and the clients, understand that you want the team to build the long-term relationships with their clients. Do get out of your office, often, and meet people, but don’t hog the limelight. Make sure that your team get the credit for the good things they do but you take responsibility (in public at least) for the things which go wrong. Back in the privacy of the department, don’t be afraid to address these matters with the team member who is responsible.
Translate your urgent and important list into actions which can be delegated to individuals and put some time-scales against achieving those. In other words, manage it like a project (if you can teach members of your team how to manage a project in the process so much the better; it will stand them in good stead for the future).
Hold regular meetings, both team and one to one, set some clear goals and measure progress. Be firm but fair, set clear objectives, praise when it is due and make sure they know when it isn’t. Play to their strengths wherever possible but do encourage them to stretch their wings and learn new skills.
Celebrate the team’s successes. A few cakes or a trip to the pub occasionally after work can all help, but a simple thank you goes a very long way. However, one of the best pieces of advice I was given was, ‘don’t live with problems too long’; if someone isn’t willing or able to turn around, deal with it. If the person has been given a fair chance, the team will respect you for this; they will have noticed if someone isn’t pulling their weight and start to feel resentful if it isn’t dealt with.
When you have achieved some of the milestones, don’t forget to let people outside of the team know. This is not the time to hide your light under a bushel.
Finally, set some measures and make sure that they have costs calculated against them. Most of the standard measures in HR, such as staff turnover, time and cost to recruit, absence, disciplinaries, are not things which HR alone can control. That doesn’t make them any less valid. Make sure the management team are aware that HR is there to help them but that, ultimately, it's down to them whether these things improve.
By putting the right processes and training in place for the line managers and helping them to do things better, HR can make huge improvements in these areas. Present these measurements regularly at the board meetings and, if possible, break them down by department. This raises another key point - make sure during the recruitment process that you are going to be party to the board meetings. If not, your chances of making much impact are severely diminished.