30-60 days in a new leadership role: run experiments for change

Originally posted Jan 23, 2023 • More resources on onboarding

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Woohoo, you’ve made it through the first 30 days in your new leadership role, and you didn’t change a thing! Congrats—you’ve been building trust by soaking in information and helping folks on your team feel heard and seen.

At this stage, you now have some ideas for how your teams accomplish and communicate their work, what the roadmap looks like, how performance is assessed, and a number of other things that you want to implement.

But wait—before enacting any lasting change, it’s crucial to connect the dots between your ideas for change, and the themes you heard from your new teammates during your first 30 days. To help your colleagues get on board with potential future changes, communicate your ideas using time-bound, specific experiments.

Craft two experiments

Before enacting big organizational changes in your new leadership role, narrow (all of) your ideas down to two possible changes and develop a time-boxed, measurable experiment for each. Maybe you prioritize the changes by size of the lift, going small first, or maybe it’s the urgency you heard around one change or another.

We’re intentionally limiting this process to two experiments because tons of change at once will be scary and confusing for folks. We’re also going to limit the experiment timeline to 2-3 weeks; the goal is to be able to gather data at the end of your first 60 days in your new leadership role.

Here are is an example of a change you might want to make as a new leader in this organization, and an associated experiment as inspiration:

If your change is really big

You might be stumped: what if the change you want to make would take longer than 2-3 weeks, or worse, it’s an irreversible change?

Think about the process to make this change from start to finish: how can you run an experiment on one of the early steps towards the change?

For example, making a new hire is a big irreversible change. Can you run an experiment on what the job description says, how you conduct your interview panels, or implementing an assessment rubric?

How to choose experiment metrics

Choose measures of success that directly tie to the goal of the experiment and help people get on board with it. You can use these to address concerns from blockers/stakeholders. For example, “we know that [this] is a concern, we’re experimenting with [experiment], so we will be tracking this with [this metric].”

It’s obviously ideal if your metrics are quantitative; however, because we want to help folks who might otherwise feel hesitant begin to feel more okay with the experiment, your measures of success might be qualitative. You can also do both.

For example, “At the end of the experiment, I’ll be asking folks on the team these four questions about what they learned, and what was surprising. I’ll share the good, bad, and the ugly themes from those interviews with the whole team. :)” This can be a great way to help people feel a little bit more open to trying something new, because you’re leaving room for them to share their feedback afterward, which makes them feel included while something is happening outside of their control.

(If you want to be extra prepared here, or you run into some surprising emotions from others, I recommend reading one of my previous, and always applicable, blog posts on the topic).

Develop your communication plan

It’s important to let your organization know about the upcoming experiments, both to give folks a heads up about how they might be impacted, and to help your teammates feel heard and seen. Remember, these experiments aren’t just a way for you to enact change; they are another opportunity for you to build that foundation of trust with your group.

Use whatever timing and medium is typical for leadership announcements, like the next routine all hands meeting, roadmapping meeting, your week-in-review recap email, etc. Here’s an overview of how to create a communication plan for your news. (If you want more on communication, here are all my resources on the topic.)

Unless you have evidence that the managers who report to you are strong communicators, communicate these experiments yourself to the relevant groups. It’s great to give your managers a heads up first, but you should be doing the heavy lifting of communicating any changes for now. Again, this is an opportunity for you to follow-through and build trust with your organization.

What to communicate

Give a brief intro that references themes you’ve heard from the team—the ones that you shared broadly at the end of your first 30 days. Share that you’re excited to run two short, time-boxed experiments to see how we can make progress on those themes.

As you describe the experiments, make the metrics of success and the timeline tremendously clear. Again, we’re all about creating predictability for folks, and we want to help them connect the dots to the concerns or desires for change that they voiced when you onboarded. Don’t ask folks to read between the lines of your ideas; be explicit!

Acknowledge any tradeoffs that may come up while running these experiments, based on themes you heard in sponge mode. Again, you can reinforce that the metrics of success are a way to address concerns that folks might have: “we know that [this] is a concern, so we will be tracking this with [this metric].”

Some people might not want this change because of the tradeoff or another reason; you can proactively acknowledge that we’re making [XYZ tradeoff] for [ABC] purpose to achieve [DEF] goal. An example: “I know that [roadmap predictability] is important to folks—I agree; it’s important for us to have a shared vision and less disruption so that we can make progress. That said, [delivering user value] is our core focus for these next 30 days; we’re going to have some surprises and changes to help us deliver on that goal.”

Implement your experiments

It’s time to kick off these experiments.

Set up a way to keep track of the metrics you outlined as you go, whether that’s a spreadsheet, Google form for qualitative feedback, or a dashboard. Keep notes on anything you’re learning that would inform permanent changes. (Don’t make the permanent change yet! You’re just keeping notes right now!) Perhaps you are seeing things you’ll need to adjust in subsequent experiments.

If anything shifts mid-way—like something happens outside of your control that necessitates adjusting the timeline—be sure to communicate this change to those who will be impacted.

At the end of your first 60 days

Prepare to share the results of your experiments. Check in on those measures of success, and note any surprises that came up along the way. Begin thinking about what takeaways you want to turn into lasting change for your organization, and if there are any new experiments you might want to run, now that you’ve gathered some interesting insights.

We’ll talk more about how to share these results in the next post.

In summary

First 30 days: sponge mode

  1. Hold one-on-ones with everybody
  2. Identify 1-2 overarching themes you’ve heard
  3. Convey what you’ve absorbed
  4. State how people can communicate with you going forward

Keep in mind: you’re not changing anything yet, just listening

30-60 days: experiment with two ideas for change!

  1. Craft two experiments
  2. Develop your communication plan
  3. Implement your experiments
  4. Prepare to share the results

Keep in mind: you’re not changing anything yet, just experimenting

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Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.

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