Preparing for a new group HR director role?
The approach you take when preparing for a new group HRD role is naturally determined by numerous factors – some quite specific to the organisation – so the aim here is to offer advice that should apply in most situations. If you’re being promoted, that could be an advantage because you already know the organisation and its culture. You probably also know what’s been tried before and some of the key personalities.
On the other hand, joining from outside allows you to bring fresh solutions to HR problems plus ideas you’ve picked up from other companies and sectors. On top of this, you aren’t tainted by any management ‘group-think’ that may exist in the organisation and you can be truly dispassionate about what needs to be done.
Utilise your existing network
From whatever direction you arrive at a group HRD role, the first thing to remember, as Geoff Lloyd points out, is that you are now at the pinnacle of HR; all eyes will be on you and everything you do will be minutely scrutinised.
Remember, you need to be the leader, not just one of many, and that a group HR leadership role is unlike any other in HR. It can appear to be a lonely place at times so it helps if you can talk to people you trust and respect in the informal professional network you’ve built in your career so far. If you can’t already pick up the phone to other group HRDs then you probably need to quickly rebuild neglected relationships or form new ones.
If it’s the latter and you need help, a good head-hunter will have some ideas and may be able to connect you. Lloyd's own network has proved very valuable to him and includes a former boss at Nortel plus a variety of consultants and executive search firms. If, like Lloyd, you are already accustomed to autonomy from previous roles and have been the organisation’s HR face, the transition should be much easier.
Lloyd says: “The first few weeks should be spent meeting a lot of new people and asking a lot of questions in order to assess the terrain.
“Don’t feel the need to be right and don’t feel the need to apologise if you don’t know all the answers (no-one does!). Some of those you meet as a new-comer might try and ‘work the angles’ with you but the vast majority will be helpful.
"An early priority should be to produce some form of stakeholder map. This is a technique I first saw used in commercial situations when a company is trying to win a major deal. You identify who all the key people and groups are, how they interact and what their attitudes to your aims are (supporters, sceptics or even downright hostile). This tool will be invaluable as you plan what needs to happen and when.”
Give yourself time to think
As you do this, Lloyd cautions against falling into the trap of being too ambitious:
“By all means set stretch targets but they must always remain realistic, and the means to reach them pragmatic. Be patient and, above all, resist the urge to rush into decision-making with incomplete information. Give yourself regular, uninterrupted thinking time. I learned the value of this from Christian Streiff, ex-chief executive of Airbus and my former boss, who had a daily routine of locking himself away from distractions for an hour to do some structured thinking. This, after all, is what executives are mostly paid to do.”
Assess your priorities
It’s likely you’ll be facing a myriad of challenges and lots of people demanding time and attention. It could well be overwhelming, so what advice does Lloyd have?
“As you begin formulating your plan, work out the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important, then prioritise efforts accordingly. Almost all of the most enduring and stable organisations appear to move forward with regular incremental gains as opposed to massive change. Other common factors in well-run organisations are the presence of a compelling vision and people united behind a strong, common purpose. Remember this when drawing up what to do. As you begin implementing your plan, be generous with your praise but honest with your feedback.
“At the same time, be courageous when the task is uncomfortable but always be empathetic. Although you’ll probably have numerous analytical tools to measure progress, when it comes to employee engagement, I like the simplicity and informality of the Friday Night Test: what stories would your people tell their family or social circle at the end of the working week when conversation inevitably turns to work? Would those stories be positive; even inspiring?”
If you’re not satisfied with the answers, then you’ve clearly still got your work cut out. To paraphrase David MacLeod, it could be time to go back a few steps and ‘give your employees a damned good listening to!’
About Geoff Lloyd
Geoff Lloyd has been group HR director at the £4.6bn revenue, global outsourcing services firm Serco plc since 2008. Before that he spent two years as executive V-P for human resources at Airbus, based in Toulouse, France.