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The one constant in everyone’s life is change. As sure as the sun rises to start a new day, it will bring with it change in many different forms.

For some, this could be moving to a different country, starting a new job, or even as simple as drinking a new coffee in the morning.

For human resource professionals change can come at us in many forms.

New HR software that means you no longer have to have an Excel spreadsheet for bonus calculations (sorry Excel heads!), or, our topic for this article, a change in leadership.

Leadership changes will result in some initial chaos and questioning, but hopefully a fresh new sense of direction for the organization.

Personally, I always view them as an opportunity to stamp out some old bad habits and implement new initiatives.

Here I’ll explore how the HR team can effectively support a new approach under new leadership.

I’ll focus on supporting the new leader, relationship-building, the integration process, preparing for a new strategy, anticipating potential cultural shifts, and change management.

Onboarding Support

The only time I will ever provide a “VIP service” is when onboarding a new leader into the company.

As part of the new leader’s onboarding, HR should be on hand to provide them with essential information about the organization, its culture, and key stakeholders.

Some examples:

  • Organizational structure
  • Policies and procedures
  • Headcount/attrition
  • Overview of key talent and the roles they perform
  • Employee engagement metrics
  • Talent management initiatives
  • Learning and development programs
  • The performance management process
  • Compensation, incentives, and benefit programs
  • Recruitment procedures and employer branding.

Relationship Building

In my experience, the best working relationships with leaders are formed on a foundation of trust and transparency.

To start building the relationship, I highly recommend the following:

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Reaching out

Proactively reach out to the new leader to introduce yourself and learn their intentions regarding their vision, mission, and what they want to accomplish initially and long term. It should also be established how these align with the HR strategy.

As part of this, feel out their view of the HR function. Do they view HR as a strategic partner, just a traditional support function, or even a hindrance (a red flag, unfortunately)?

Depending on the new leader's interpretation of HR, you will need to align your approach and maybe even prove yourself.

Facilitate open and transparent communication

Maintaining open and transparent communication channels with the new leader fosters trust and ensures alignment between HR initiatives and organizational objectives.

I like to do this by establishing an agreement on the frequency and format of the communication between the two (i.e. scheduling weekly/bi-weekly check-ins, 1:1’s, topics for discussion, etc).

Seek opportunities to collaborate

Seek opportunities to collaborate with the new leader on key initiatives, demonstrating HR’s value as a strategic partner in driving organizational success. 

An example of this could be helping the new leader communicate and engage with their new employees.

For example, in the past we changed the approach of town hall meetings to actively seek employee feedback on how they view the leader and if they’re aligned with the strategy and objectives.

Preparing For A New Strategy

Assimilation will be important to the new leader, but they will also want to make strategic changes to adapt to ever-changing market conditions, industry trends, and competitive pressures.

Post the initial meeting with the new leader, HR should have a high-level overview of the new direction and incoming changes.

It’s still early days, and not everything the new leader will want to change from day 1 will be the same from day 100, but HR must seek to understand the fundamental elements of the new leader’s strategy and how they can support it.

This may involve revisiting talent acquisition and retention strategies, refining performance management reviews, or enhancing learning and development programs to align with the new strategic direction.

Be aware that this will lead to some “teething” issues such as changes to roles, restructuring, and which are considered key strategic roles in the organization. 

Communicating the reason for these changes early and often will be key to avoiding any unnecessary anxiety among employees.

Preparing For Potential Cultural Shifts

With new leadership comes a new leadership style and this will alter the culture of the organization.

What was once the “way of doing things” may change slightly or completely and this change must be managed appropriately.

To prepare for this, HR must assess the current organizational culture and identify potential areas of alignment or divergence with the new leadership's vision and values.

You can do this by gathering employee feedback on potential cultural issues and facilitating discussions to understand the prevailing cultural norms, beliefs, and behaviors.

Once this assessment has been completed, HR and the new leader should work collaboratively to define and articulate the desired culture and develop strategies to foster its adoption and integration throughout the organization.

This may include implementing cultural change initiatives, aligning HR policies and practices with new cultural values, and modeling desired behaviors at all levels of the organization.

Change Management

Of course, effective change management will be an important part of the transition and success of the new leadership. 

HR will play a pivotal role by helping facilitate communication, addressing resistance, and fostering a culture of adaptability and resilience.

HR and the leadership team will need to develop a comprehensive change management plan including objectives, timelines, and responsibilities for implementing change initiatives.

Engagement for the change should be worked on at all levels of the organization with specific communications for each level.

For example, communications should be developed for people managers that both address the change and its objectives and equip managers to support their teams.

This could be done by drafting an FAQ document and giving guidance on answering questions from employees and how to route feedback to the HR and leadership teams. 

Effective change management will minimize disruption, build organizational readiness, and facilitate a smooth transition to the new leader’s vision and strategy.

Ushering In The New Era

Change is inevitable and HR’s role will be to ensure it is there to support and facilitate the organization’s success under the new leadership.

By focusing on relationship building, supporting the new leader, preparing the organization for strategic shifts and cultural changes, and implementing effective change management, HR can help usher in a new era of success and growth under new leadership.

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Cillian Dore
By Cillian Dore

Cillian has over 10 years experience in HR working across multiple industries and HR disciplines. Currently, he works at a Fortune 500 company as a Human Resources Business Partner. He’s passionate about everything HR and creating better workplaces for all.