What’s onboarding like for the new CHRO?

Best practices for new CHROs in a post-scandal, coronavirus world.
By: | April 6, 2020 • 2 min read

You’re the company’s new CHRO. It’s great pay, a great job and great growth opportunity. There’s just one catch: Your predecessor abruptly quit due to a highly publicized scandal. Consider stepping into David Fairhurst’s job, the former chief people officer at McDonald’s, who stepped down last fall after his boss, the CEO, was fired for having a consensual affair with a colleague.

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How should you hold the reins? What are your top priorities, especially during a pandemic? How do you establish trust and build confidence among the workforce as an HR leader? Start the process by demonstrating to workers a real understanding of what they may be thinking, feeling or experiencing, says David Rock, co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, a global initiative that is building a new science for leadership development. Then, Rock says, share your personal values and leadership style to help them rally together and offset the inherent sense of danger they may be feeling.

“The biggest factor is empathy, labeling what people are probably experiencing and normalizing it,” Rock says. “If people feel their leader in a crisis only cares about money and doesn’t show care for [them], they will head for the door as soon as they can.”

Within your first 100 days, identify and share tangible goals that employees are likely to support and can jointly accomplish. For example, employees could be involved in a project that provides food to coworkers in need. Rock says the most powerful goals benefit local communities or society as a whole, generate warmth and motivate employees to unite behind them.

Likewise, start building competence “one expectation at a time,” says Rock, adding that HR tasks must be prioritized. “What really matters? Be really explicit about things you’re going to do so you can clearly show you’re making progress. In the environment we’re in, it’s critical to focus on what’s essential and not try to be exhaustive.”

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Oftentimes, Rock says, new CHROs don’t communicate enough, work quietly in the background and hope employees recognize and appreciate their skills, which rarely happens, he says. Instead, deliver clear communications—at least once a week—about your values and vision and, given our current situation, offer updates on major issues like coronavirus. Forget about reaching quarterly goals during the pandemic. Reset your expectations and focus on daily or weekly targets, which will be more realistic to achieve.

“Right now, HR leaders must also take care of themselves, look after their people and deliver essentials,” he says. “The coronavirus isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. We need different work habits right now.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.