Surprised about HR? Limit the RisksAs we have stated in earlier articles, you may be surprised as a Manager and a Leader (1); especially when you are new to front-line Management and with accountabilities for ongoing operations. Surprises from HR ‘events’ (including from undetected risks) and the outcomes, when negative, can be highly disruptive for all. The dynamics and immediacy of HR surprises is an acute example of when Managers, as Dwight Milhalicz describes, “…need the skills and knowledge required to successfully complete the work.”

HR Policies and Procedures

It’s imperative to be aware of and become practiced at conforming to the requirements of Policies and Procedures, including those that are HR specific. My wake-up, in a new role in a larger organization, resulted from the intensity and scale of HR accountabilities. Some of these, Performance Appraisals and Training Plans for example, are time boxed. Others are event driven: Awards for well-earned recognition, Terminations.

Action Items for the New Manager

It is the people in your Team (both Employees and Contractors) that accomplish the objectives. Sound operating practice requires the new Manager be well informed. Always be conscious of prerequisites, processes owned by others, timelines and periodic reviews for currency. Each topic includes, as a starting point, some suggested activities.

1. Escalation Policy & Contacts?

  • What Escalation Policies (including life and safety) are in effect?
  • Are the ‘contacts’ up to date and does everyone understand their role and accountabilities?

2. Vacation Schedule & Entitlement Policy?

  • Who is away when? How will their work be continued?
  • Know the policy about entitlement to vacation and limitations to carryforward of unused time.
  • Who has acted when your predecessor has taken vacation? What’s to be learned for ‘next time’?

3. Staff Depth Chart?

  • What’s the state of cross-training amongst staff? Is there sufficient flexibility for illness, vacation, and training?
  • Be prepared for changes including promotions being considered, resignations and terminations.
  • What’s the process to fill a newly vacant position?

4. Vacant Staff Positions & HR Requisitions?

  • Review vacant staff positions and open HR requisitions for both permanent and contract staff.
  • Prioritize the filling of positions. Determine whether certain positions might be eliminated and need not be filled.
  • What’s to be learned from staff turnover? Are there patterns that need to be addressed?

5. Agreements for Contract Staff?

  • Review the Agreements in place for contract staff including the notice period for Termination.
  • Assess contract staff capabilities and determine any need for changes to staffing.

6. Inherited Administrative Situations?

  • Employees on STD/LTD? What do you need to know about these instances and what’s next?
  • Employees on Probation? At what stage is the process? What’s next? And what’s required before then?

7. Awards?

  • Learn about the Awards programs ranging from spontaneous recognition for a job done well to nominations for annual awards for outstanding performance.

8. Performance Appraisals?

  • Review each of your Team’s objectives and measures.
  • What’s the next milestone and the prerequisites?

9. Job Descriptions?

  • Review the Job Descriptions currently in effect for the roles performed by Employees and
  • Contractors and update to reflect current responsibilities, skills, education, certifications and authorities. The same applies to your own Job Description.

10. Onboarding and the Opposite?

  • What’s the process for Onboarding? And for Termination?
  • What records do you need to maintain? Document the completeness (per Employee and Contractor changes) of the file for the current fiscal year.

11. Organization Chart?

  • Is yours up to date? Enables visibility of who is who and how people are connected.

12. Training and Development Plans?

  • What’s the currency of training and testing for regulatory compliance?
  • Who is scheduled to attend which course and when? How much is left in this year’s budget?
  • What are the alternatives: External Training and Certification? Internal courses? Role sharing or interim assignments?

13. Mentoring Program and Candidates?

  • Is there a Mentoring Program that your Employees qualify for?
  • Ask about how one joins as a Mentor!

14. Annual Employee Survey (AES)?

  • Obtain your Unit’s most recent AES report together with those that include your Manager. To ‘position’ your Unit’s scores amongst your peers.
  • Review the issues identified and understand how these relate to strategic initiatives.
  • Determine the current status of your predecessor’s response including actions, activities and outcomes.
  • Continue with or alter the plan.

In Summary

On your first day as a new Manager, begin to learn about and to understand HR’s Policies, Procedures and your Unit’s Processes. The learning is essential to developing competency. An event might be an unavoidable surprise but you can avoid or limit being at a disadvantage. Remember too that HR topics may be reviewed during an Audit. Review the current state and ask questions: What else do I need to know? Is there a precedent? What’s your advice? Remember that not asking someone a question doesn’t immunize you against their asking you a question.


  1. Management and Leadership as defined by Grace Hopper: ‘You manage things, you lead people’. Manager and Management, as I employ the terms, is inclusive of Management and Leadership.