4 Deadly Traps Just Waiting For You As A New HR Leader & How To Avoid Them!

By Alan Collins

Moving into a brand new leadership role is the #1 challenge any HR professional can face….no matter how much HR experience you have!

That’s a fact.

According to SHRM, 31% of all new HR leaders crash and burn in their first 18-24 months. 

Why?  Often, it’s because of poor cultural fit, inadequate onboarding, or the lack of appropriate expectations.

However, many new HR folks set themselves up for failure because of THEIR OWN MISTAKES AND MISSTEPS.  

In my book, The New HR Leader’s First 100 Days, I provide a comprehensive look at the traps just awaiting the arrival the new HR leader — and how to overcome them to stack the cards in your favor from day one.

Here are just four of the many common, but deadly traps that can bite you in the butt:

 *    *    *

Trap 1:
Attempting to make a big splash,
without doing your homework.


Consider the example of Erin, who was hired as the new HR VP for a small division of a Fortune 200 electronics company.

When she was interviewing, everyone was blown away with her innovative HR ideas about acquiring and retaining talent.

Picking up on their signals, Erin couldn’t wait to strut her stuff and make a big splash in her first business leadership team meeting.

So, she brought a slick power point presentation to this meeting which outlined her plans to radically overhaul the division’s approach to recruiting and acquiring new talent.

She felt that she and her team should “own” ALL this activity at the division headquarters — rather than have it continue to be done inefficiently by six separate field HR organizations.

Unfortunately for Erin, she didn’t know that her short-lived predecessor had made a similar proposal! 

She also didn’t know that the field business leaders hated this idea then…and their feelings had NOT changed.

There was absolutely no freakin’ way they wanted to give up their power to hire their own people.

And so when Erin proposed this again, the senior field leaders went ballistic!

They pushed back on her hard.  She was totally blindsided by their negative reaction.

It took her two months to recover from the perception that she was “power hungry maniac” that didn’t trust or respect the leaders in the field.

Not doing her homework got her off to a rocky start.

How to avoid this trap:   Take time to go to school on your new organization.  Listen to those around you, including both colleagues and customers.

Find out the reason why HR policies are in place before you propose changes.

If you don’t like how something’s done, ask what else has been tried.

Run your new ideas by others, especially if they’re radical.

You might be surprised to learn that some of your ideas may have already been attempted.

And even if they haven’t, taking this approach helps to further shape and sharpen up any ideas you plan to sell in your new organization.

That said, let’s move on to another hidden landmine, which is…

*    *    *

Trap 2:
Not asking for the resources
you need to be successful.


Some brand new HR leaders are reluctant to ask their boss for the resources they need to be successful.  To be clear, the resources we’re talking about here are things such as:

Accomplishing big-time results in HR without the proper resources is like trying to build a house without enough bricks, mortar and wood.

Eventually it might get built, but it will take a lot more effort and time — but only if the organization is patient.

And most organization’s aren’t.

How to avoid this trap:  Your first step is ask yourself: “What exactly do I need from my boss to succeed?” The sooner you can clearly answer this question, the faster you can engage in productive discussions with him or her to acquire them.

Additionally, you should be prepared back up such major “asks” with as much evidence, hard data, third party observations or analysis as you can gather.  And then stand firm.

Some examples of what you might say:

“Boss, to bring in those 50 new software engineers we need in the next 3 months, I will need to supplement my current HR staff with four dedicated external recruiters. This will require an extra investment of $150,000 in retainer fees per month…”

“Boss, we’re working with Legal to gather the documentation to support the termination of the Finance VP. The morale in his department is horrible and evidence is compelling. Since he’s the son-in-law of the CEO, this is likely to get very political and embarrassing. I’m going to need your support to bring the CEO on board with our rationale on this in order to make our decision stick…”

In these situations, to strengthen your case, you might find it helpful to frame each request as either an “investment” or “support needed” to help deliver the desired results.  Notice how this is done in the above examples.

Candidly, many of these conversations with your boss about the resources you need will be on-going ones.

However, if you can, it’s smart to combine all your resource requests together and put them on the table at the same time, as soon as possible.

Going back to the well every other day with separate tiny, itty-bitty requests will label you as overly needy, high maintenance and will lose you credibility.

And that brings us to another subtle issue, which is…

*    *    *

Trap 3: 
Constantly bragging about
your previous organization.


We once brought in a new HR director for our 1400-employee Quaker Oats manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Bill, the new guy, had a ton of great ideas, but he would present each one by saying:  “At Kraft Foods, we did it this way…”

Pretty soon people rolled their eyes whenever he started speaking. 

And as a result, his good ideas didn’t nearly receive the attention they deserved.

Here’s the deal.  While you’ve been hired for your experience and track record, once you’re on board, no one wants to constantly hear you brag about how your previous company did everything better.

People will get sick of this crap quickly.

It makes it appear that you miss your old job and aren’t happy with your new one…and they’ll wonder why you just left it in the first place.

How to avoid this trap:  Turn your focus forward, not backward.  Don’t bury your previous HR experience.  Instead, share it sparingly and selectively.

If you must talk about how to do something differently, suggest it directly — but only after you’ve asked enough questions to understand the company’s unique situation and allowed others to share their opinions, so they know you’ve taken their viewpoints into account.

Finally, there is…

*    *    *

Trap 4:
Flying solo.


