September 30, 2021
We work with organizations of all shapes and sizes across many industries. The one constant between them? Change.
As they respond to shifting market forces, they constantly refine their organizations to best meet business objectives. In high-growth companies, the organizational structure may adjust every few months to meet the changing business needs. As we work with clients to architect their organizations, we advise on change management – how to get the team on board with the new world. In the best of circumstances, this is a mammoth undertaking. Even with months or years of planning, changes in organizational structure cause stress and big emotions to ripple through departments and teams. So one can easily understand the high levels of anxiety employees and leaders are experiencing as they attempt to navigate reorganization projects caused by the blow of a global pandemic. Upheaval at work coupled with global strife is enough to put even the steadiest of us on edge.
As is often the case with significant change, we rarely have control over preventing it. Change is inevitable, whether it happens fast or slow. And in the case of a company-wide reorganization, it is welcome on some level; reorgs are implemented to improve workplaces, not dismantle them. So for leaders, the question in this situation becomes: “What tools do I need to build the best boat possible for my employees and me to navigate the waters of change together?” Here are the three main tools we think are required to make the journey successful:
When employees hear the word “reorganization,” that’s not all they hear. Synonymous with that word is “layoffs” or “downsizing,” which set off mental crises. In an article from Bain & Company about leading during the pandemic, the authors describe this as “mental noise,” the inability for the brain to comprehend or take in information when under extreme stress. Knowing the effect a reorganization announcement will have on employees, leaders should be proactive and vigilant in their communication around the topic. Here are a few strategies we recommend when working with clients on this subject:
- Share candidly and frequently. Don’t keep your employees in the dark after an initial reorg announcement; this announcement should be just the beginning of the communication chain. Relay updates and insights frequently and directly, keeping everyone in the loop and on the same page.
- Be proactive. Encourage an open dialogue with employees by scheduling 1:1 check-ins and asking them how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and how you can best support them.
- Re-engage incentives. Communication is also about letting your talent know how important they are to your institution. Evaluate your short-term and long-term incentives to make sure they align with your commitment to your key players.
A reorg is an opportunity for reinvention, both for the company and its employees. But often, it acts as a one-sided mandate, with employees feeling as if they’re pieces in a puzzle, waiting to see where – and if – they fit. When presenting information about organizational redesign, make new company values and mission the focal point and invite employees to imagine how their roles and goals will play a part in building this new chapter of the business. You may even want to approach this fresh start as a re-onboarding process, looking at your current employees as “new” members of your “new” company.
Reorganization is a long game consisting of small successes and learnings along the way. We advise leaders to set long-term goals that allow rethinking or reimagining as needed, and to look to employees and colleagues for feedback every step of the way. Celebrate tiny victories, and approach setbacks as opportunities to grow and learn. Building a skill set based on adaptability will only strengthen your team moving forward.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen our workplaces change overnight and then some. Most of us have pivoted to remote work. Some of us have left our jobs or have watched our teams play multiple rounds of musical chairs as roles are vacated, replaced, and shifted. All of us know firsthand the challenges that come with traversing the rocky waters of constant uncertainty. But no matter the amount or duration of change at hand, when leaders respect their employees’ lives and livelihoods first, they give their employees and the companies they manage the best chance they have to stay afloat.