A key part of HR's job is to manage the induction process, but how seriously do HR professionals themselves take the first few weeks of a new job?
This is particularly important if you're in a senior HR position where it's crucial that you make an impact quickly – if only to give some tangible evidence that you can fulfil the promises you made at interview. Quick success in gaining the confidence of senior colleagues and winning early support for new initiatives may make or break your latest career move.
1 Start at Job Offer Stage
Decisions you make at the point of accepting a new job have a huge impact. How far can you negotiate the content of your future job? You have a far greater chance of controlling job content at job offer stage than you will have at any time in the first two years of employment.
2 Do your Homework
You've done a great deal of research to get the job offer. Keep digging. Absorb the company's literature, spending time absorbing the language of the organisation. Pinning down the major problems and opportunities facing your organisation will present vital clues about career success. Soak up organisation charts, remembering the names and job titles of people that matter. Keep a notebook. Write down key names, procedures and contact numbers.
3 Begin by Focusing on People
Your first two weeks in the job may have far more impact on your career than any other fortnight you spend in the role. Your first strategy is to listen, learn and ask intelligent questions. If procedures seem odd or flawed, run with them temporarily. Don't inadvertently make enemies now. Start by identifying two kinds of people: future allies, eg, key people in IT and finance – find out how their concerns and ambitions affect yours; and information brokers – the people who know who does what, and who to ask.
4 Hit the Ground Running
Learn cultural codes quickly, particularly how much should be confirmed in writing and how decisions are made. Work out the cycle of routine activities: don't be caught napping by a sudden report deadline. Learn as much as you can about procedures and standards. Conformity may be boring, but it keeps you out of trouble in your first few weeks. It also signals your ability to learn systems quickly.
5 Watch Your Step
Be careful if you're tempted to suggest new ideas and working methods at this stage. Try not to criticise the way the job is already done. You might be able to make some tentative suggestions: share methods you have used, rather than telling people how things should be done. Better still, show some respect and enthusiasm for what you find rather than challenging everything from day one – you may be trampling on pet projects.
6 Get Networking
Don't rely on your first-day grand tour to meet new people. Sit next to new colleagues every day at lunch. Seize opportunities to visit other departments or branches. When introduced to new colleagues, don't just smile and nod – show interest in their jobs and problems, and show you are impressed by what they do.
Ask open questions about the way HR could support what your colleagues do – and expect to hear some challenging replies. You may be the first person who has really listened to their needs for a while. At the same time, ensure that you don't make too many promises at this stage because you probably have no idea how many you can deliver.
7 Look for Quick Wins
What is the biggest impact you can achieve in the shortest time, with the minimum of effort and resources? New HR managers often try to impose a template for change. This takes time, and meets resistance. The best method is to ask around: What gets in the way of productivity? What can be resolved obviously and cheaply? Ask productive people: "What could we improve?" and "How could we help you do to your job better?"
Decide, or seek permission, to implement two or three changes that are low on cost and high on imagination. Don't forget to give praise and credit to the person who gave you the idea. And make sure you follow up, so that you're not seen as a one-hit wonder.
8 Catch the Wave
The next step, once you start to become established, is a matter of identifying an area of work that is becoming a strategic focus for the organisation. To do this you need to be tuned in to the overriding needs of the organisation. Providing HR solutions that are focused on what really matters to the organisation at the most senior level will undoubtedly get you noticed.
9 Consider Your Development
Recognise your company's attitude to career development. What training is on offer, and how is it negotiated and justified? Who will take responsibility for your own growth and learning? What is your organisation's attitude to personal development, mentoring and career development? More importantly, what is the organisation's style? Are you expected to seek opportunities for growth, or is this seen as pushy?
10 Buck Convention
New employees often assume that a career ladder is best scaled step by step, and that someone will give you a shove up to the next level if you sit tight and do a great job. Such is the traditional view of career progression. In fact, it's far more likely that you will need an unconventional route to leapfrog your way to stardom. It's a matter of finding supporters, speaking the right language and reading the runes, combined with a strong focus on the next right step – which might be a sideways move or a move to another employer.
Strategies for your first few months in the job
Make sure that what you do is "Obvious":
• Observable – so people will talk about your achievements;
• Benchmarked – the effects will be measurable against organisational standards;
• Visible – by key decision-makers who can make a difference to your future;
• Individual – the fact that this is your personal contribution will be clearly identifiable;
• On target – providing HR solutions focused on what really matters to the organisation at the most senior level;
• Understood – so people see the obstacles you had to overcome;
• Special – to differentiate you from other HR resources, external or internal.