A 28-year HR veteran leader, Adam Abdullah, highlights how to overcome challenges such as a know-it-all attitude, unclear goals linked to strategy, and missing communication targets for first-time HR leaders.
When a rookie HR personnel is promoted to a leadership position under the succession plan, he/she will realise very quickly that the responsibilities are different from what they have been used to. A different perspective and set of skills and competencies are required to be effective in the new leadership role.
Sadly, the position normally does not come with a clear-cut instruction manual and, for most, mistakes are made when carrying out the new role. Recognising and learning from these common mistakes can help rookie HR leaders to become more productive, earlier in their new position.
Whilst most of these mistakes are not career limiting, it would be good to know what typically happens so that they can be avoided. There is no exhaustive list of mistakes but below are three common mistakes that rookie HR leaders have been known to make (I have made them and learned from them too):
1. Having an egotistical ‘know-it-all attitude’
With new, great power comes great responsibility. A rookie usually does not want to be seen as a amateur but rather seen and accepted as a seasoned HR leader. Functional leaders listen to and accept their answers because they acknowledge that he/she is the HR expert.
Therefore, rookie leaders tend to play-act a ‘know-it-all attitude’, pretending they have all the answers. They are afraid to say ‘I do not know and let me look into that and get back to you’ because they fear this will give a negative impression.
They need to remain humble, not be afraid to ask questions, and take time to learn in the new position.
That fear may stem in part from a lack of confidence. This confidence comes with maturity and experience; those who have been in the leadership world for a while usually understand that learning on the job is part of the deal.
It is important for rookies to realise that no one is expected to know everything all the time. It will be more prudent to take some time and research rather than give advice under the pretext of knowing-all that could put the company and people affected in a position of liability and burden. They need to remain humble, not be afraid to ask questions, and take time to learn in the new position.
2. Failing to define clear goals
New HR leaders may have a tendency to focus more on their previous day-to-day tasks that are more in line with their comfort zone. They make sure these tasks are done efficiently while keeping a limited focus on the bigger picture, i.e. the company’s vision, mission and business goals.
Thus, they may implement HR strategies that are created in isolation, separate from the business goals, failing to use the company’s top priorities as guidelines. When clear goals have not been established, people will not be able to prioritise their workload effectively and efficiently, causing tasks to be completed in the wrong order or not be completed.
This misalignment can easily be addressed by setting SMART goals, that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Taking it further, when individual and team goals are aligned with the objectives and mission of the company, people become engaged and excited because they can see how their effort and contribution matters and making the change happen.
3. Avoiding communication with people early in the transformation and not providing feedback
First-time HR leaders will move to implement HR changes, but they forget to tell others in the company until it is time for implementation. Not surprisingly, this can lead to pushback and lack of support.
When prompt and timely feedback is not provided people are deprived of the opportunity to improve their performance.
Change is difficult and challenging, and people often feel threatened about their roles and the future with big sweeping changes. Rookies need to understand this and communicate HR changes with others in the company. They need to inform them about the reason for the changes and why these are good for the business and their career development.
Providing and getting feedback is the breakfast of champions. However, many studies have shown that failing to provide feedback is a common mistake that rookie HR leaders make. When prompt and timely feedback is not provided people are deprived of the opportunity to improve their performance.
To avoid this mistake it is important to learn how to provide regular and honest feedback and get feedback. This helps to develop trust and relationship and, if done correctly, can earn respect.
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First-time HR leaders need to identify their communication strengths and weaknesses, capitalise on the former and overcome the latter. This can be done through mentors and coaches, behavioural assessment tools, and sharpening their communication skills.
They also need to get up, walk around the shop floor and be present with the people they support in their role as customer service (where employees are the customers), embracing an open-door policy.
As rookie HR leaders grow to become mature professionals, they are evidently some pain points. Whilst it is difficult to avoid every mistake, these are ones that can hopefully be avoided through planning.
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