HR Manager Questions for a New HR Job

Today we are working off of a reader question about HR manager questions to ask the management staff at a new employer. If you’d like to submit a question, please email me and I’ll do my very best to incorporate it into a future post. Thanks!

Have you ever written a post about when you start a new HR position what to ask the managers in the company?

I have started a brand new HR Manager position and I wanted a checklist of topics/questions to ask the departmental managers so I can get to know their “HR” needs.
–Shanna in FL

Well, Shanna, I have not, but this is an excellent topic to explore! The first thing that occurred to me when reading your question is that some of the fundamental questions about a company could be answered by asking these company corporate culture questions as a job seeker. That helps you to determine if you even want to work there before the offer is ever given.

However, for the purposes of my response I’ll assume you’ve done at least the basic research, taken the job, and now you’re wondering what to ask. The reasons for asking are threefold:

  1. Where have we been? What worked/didn’t in the past?
  2. What are we doing now?
  3. Where are we going? Do we have what we need to get there?

HR manager questions: how to begin

I would start with a quick meeting it it’s at all possible. Explain to the various department heads that while you might be new in the role, you are eager to help them get their HR needs satisfied. Some of them will welcome that, others may seem annoyed that you want to “stick your nose” into their business. I’ve found that more often than not, those managers will change their tune once you’ve helped them settle a dispute or assisted them with terminating a problem employee.

After the short meeting, it’s time to start meeting with them one-on-one. When you’re talking with the staff, you will probably get funny looks if you specifically ask about their “HR needs.” So talk instead about the various facets of what you do-training, development, compensation, compliance, recruiting, selection, benefits, employee relations, performance management, etc.

If the managers/employees are remote, it’s very simple to use a free tool like Google Docs to create and distribute a management survey in under 10 minutes. If your organization is relatively small, it might be worth your time to send that same survey to the entire employee base to get a feel for what they need. It’s very easy to analyze responses and figure out just what people are looking for in their HR representative.

If you assume everyone’s wanting new benefits and compensation but the survey shows that most of them are having issues with their direct managers, then you are going to be spinning your wheels and wasting time and resources.

If I was in your position, that’s the tool I would use.

Sample HR manager questions

Here are a few questions you might want to ask. I’m writing as they pop in my head, so there’s no rhyme or reason (and I hope the audience chimes in below in the comments with their own ideas).

  • How well is your performance management system working? Do staff know performance expectations? Are supervisors capable of having difficult conversations? Do they thank and recognize good performance? Are the right people terminated? Do you reward and incent people according to your values? DO you reward people for longevity? Do people feel like the organization has their back? Is it a win-win situation? Are staff seen as partners? How does the
    company communicate its gratitude to its staff?
  • What are the patterns of high turnover? Are the problems in a given shift, job, status (e.g. part-time), department, certain managers or locations? Where it\’s working well, why is that? Is it the supervisor, the clients, the location, hours, what?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of orientation and onboarding? Are new staff just ‘thrown in\’ to the job, or are they adequately trained before working alone? Who trains them? If it is other staff, do those staff feel happy or resentful to be put in that situation? Are new people welcomed and supported by HR, management, and other staff? Do they have enough supervision (quantity and quality)?
  • Direct line managers: are they mostly hired from outside or promoted from within? If promoted, do they have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs well? Do they have ongoing management training? Are they on the same page as the senior management? Do you have a manager at each employee site, or are managers based in the office and responsible for several sites? (There are pros and cons to each, and you have to manage the cons.)
  • With regard to mission/values: What do they mean to people? How are they used? Do staff espouse them? What are your agency\’s stated values? Do they match up with the principles? Do they match management and staff behavior? Do you have a cohesive set of values that you base your human resources practices on? Do you hire, promote and reward according to your values?

Other HR manager questions

If a human resources audit has never been performed, now could be the right time. Check out the link for more info on that.

Other resources

My friend Mike Haberman wrote a very good post titled 4 questions every CEO should ask about HR. While we’re looking at the opposite type of situation, this could be a good starting point for factors that are relevant to a CEO’s point of view.

Also, this article has some great ideas for how to develop a more global/external awareness as an HR professional. It would probably be worth your time to at least skim for ideas.

General questions to ask your boss at a new job (listed in no particular order):

I’d love to hear some ideas from the audience on HR manager questions. I know you guys might have more experience in this area, and I know that Shanna would appreciate it. Thanks!

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