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Your First 90 Days as a Head of Talent

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So you’ve just landed a role leading a talent team—congratulations! Depending on the size and structure of your organization, your title might be Vice President, Director, or Head of Talent, but for most of these roles the expectations are the same: You’re responsible for the systems of hiring, rewarding, managing, and developing the people within your company.

How should you approach your first 90 days on the job? CTPartners recommend that, “the first 90 days on the job is a critical time period for gathering information, making first impressions, and setting a tone that will best facilitate a strong human resources leadership tenure.”

Let’s investigate what that might look like in practice.

1. Start with your job description

Begin by understanding the expectations of your role and outlining a clear list of objectives. A great place to start is with your job description and the plan you put together during your application process. You can use these as the framework and then make changes and adjust prioritization based on what you learn during the following steps. (Are you currently looking to hire a head of talent and need a template job description for this role? Workable and SHRM both have great versions you can work off of.)

2. Schedule lots of time to listen

One your biggest tasks during your early days as a head of talent is learning as much as you can about your company. Not only is this important for helping you understand the business (see point 3 below), but it will also give you insight into the people and practices you already have in place. You can accomplish this by going on an information-gathering “listening tour.” Organize meetings with people at all levels inside your organization, and potentially some external stakeholders such as customers, partners, and board members.

3. Understand the business

No matter which industry you’re in, during your early days in your leadership role, it’s essential that you learn how your business functions. Make sure you understand:

    • How your organization makes money and operates
    • Who your main competitors are
    • Who your customers are and why they choose you
    • What it’s like to actually use your product or service
    • Where your company is headed (what changes you should anticipate in the near and mid-term future)

4. Learn your core HR processes

The bulk of your effort will go towards understanding your “people processes.” These will generally fall into the categories of recruit, reward, manage, and develop. Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Recruit

Understand how your company goes about attracting, interviewing, and hiring talent. Here are a few things to consider.

  • How do you approach headcount planning? Do you know how many hires need to be made and in which departments? Can you anticipate future needs based on revenue goals and your roadmap? (Check out this Greenhouse post to learn more about the process of creating a dynamic headcount plan.)
  • What does your actual interview process look like? Do you conduct structured interviews? How do you collect feedback from interviewers and candidates?
  • Where do your candidates come from? What does your talent pipeline look like? For a quick and easy win here, look into implementing an employee referral program.
  • How do Diversity & Inclusion goals factor into your recruiting efforts?

Reward

Learn about your company’s approach to compensation and other rewards. Consider the following questions:

  • What is your current approach to compensation (both for current employees and when making offers to candidates)? How are compensation packages decided and how often are they reviewed?
  • Which benefits and rewards do you currently offer? Do any of these policies need to be revamped (or introduced if they don’t currently exist)?
  • Do you currently have systems or processes for recognizing and rewarding outstanding employees?

Manage

Learn how your company handles performance management and determine how this relates to the rest of your people practices.

  • What is the process for setting and communicating goals at the company, department, and individual level?
  • What is your current system and cadence for performance management?
  • How do managers and employees handle feedback? Is there an official system for peers to provide feedback?
  • What is the process for dealing with underperformers?

Develop

Familiarize yourself with your company’s approach to developing and supporting the growth of existing employees.

  • Do you have career paths in place and do employees understand them?
  • How often are managers and their direct reports having career development conversations?
  • What is the cadence and process for handling promotions and internal transfers?
  • Which learning and development resources are available to employees? Are they being used?

5. Get a sense of the key HR priorities

During all of the investigating from step 4, you’ve no doubt learned that there are a number of inefficiencies and areas for improvement (and hopefully a few things that are working well!). Your next task is to decide which initiatives to pursue.

How should you go about this? Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Jon Younger recommend the following approach: “You need to focus your time and HR investments on those initiatives that will be both implementable (doable within time and budget) and have impact (make a visible difference in business results).”

6. Assess your HR team

Now that you’ve determined your plan of action, you’ll want to ensure that you have the team to help you carry it out. Spend time learning about your current team members and the department structure in light of your priorities and goals. Do you need to make any additional hires or changes in order to get you there faster?

There will likely be all sorts of unanticipated events that happen during your first few months on the job. After all, you are dealing with the most unpredictable and fascinating part of a business—its people! But the steps we’ve outlined here can be a reference point to return to and guide you through your early days as a head of talent. Good luck!

Would you add anything else to this framework? Feel free to drop us a line in the comments section to let us know!


Are you prioritizing building your pipeline with pre-qualified, vetted people? Learn how Teamable can support your employee referral program by clicking here.  

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