If you’re new, you need help.

However, some new HR folks avoid asking for it for fear of appearing dumb and indecisive.

Further, some even go further, just to prove themselves to the higher ups, and will skip delegating work to their staffs — inadvertently signaling to them that they’re not valued.

This creates tension within your team, and you may also miss out on the indespensable insights your people have to share.

How to avoid this trap:  Reach out and create a support group to guide you.

This support group should be able to help you understand how things are done, how key messages are communicated and who is important to talk to.

Who should be on this team?

First of all, look for various specialists or technical experts who know how the key business and HR systems work.

What kinds of systems?

It could be the HR information system.
Or the compensation system.
Or the financial and budgeting systems.
Or the strategic planning system.

Or frankly, any kind of standardized system the organization has put in place you need to know how manage to excel in your role.

But these folks are not all of what you need.

You will also benefit from another type of support group member – a seasoned peer advisor.

This is a person who knows the politics, the pulse beat of the organization’s culture and how to get things done.  Ask around or get your boss’ help in identifying this someone who’d be willing to be your informal cultural translator.

Use them to give you context, explain what really took place during a puzzling interaction, or give you feedback when you have a cultural misstep.

To sum up, these are four traps just waiting for you to fall into.

*    *    *

Here’s the bottom line
on all this…


Your long list of HR accomplishments got you hired into a new organization.

But once you’re inside, the very things people were attracted to may turn off the very people who hired you.

Increase your odds of success by side stepping deadly traps and taking the time to learn about your new organization, identifying the resources you need and getting help from others before you act.

And you’ll set the stage for best chance for ultimate success.


Would love your feedback on this article. Please add your comments below by clicking here.


Want to avoid even MORE painful hurdles and traps that stand in the way of your success as a new HR leader? Then check out:  THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS: How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director and VP.  You can get more details HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books on career advancement including the New HR Leader’s First 100 Days.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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18 Responses to “4 Deadly Traps Just Waiting For You As A New HR Leader & How To Avoid Them!”

  1. Bamike Fadipe Says:

    Alan, you are so so right on this. I found myself stuck in this trap, didnt know its a classical experience, thought mine was just peculiar. Now i know better. Thanks for always sharing.

  2. Donnella D Anderson Watkins Says:

    Alan is true HR GURU when it comes to his knowledge , wisdom and insight on what really happens in different occurrences. His foresight is a great tool on every HR managers desk to avoid those major blunders and pitfalls.

  3. Anna Widdowson Says:

    Alan can always be counted on to provide practical advice. The New HR Leader’s First 100 Days is my bible – helpful whether you are changing companies or supporting a new client group within your current organization.

    So true about finding someone who can be your “cultural translator”.
    I’ve seen many a new executive struggle in this area. Thanks for the great insights and tips!

  4. David J. Doiron, JD, SPHR Says:

    Alan, I wish I had your advice earlier in my career. I stuck my feet in more than one of your mentioned traps. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  5. Don R Symonette, Sr Says:

    Thank you Alan, your insights are educational and encouraging!

  6. Sharlonda Harvey Says:

    Your book has been so helpful in my new HR Manager role where I am managing my largest team in my career.

    Thank you for all of your insights.

  7. Muhammad Tahir Says:

    Thank you Alan.

  8. Taylor Robichaux Says:

    As always, Alan provides sage advice on how HR leaders can effectively navigate the cultural and political landscape when joining a new organization. Doing your homework (pre and post offer), identifying alliances early on while building relational equity, and asking for resources, support, and help are critical to establishing credibility and setting the stage for success.

    Fantastic nuggets on how to avoid the four traps outlined!

  9. Alan Says:

    Thanks Taylor for the share. Great summary of the main point – homework done both pre- and post- offer is crucial to your success as a new HR leader.

  10. Muhammad Tahir Says:


  11. Paul Says:

    Many, many thanks, Alan. I fell into these traps before, and I learnt my lessons the hard way.

    Your tips are additional guideposts to me. God bless you richly.

  12. Irene Edemirukewa Says:

    Great write up as I learnt a lot. Ì appreciate the summary as it made it easy to see the whole picture in one view.

    I appreciate you and vast knowledge.

  13. Alan Says:

    Thanks, Irene. Thanks for the feedback and thrilled the summary and the article resonated. Wish you much continued success!

  14. Alan Says:

    Paul, you’re not alone. We’ve all fallen into these traps (or some form of them). Glad they’ll serve as guideposts. Be well.

  15. Windee McKinley Says:

    Hello! I’m reading the new HR leaders first 100 days to help build a 60 day plan for an upcoming VP of HR role. In the book it references a template that’s available but the site doesn’t work. Any way I can get it? It’s good bones!

  16. Alan Says:

    Hi Windee,
    I’m so sorry you had difficulty with the download. I’ve email to you the .zip file containing all the templates and bonuses for the book. Thanks so much for reaching out and for your support. Wish you much success in the new role.

  17. Melissa Says:

    Thanks for sharing once again, Alan. I am the HR Manager at an Mnc and I am approaching the 24 month mark. I was promoted and it has been tough managing with the various projects and initiatives. I believe that my weaker area is in time management and delegation. You article gives some insight into some prospective solutions. Thanks again.

  18. Alan Says:

    You’re welcome, Melissa. Delighted the article resonated and provided solutions. Wish you much continued success in HR.