How to make a successful start as a CHRO?

July 15, 2023

What sets the foundation for a successful start as a CHRO in a new company in 2022? Anne Jaakke asked Abbe Luerman, former CHRO of Ahold Delhaize.

Hastily, I got into the car and headed towards Wassenaar. I was already running late. My meeting with the CEO of an HR tech company, whom I had approached for a potential investment in #Fantistics, had taken longer than expected.

"Abbe is a giant, an incredible 'HR rockstar' with an amazing track record as a CHRO."

Despite the meeting not yielding the results I had hoped for, I was excited. Today, I would be interviewing Abbe Luersman at her home. Just a few days before she moves back to the US for a new chapter in her life. Her new home base, after Ahold Delhaize and Unilever, is Otis Worldwide.

Abbe is a giant, an incredible HR rockstar with an impressive track record as a CHRO. Her energy and big smile have a disarming effect on everyone. You can have a great laugh with her. But this time, I was there to learn from her and share her insights within our HR community.

Favourite topic Abbe has just finished her daily laps in her heated outdoor pool when I arrive. She is dressed in a relaxed manner. With her hair still wet, she welcomes me with her familiar warm smile and two big dogs by her side. The house is already empty, except for a large armchair and a dining table. Our favorite topic awaits us: HR ChangeMakers. (Listen to the full interview with Abbe as a podcast).

We discuss many topics that morning, but I'll highlight three specific answers that can help you as a leader (HR or otherwise) to make a successful start in a new company. It seems like everyone is engagedin a big game of musical chairs at the beginning of the year.

Question 1: What is your most important tip for starting a new job as a CHRO?

Abbe: "Invest in the discovery phase: do your research. Most of that research should be done before you start. You can only contribute the most in a new organization if you truly understand the company!"

According to her, you should approach this research in the following way:

Seek answers to questions like: Why does the company exist? What does it stand for? What is it trying to achieve? Who helps achieve this? Get to know the people, the job roles, how the work is done, the level of knowledge required, and the necessary skills. Understand what makes someone successful and what challenges they face. Gather information online and through social media: financial data, annual reports, reports from consulting firms, customer reviews, etc.

Talk to different groups: the supervisory board, management teams, employees, suppliers, customers. Pay attention to how they respond to questions, how open, vulnerable, and confident they are. Experience and explore the different products, services, brands, and countries where the organization operates within the first 60-90 days. Indeed, conducting research is crucial. Everyone wants to start off on the right foot in their new job.

But to what extent are you willing to dedicate those precious few weeks between the old and new job to this research instead of enjoying your free time? That's why I would suggest taking at least three months "off": two months to reset and relax, and one month to dive deep and prepare.

Question 2: What characterises a good (HR) leader?

Abbe: "Someone who is goal-oriented, value-based, can be vulnerable, collaborates, connects within the organisation, makes connections at all levels, can co-create. A leader should have a vision, set clear goals, and co-create a plan together. Every leader should want to know everything about their people, understand them, and prioritize them. That's where you can make a big difference, have a significant impact, and deliver value to the company."

"And love what you do and who you do it with, contribute fully, acknowledge that things go wrong, correct and recover, admit your mistakes, and be humble and authentic. People will then love you more and recognize that you're also just a human being."

What I find particularly interesting here is her simple, but unfortunately not often applied, approach: getting to know your people well, understanding their roles, and their specific contributions in order to understand where they can add the most value. I would add: then connect the right people together and ensure everyone is aligned on the mission and shared goal to achieve the end result. A walk in the park. Right? :-)

Question 3: What is the biggest mistake CHROs make?

Abbe: "We make far too little use of each other's (HR) expertise. We want to do it all ourselves or with our own team. Instead, work with others in the larger HR domain and involve colleagues from other functional domains within your organisation."

Indeed. You don't have to do it alone; there are more like-minded (HR) ChangeMakers to share knowledge and exchange experiences with. Network learning inspires, brings new insights, provides energy, and helps you elevate your organization to the next level faster.

For example, you can become part of a mini-community of (HR) ChangeMakers to connect with other great CHROs in a relaxed manner, inspire each other in a pleasant and safe environment. In 2022, I will organise a few intimate (re)treats at the big sister house. An exclusive session(s) with just me is also possible. Everything for a good start in a new challenge. A beautiful beginning to a new calendar year!

Anne Jaakke
HR ChangeMaker
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