It seems whatever ails us at work, the management solution is often “Let’s reorganize!” (I myself have been guilty of this all too frequent conclusion.) These two simple words often result in weeks (or months) of speculation and anxiety, followed by weeks (or months) of chaos and frustration, followed by years of resentment because everything that used to work broke when we reorganized.
I have been through a several reorganizations, most did not go well and a couple did. The difference between them was that the successful reorgs were focused on the actual work.
It seems absurd to say that most reorganizations I have observed or been a part of have not been about the work. Instead, they have been focused exclusively on management’s goals or consultant’s recommendations without any involvement from the people who do the day-to-day work.
Reorgs that are strictly focused on management goals have lots of words like, productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, alignment, quality improvement and customer satisfaction. These are all good goals that can only be achieved if they are grounded in the actual work that needs to be done.
Reorgs fail when they are done to staff. Re-orgs succeed when they are done with staff who bring a different, practical and work-focused perspective to the conversation. Unfortunately, it is against management culture in many organizations to engage staff in reorg discussions because it is assumed that managers (or consultants) know best. They may know a lot but they don’t know everything, especially the details of the work.
Here’s how successful reorganizations go:
- Management (or sometimes staff or supervisors) has a notion that reorganizing might be beneficial. Managers discuss the idea amongst themselves but don’t make any decisions except whether to bring more people into the conversation.
- If it still makes sense, management shares the idea with supervisors to get their perspective. Supervisors engage staff to ask for their input on the idea of reorganizing. Ideally, there is a whole organization meeting to share the vision and goals with everyone, asking if it makes sense. There are many different ways for staff to provide feedback and share their ideas for consideration.
- If there is general agreement that reorganizing might make sense, a workgroup with representatives from all levels is formed to start to model the new ways of working. The workgroup studies the work and researches best practices and talks to other similar organizations about their experiences. They may develop several options for consideration.
- Management reviews the recommendations and shares them with all staff, inviting more feedback.
- Management proposes some preliminary plans and vets them with staff and supervisors, always asking if it makes sense, inviting feedback and participation.
- Management ultimately decides whether to go forward and how, and sets up an advisory group of all levels to provide feedback along the way.
- Throughout the entire process, there is complete transparency on management decisions, considerations and ample opportunity for staff to provide feedback and express concerns.
By investing so much up front, the implementation of the reorganization goes more smoothly. Because staff were involved, there is less chaos, less resistance, and less breaking of what works, and maybe even more efficiency, alignment and better customer service! Though everyone may not be happy with every decision, all feel included and informed every step of the way, which promotes a culture of collaboration with the new structure.
If you study the work, the work itself will tell you how best to organize to support it. The people who do the work are the voices of the work. Listen to them.
For more radical ideas on how to make work better, see my book, Management Culture at mgmtculture.com or on Amazon.