How to be successful in the first 90 days

"Plan your first 90 days around the three Rs: research, relationships and response," says - ©fizkes/Adobe Stock

What should HR professionals in a new role do to ensure success?

Starting a new role can be daunting. As the saying goes, you only get one chance at a first impression. Right or wrong, existing employees will judge new employees this way. 

So, how should HR professionals prepare for their first 90 days, and what should they do once in their new role, to ensure success?


The evolving workplace

From hybrid working to economic uncertainty and the impact of technology, the world is changing fast. Keeping up with these innovations can be complex, and test even the most experienced professional.

These changes present challenges for employers and employees. Historically, previously accepted and successful approaches to learning and development (L&D) may no longer be effective.

Many organisations have already taken steps to refocus on leadership and transferable skills such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking and networking.

As HR and L&D leaders, we are aware that this is not a change that is adopted at the same speed across the board, and that there are times when organisations must choose what adds most value and where to focus longer-term plans.

Plan your first 90 days around the three Rs: research, relationships and response. 

Read more: Why clever leaders must master the art of self-discovery


First, HR and L&D leaders need to do their research. 

Whether HR, L&D or any other support role, functional leaders’ critical purpose is to support business growth and success. As a result, new starters must understand the business they are joining.

How does the organisation measure success, and what are the business levers? How are L&D and HR evaluated? And what do senior leaders value? HR must speak the language of business to resonate with the right people. 

Moreover, new HR executives should seek to understand the leadership maturity in the business. Have existing leaders experienced challenges and come back stronger, or are they untested and unchallenged? 

Understanding these attributes, limitations and the maturity of senior leaders may inform how HR starters engage and support them. 



Second, meet people. 

In the first few days, weeks and months, HR executives should seek to build relationships with the people that matter. 

They should do this by identifying the key players, meeting people in the immediate team and managing expectations. 

These individuals will vary according to each organisation. In some, it may be as simple as listening to the board. In others, changemakers or influential employees may exist outside of the traditional organisational hierarchy. 

The people in the immediate team are as important. Peers, juniors and colleagues often look to HR and L&D executives for formal and informal advice and guidance. 

When building relationships, HR executives should manage expectations. Building trust means managing expectations and not overcommitting. 

New starters should also understand how their colleagues communicate. How do people best receive information? Do they prefer to be involved at all stages or do they take an approach where they can help clear any barriers? Do people prefer meetings in real life or online? How does the organisation track initiatives; project boards, and online tools? How do people use workplace chat apps and messaging tools? What’s acceptable and what’s not?  

Read more: Moving on up: Where next on the HR career ladder?


Last, act. Carefully. 

It is natural to want to make a great impression in the first 90 days. But as HR specialists be aware of the importance of the pause before you react. Take a breath, hold and consider actions. 

It is easy to fall into the trap of what worked at a previous organisation is the best solution. Avoid this blanket judgement and instead ask questions, gather evidence, and analyse the organisation and its people. 

Identifying an early small win can help. Often, these will be obvious. Nevertheless, HR leaders do need to capitalise on them and deliver.  

Talk to people, listen more than speak, ask great questions with positive intent, meet with people and make small changes well.   

Most of all, if you take anything away from this, have a plan. This way, HR and L&D leaders can make an impact and ensure the first 90 days are successful. 


Sara Good is learning design consultant for OnTrack International