Frontline Intelligence: HR transitions – a crucial time to get it right

by External10 Sep 2013

Transitioning into a new role in HR is an exciting time. New challenges, new priorities and new achievements are all on the horizon. The trick is to get off on the right foot, and by paying attention to some key strategies this can be accomplished. This month Craig Mason discusses the importance of getting HR career transitions right. 

The Next Step’s Brisbane team recently hosted an HR executive briefing where over 80 HR professionals gathered to hear why  the first 100 days matter in HR career transitions. The briefing was informed through a panel format. 
The panel was made up of three senior HR leaders. They were: 
•  Nicholle Duce, general manager, human resources, Queensland Rail; 
•  Bruce Highfield, executive general manager, Olam International; 
•  Ryan Bright, general manager, human resources, technical functions, Rio Tinto.
The focus of the morning was on transitioning into the lead HR role, and the panel shared their key learnings as each member had transitioned into their current role relatively recently. While focusing on the lead HR role, the majority of the panel’s insights and key messages were appropriate to transitions at all levels in HR. 
Not only were the key messages appropriate across all levels in HR but each member of the panel represented different styles of career transitions. Nicholle transitioned into her role from within her existing HR team, Ryan from within another part of his organisation, and Bruce moved into his role from the external market. This meant all the bases were covered. 
The panel members were asked what methods they used to be successful in their new roles. With a high degree of agreement, some of the key conclusions were:
There was an overwhelming level of agreement among panel members that an important key to success was to understand  the organisation’s business model. Without this understanding, the key stakeholder discussions wouldn’t get past first base. 
Closely following understanding the business model was a very clear message to get to grips with the jargon of the business  and its meanings – really quickly! (This is a trick that experienced board members develop. Once they are appointed to a new board, in a new industry, they develop a ‘cheat sheet’ with all the acronyms and industry jargon clearly outlined.) 
It’s a crucial piece of work when moving into a new HR role to understand who are the influencers in the business. These can  be different groups. While the panel didn’t focus on one over another, three specific client groups were discussed:
Boards– Nicholle said that one of the groups she tapped into was the organisation’s board and its collective wisdom. She indicated that it was very important to build relationships and trust with the individuals on the board, which helped manage their expectations and get buy-in for the HR team strategy.
Key executives– Ryan explained the importance of building relationships with business owners outside of HR  and integrating the HR team’s delivery to ensure successful outcomes.
HR community – Bruce described how important it was to understand the HR community. He indicated that getting to know the HR team was paramount. He thought that this informed well on influencing up and down the organisation and ensuring the right priorities were being achieved and HR wasn’t just order taking.
Some additional key common themes among  the panel were:
•  Research, research, research – understand as much about the industry and the history of the business as possible; 
•  Don’t overpromise and underdeliver – do a few things, and do them well; 
•  Be agile – be prepared to change priorities as required;
•  Honour the past – we live in a connected community in the HR world, and it’s not a good look to trash previous HR initiatives.
As everyone knows in HR, the pace of change and the pressure to perform are constant, but during career transitions the spotlight is most definitely on from day one. 
The panel’s universal agreement was that it is critical to establish and bed down the key working relationships, to work in partnership with these stakeholders to establish what success looks like, and to be laser focused on delivering and executing  against these expectations. 
If you aren’t on your game in the first 100 days, then it’s a battle from there on. 
About the author
Craig Mason is the Managing Director of The Next Step, a specialist consulting practice in the human resources market. For more information, call (02) 8256 2500 or email 

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