Bringing in an entirely new role is a disruptive experience. What can HR do to ensure the success of a newly created role?
In a rapidly changing workplace, newly created roles pop up all the time. Especially in response to global events.
During 2020, contract tracers, temperature checkers, workplace redesigners were all new roles created in response to the pandemic.
Many of these roles were temporary (there aren’t as many temperature checkers at the shops these days), but some new roles have ended up being important to an organisation’s future. For example, how many organisations had a dedicated IT person 30 years ago? Imagine trying to operate without yours these days.
When implementing a new role in your organisation, it can be tricky to make sure you’re effectively utilising the person’s expertise while managing the amount of disruption it can cause to the organisation.
No blueprint for a newly created role
Associate professor Sukhbir Sandhu and professor Carol Kulik, of the University of South Australia’s Business School, researched what goes into successfully managing a newly created role. The 2018 study focused on the position of a ‘sustainability manager’ at 21 organisations across Australia and India.
Unsurprisingly, they found that managing a brand new role can be a bumpy ride. But what was most interesting was the fact that every organisation went through the same hurdles when trying to get the structure of a new role right.
Firstly, the new hire was given too little structure then they were given too much. Eventually the organisations would find the ‘Goldilocks fit‘ between the two.
Kulik believes this rollercoaster is inevitable with newly created roles, but if you know it’s coming you can better prepare yourself.
Don’t just follow the pack
According to Sandhu, too many organisations create a new role based on what she calls “industry mimicry” – that is creating a role just because a competitor has it.
“They think, ‘Everyone’s hiring a sustainability manager, we need to bring one in too’ without considering where that person fits in the organisation,” says Sandhu.
This means the newly created role often ends up siloed and without clear reporting lines.
Sandhu recommends mapping out exactly where they sit before you even begin the recruitment process.
“You should identify who the role will report to and who the key stakeholders are – internally and externally – that [the person] will interact with, and what resources they can access to do their job,” she says.
Most pre-existing positions will have clear role touchpoints. Identifying these touchpoints for a position that fits within a hierarchical structure can usually be easy. For a team leader position it would be easy to see who reported to them and who they reported to.
If a role doesn’t fit in the hierarchy already you’ll need to identify who the person will need to interact with to perform their role. An example might be a new diversity and inclusion manager, they might not lead a team but they will likely need to be in contact with HR and recruitment.
Acknowledging any external stakeholders is important in reaching the Goldilocks fit. As Sandhu points out, if you think about new roles in an organisation, such as sustainability managers or social media managers, for example, they often need to look outside the organisation to do their job. It’s important you understand who of your existing clients, customers or suppliers they might need to interact with to successfully complete their role.
The thing about hiring for a newly created role is that you’re not always exactly sure of what you’re looking for.
If the role might be relatively new to your industry you may not have role models to base your recruitment off. In this case, you might need need to be flexible in what you’re looking for.
“I’m looking for experience in the role, but I’m willing to give up industry experience. That kind of looseness and trade off is really important, I think,” says Kulik.
It might also be helpful to have a panel of people involved in creating the job role, that way you can narrow down what’s a must-have and what’s a nice-to-have.
Kulik believes getting a panel of stakeholders involved early could also help down the line because everyone is aware of what this new position is supposed to achieve.
It is also important that others in the organisation understand the parameters of the new role or they could end up asking the new recruit to do things outside their remit, says Kulik.
“One of the sustainability managers said his role was so poorly defined that someone in another department called and asked, ‘Are you the guy we ring when we need a recycling bin?” says Kulik. “He was like, ‘No! That’s not my job.”
The Goldilocks fit
According to Sanhu and Kulik clarity around new roles swings like a pendulum before resting in the Goldilocks fit.
Recognise you’ve hired them with a very loose job description, says Kulik, and rather than fighting the process set up regular meetings between the new recruit at the executive team to create a more collaborative approach to finding those boundaries.
When introducing a new role, Kulik recommends shortening a lot of the usual timeframes you’d apply to a new recruit entering a pre-existing role. For example, review their job description within the first six months or check in on their KPI progress every quarter.
If the new recruit complains that the management structures are too tight, Kulik says to be careful about swinging back to the ‘too loose’ stage. Instead, she suggests finding ‘sandbox spaces’ where the recruit can experiment and push the boundaries in ways that are still contained.
“The boundaries I would relax are those that allow the new recruit to interact with other functions in the organisation,” says Sandhu.
“In a mining company, the sustainability director could interact with the geologists and the finance people, and they need the freedom to do that as needed.”
The boundaries that should remain are the clear reporting lines and the resources they can access, she adds.
Another important feature is making sure the new recruit has the backing of your executive team so they feel empowered to push back on other departments or leaders when they need to.
“You are essentially hiring a disrupter. You’re hiring someone to tell you what you’re not doing,” says Kulik.
“You want to make sure that person has the support of the executive team and that they’ll be supported when engaging in that disruption.”
On the other hand, Sandhu says leaders need some humility, adding that you should be prepared to listen to the expertise of the new hire.
“We’ve noticed that sometimes these new roles bring in initiatives that the employees have been crying out for,” she says.
“You bring in these roles because the old ways aren’t necessarily working. You need new ways. And those new ways don’t always come top down. Many of those come from the bottom up.”
Finding the right candidate for a new role is easier if your recruitment skills are top notch. If you need to brush up on your skills , consider taking AHRI’s short course on interviewing and selection skills.