The 30-60-90 Rule is a New Leader’s Most Powerful Tool for Success

The 30-60-90 Rule is a New Leader’s Most Powerful Tool for Success was originally published on Ivy Exec.

Jeff Clark

When entering a new job, the energy, excitement, and environment should fire you up and have you ready to roll your sleeves up and get to work. However, being driven solely by that energy and not taking a step back first is the first step to failure, and going in guns blazing can get you off on the wrong foot.

Remember, you are new. This transition is tough, and a lot of people fail at it. There are a lot of misconceptions, and confusing times ahead. No need to over complicate it with making waves and shaking things up. It’s a discovery time for the members of the team, and just as much as they need time to feel you out, you need time to do the same with them. This phase of new leadership is critical to team cohesion and success, both short and long term.

A Smooth Transition

An International Institute for Management Development (IMD) survey of 1,350 HR professionals showed that transitions into new roles are the most difficult times in leaders’ professional careers. Success or failure during the first few months was also shown as a strong predictor of overall performance in the role. Further, 57% of executives that attended an IMD event said that it took them six months or more to effectively assume their new role. In other words, it takes time to get comfortable, and time takes patience.

As stated above, getting off on the right start is difficult but incredibly important. Like a race, it’s important to come out of the gates correct. Failure to do so only puts you behind, fighting harder than necessary just to catch up. As leaders, we want to be in front of the pack, not trying to rally from behind.

In my experience, any time I walked into a new workplace I took time to feel it out. Why? Because you are new to them. You are a new wrinkle in the fabric of their everyday lives, and wrinkles must be ironed out. In my 12-year military career I led numerous workplaces, both large and small. I took the same approach with every single one.

This is a process I’ve called the 30-60-90 Rule.

The 30-60-90 Rule

How does it work? Well, the first 90 days are broken up into three segments. First 30 days, second 30 days (60) and then the last 30 days (90). This process allots for 3 months of critical growth, understanding, and team cohesion. By taking this patient approach, you create a team that is bought in to change instead of swooping in from above and imposing them to inevitable resistance. Your leadership can be bold and intense, but it also needs to be introduced in small doses at a time for maximum effectiveness.

The first 30 days (0-30):

During the first 30, focus on learning names, job titles, duties, responsibilities, etc. Worry more about the people, the culture, and the environment than the processes and rules. The first 30 days should be spent learning, so keep your suggestions and changes to yourself. Your job right now is to observe and get oriented, not direct and change.

Pro Tip: Always keep a small notepad handy. If you see or hear something you don’t like, or question, write it down. A great idea…write it down. Something you want to change…write it down. There will be a time and a place for addressing these things soon. The pressure your team will feel to try and impress and please new leadership will be immense, and it will impact their focus and priorities during this time. The first 30 days is used to let the ripples in the pond settle.

The second 30 days (30-60):

These next 30 days are all about interacting with the team and finding out more about their work. Now is the time to start asking serious questions and digging into what they do. It is, however, still not time for changes or suggestions yet. Like a good detective, all you are doing is collecting information at this point. You are still 100% learning and inquiring about things.

Pro Tip: Remember, you are also using this opportunity to get familiar with your team, so lean on them and their expertise to educate you. This will not only help you but will also build some trust between you and the team as well.

In this 30 day period things will come up that require your action, direction, or guidance. Address them. However, I encourage you activate your team and get the major players together to make these decisions with you. This is your chance to get everyone else to “buy-in” on who you are, so don’t be afraid to huddle up and discuss. Showing the team that you trust them to advise you properly shows a great level of respect for each and every one of them, and that is a critical aspect of initial relationship building.

At this point people are starting to know you better, and you them. Be patient while continuing to learn and orient yourself. Your steady hand and patient demeanor will start to reflect in the workplace culture and operations tempo.

The last 30 days (60-90):

In this 30 day period, the final 30 days of the 90-day period, you are going to start having critical conversations and introducing your team to your leadership philosophy, building goals together with the team, and defining how your tenure will go. This is when the initial discussion about the future starts. Now you will reveal details about yourself and your plan, address problems, and implement changes.

The reason why you wait to do this until after the first 60 days is because you want to get to know the team before you ask them to change. If they are comfortable with you, when you suggest something, they are more likely to get on board with pushing these changes through.

Pro Tip: Discussion is good! Leaders bring information to the table and open the discussion, empowering the team to be part of solutions as opposed to you trying to navigate the entire team yourself. It has taken two months to build the trust you have now, so don’t take it for granted.

This period will also be about presenting yourself as a leader and introducing your philosophies to the organization. Continue to build that trust, as after these 90 days it’s time to get more aggressive and your team needs to trust that you are leading them in the right direction.

A personal example.

I once entered an organization that had been neglected for many years. The culture, amongst other things, needed to be desperately tuned up. The staff had heard about me and buzz about my arrival flooded the office’s watercooler talk. On day one they greeted me with open arms, ready for me to hit the ground running and fix everything. After a few days of settling in I had a meeting with my management team for a briefing on the organization. The meeting was excruciatingly painful. It was two hours of nonstop complaints, problems, and issues. At the end of the meeting I explained the 30-60-90 Rule, and how it worked. I also provided them with a template on Microsoft Powerpoint (I know, another slideshow), that they could use to document their issues/challenges/problems, rate them according to importance, and add notes to track status. This template would become our newest talking point, and allow me to help them through the process of working on these issues.

At first, many of the managers didn’t like it and were disappointed that I wasn’t full-steam ahead and ready to fix every single issue. I stuck to my 30-60-90 Rule and told them to have faith, keep updating the new tracker, and keep sharing information with me, because when it’s time to go, it will be time to go. My entire goal was to hear them out, ask them to build up their cases, and be ready to work. I got ingrained into the organization, familiar with operations, and started having important discussions. When it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, we dug in hard. In six months we fixed and resolved dozens of issues, providing long-term fixes, updated policies, and adjustments to processes that changed the entire organization for the better.

The 30-60-90 Rule is designed to get you organized, so when it’s really time to tackle the issues and catch the big fish, you are ready to roll. A year after I was at that organization the awards started coming in, and people couldn’t stop talking about how different the company was. The excitement was back again, people enjoyed work, and morale was higher than ever. All because we didn’t allow the initial arrival of new leadership to become chaotic. It was a custom-tailored experience, and we had to shift and change things for optimal effectiveness in that organization.

Flexibility is the Key to Airpower

Remember, what worked in your last job might not work in your new one. Leadership is flexible and adaptive. In my time spent in the Air Force we used to say, “flexibility is the key to airpower”. Nothing could be more true. We weren’t the best Air Force in the world because we stuck to every single plan and made it work, but instead were an adaptable force that put critical thoughts and innovation into our processes. Suggestions were considered, and opinions expressed. The team made changes and pushed forward.

Investing in your people pays dividends later down the road. You must take time at the beginning to do that. Doing it later isn’t as simple and instead of coming off as an investment it comes off as a big change. People don’t like change that much, so it’s difficult to implement. In your next role, or next organization try out the 30-60-90 Rule and see how it works for you. It has never failed me, and if done correctly I doubt it will fail you.

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By Jeff Clark - Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec is your dedicated career development resource.