The right way to reorg: 4 tips for avoiding reorganizational purgatory
A well-structured organization can often be the difference between a decent team and a stellar group that’s more capable than the individual players that comprise it. This is often the stated objective of restructurings and reorg efforts; however, these can be challenging to execute correctly, especially as the external demands on your organization are unlikely to cease while you’re focusing internally. The best reorganizations have clear benefits, and are executed quickly and effectively. Here are some tips for success.
Don’t let vanity get in the way of actual work
Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned reorganizations can ultimately shift their focus to the wrong goals. In the worst cases, reorg efforts are launched as a sign of corporate vanity, or done since the organization has run out of ideas for improvement. Just as a military history buff might spend weeks debating the perfect troop formation for a historic battle, so, too, can leaders be distracted by constantly shifting organizational roles in a misguided quest for “perfection.” This addiction spreads rapidly as each person in the organization attempts to consolidate or acquire power, and weeks are spent debating who reports to whom, and which executives and managers control the largest pool of staff.
This wrangling might seem harmless enough, but it ultimately shifts attention away from the actual work of the organization. Each meeting spent discussing reporting structures is time not spent completing an initiative, designing a product, or serving the company’s customers.
To ensure you’re launching your reorg for the right reasons, you must have a clear organizational strategy and tactical plan, and have concluded that the current organizational arrangement is incapable of executing on that plan. Even tweaks have a significant cost in terms of lost efficiencies and lost focus. If a reorg isn’t going to demonstrably improve your group’s performance once complete, tweak goals, metrics, and individual leaders and teams instead.
Beware of reorg fatigue
I’ve encountered companies stuck in perpetual states of reorganization, where a dramatic reorg is announced every quarter or two. Most are launched with great fanfare, and calls and meetings are held in which newly appointed leaders excitedly detail their plans for the new structure. After about the third reorg, managers and line employees begin to ignore the bold pronouncements and stop attending the flowery kickoff meetings. Not only do they begin ignoring your carefully designed new structure, but they often develop a sense that the leadership has no idea what it’s doing; after all, a core function of leadership is defining a strategy, creating the right organization to execute, and then supporting the execution.
Constantly tweaking the middle step is generally a good indication that leadership is failing on the other two. Since your reorg has likely been launched in response to challenging conditions or unprecedented growth, this is exactly the time to avoid instilling a lack of confidence in your team.
Sell WIIFM, not org charts
When I started my career, I remember a stream of leaders parading out org charts and spending self-indulgent meetings explaining their new role, the breadth and depth of their span of control, and the expected accolades from subordinates and the market as a whole. Rarely did these presentations involve anything beyond a bromide or two that explained how the new organization benefited the individuals who were being shuffled around the chart.
If you can’t answer that key question, What’s In It For Me (WIIFM), your new nine-dimension, free-range, lean Eight Sigma matrix that took months to develop and required wads of cash will meet with a resounding yawn. Answering WIIFM not only makes it easier to sell the new organizational model, but forces you to answer questions about how the new org will benefit employees at all levels of the org chart, and make their jobs faster, easier, or more focused on customers rather than internal nonsense.
When that junior developer raises her hand and asks some variant of WIIFM as you announce your newest reorg, if you don’t have a clear and concise answer that leaves her satisfied, you may be launching a vanity reorg.
Explore the alternatives
With the vanity and ease of moving around boxes rather than making tough decisions, a reorg can often be an easy way to show you’re doing something while the proverbial building burns down around you. If you’re struggling to show how the reorg furthers your strategic goals, and you can’t produce an answer to WIIFM at all levels of the org chart, you may be launching a reorg because it’s the easiest way out of a problem. Take the time to reflect and assess other options; there may be a strategic shift or a seemingly painful maneuver that will have far greater long-term benefits.