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Strive to Make Organizational Restructuring as Painless as Possible

As ‘Govies’ we’ve all lived through it. The dreaded organizational restructure. Change is painful, but organizational restructures can create a whole new kind of ‘pain’. The unknowns, the rumors, the impacts, and the stress are sometimes off the charts.

Having been intimately involved on multiple restructuring efforts, I hope that some of these insights can help those working on the teams that are executing the changes as well as those that are being impacted.

Old School Organizational Restructures

Imagine this: five to twenty-five executives sit in a room. The doors are closed. A few hours pass. An email is sent out with a new organizational chart. Mayhem ensues throughout the organization for months. Turnover rates skyrocket. Engagement declines. And it can take years to re-establish a positive culture, increase employee engagement and reach the levels of performance that were commonplace prior to this event. The amount of damage that can be inadvertently created is hard to calculate. But, make no mistake, the price tag is extremely high.

I hear the phrase, ‘But, we have always done it this way’ all the time. I implore you to not let this be one of those times. Organizational restructures need to happen differently than how our predecessors did them. We need to strive to avoid the immeasurable consequences that can occur. Before boxes and lines are even sketched out on a napkin, a deeper understanding of the organization should be contemplated.

Strategies and Approaches to Ease the Pain…

There are many ways to contemplate how to go about restructuring an organization. The internet is at our fingertips. Research is much easier than it was 30 years ago. Some of the things that my team and I have incorporated in our approach to restructuring have smoothed out the more common issues that may create a painful situation for those being impacted.

Change Management

All change can benefit from change management. The more impactful the change, the more change management will need to be applied. Change management considers the people side of the change. How do we help those being impacted adjust to and adopt the change? Adding in a healthy dose of change management will help to avoid nasty consequences.

Listen to the Customers

Internal customers can identify where strengths and weaknesses exist in the current structure. Conducting listening sessions with customers provides great insight into areas that may need improvement or moved to provide a more direct line of service. If you listen to enough customers, themes will emerge. These themes become the low hanging fruit. Find out where the biggest points of pain are for the customers and you will know where things need to change.

Listen to the Staff

Holding listening sessions with possible impacted staff is vital. Work with them to define their products, services and customers. Find out what staff thinks works well and where their pain points are in the processes or flow of services. Staff will also have great insights into possible changes to the structure that will improve their ability to serve their internal customers. Take note of these when offered.

Use a Holistic Methodology

Instead of only thinking about structure, think of the organization in a holistic fashion. The McKinsey 7S Framework focuses in on coordination, rather than only structure, to create organizational effectiveness. Instead of only worrying about structure, strive to understand how units work internally as well as how they coordinate with other units. The goal is to create an organization that works together as a well oiled machine. One that provides the best in products and services to their customers. One that attempts to deliver the best in customer experience.

By employing this framework, our team was able to easily organize the feedback from customers and staff. We then analyzed all data, identified themes and provided recommendations. The restructures did not end at drawing boxes and lines. They also included recommendations on strategy, systems, needed skills, etc. to ensure the most effective coordination possible.

Map the Paths of Products and Services

Before drawing the final organizational chart, be sure to map the most significant paths of products and services. Identify areas that can be improved. Are two units that work together 90% of the time in different divisions? This would be a red flag that something needs to change.

Don’t Break What Already Works Well

During the entire process of listening sessions, analysis, and organizing feedback, keep a list of what is working well. When it comes time to figure out the recommendations, don’t change these things. Nothing is more frustrating for customers or staff than to see a smoothly working process or system destroyed unnecessarily. Avoid, at all costs, making this mistake.

Start with ‘Why’ and Engage the Sponsors

The most common question you will get from employees is, “Why?”. Start with the ‘Why’ and make sure it is shared often. The person that employees will want to hear the ‘why message’ is from the Executives. Engage the sponsors, walk them through defining the ‘why’. Provide consistent messaging to all Executives to communicate with staff. If you can answer the ‘why’ then you will circumvent a lot of the resistance upfront.

Engage & Empower the Supervisors

Empowering the organization’s supervisors and managers to be your ‘resistance managers’ is key. This role is vital to reducing the pain. Provide this role their key talking points. Encourage them to liaise between the team doing the restructure and their staff. By creating a feedback loop, issues can be addressed and questions can be answered. Plus, it engages the employees throughout the entire agency to become a part of the restructure itself to some degree.

Buckle Up: It is Never an Easy Ride

Some changes are harder than others and restructuring the organization is considered a significant change. Significant change is difficult for the customers, the staff and for the team that is leading the effort. For those that are leading this effort, make sure your team is ready. Take it one step at a time. When anyone feels overwhelmed, take the time to talk and strategically adjust as needed. But know that by employing strategies to restructure ‘the right way’, you are reducing negative consequences and making the change as painless as possible for everyone.

For those of you leading or working to deliver these initiatives, I applaud you. You are truly the ‘Man in the Arena’. As Theodore Roosevelt would say, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”

If you want to learn more about surviving a restructure you may also be interested in the post 7 Ways to Survive and Thrive a Reorganization by Brenda Dennis. A phenomenal post!  Thank you, Brenda, for taking the time to post it!

Michelle Malloy is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has been a devoted Colorado state employee for nearly 13 years. In that time, she has dedicated herself to being the best steward leader possible, ensuring that everyone and everything left in her care are nurtured and developed in order to provide the best value and service to the citizens of the state of Colorado today and into the future. Michelle’s expertise lies in strategy, program management, project management, change management, process improvement, facilitation and working with people. Michelle believes that people are the government’s #1 asset and the products and services we aim to provide and improve upon would not happen without them. You can read her posts here.

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