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What Restructuring Isn’t

At some point every leader considers restructuring their organisation/their division or their team. Getting restructuring right is one of the biggest challenges of any leaders life (and if you are sitting there thinking ‘whys that, just give everyone a new organisational chart and its done’ then we need to talk). In this blog I will share a few quick comments on what restructuring isn’t.

A Panacea
Structure change isn’t a way of solving all of the organisations problems. It doesn’t dissolve inter-team conflict. It doesn’t improve communication between people or solve interpersonal issues.It doesn’t speed up work flow or improve efficiency. It doesn’t deliver better results, new ideas or new products. It doesn’t make poor performers good performers.
Structure is a just a way of grouping people together to deliver the purpose of the organisation. Each part of the structure should exist to deliver something that contributes to the overall purpose. For the structure to work everyone should be clear what the purpose of their little bit of the organisation is there for. Structure is just another tool in your process armoury. If you have inter-team conflict take a look at the leaders. If you have poor communication between people, take a look at your leader’s and your communication systems. If you have inefficiencies or work flow problems look at the processes that you use. Once you’ve improved processes you may find that your structure needs changed to reflect the change’s to the process. Improved work flow often means a change in purpose for an individual or a group. And that’s a good reason for changing structure.

A Pay Grade
Structure should never be built around existing leaders to justify their salary or worst still their existence. I’ve seen many structure changes go wrong because a group of employees were added in to the reporting line of someone who ‘needed more to do’ or ‘needed protected from the owners’ etc. If you want to build a shared services area then do so, but understand what comes along with running shared services. But don’t make HR report to your finance director because they ‘need somewhere to live’ or because she only has three other reports. The purpose of a finance director isn’t often compatible with the purpose of HR (unless your people policies are all about compliance and risk). Where teams live in the structure tells them what you think about them. A Sales division is exactly that, a group of people whose role is to sell. Similarly Marketing, Manufacturing, Finance etc. Structure is just a way of grouping people with a common purpose. That commonality means something and to many people it is part of their sense of belonging. Move people to somewhere that they know does not have a shared purpose and it means that you did not care where they belong and watch the performance plummet.

Spring cleaning
Structure change isn’t a way of getting rid of people that are not performing. You have performance management systems for that. I cant tell you how many times I have been given a list of people ‘to go’ as part of a restructuring. These people have apparently been under-performing ‘for years’, but for some reason their annual appraisal says otherwise. All this means is that their manager doesn’t want to have the hard conversation with them or to coach them in the area they aren’t performing in or to follow the due process of performance management according to the company rules and national legislation. Makes you wonder why they get a managers pay doesn’t it!

Structure change isn’t easy. It isn’t about a new organisational chart being handed out and then everyone shuffling desks. You can’t just move people from an under-performing division to one that has been performing and hope that they catch the performance virus. Structure change isn’t something that will ‘sort itself out eventually’.
People need to understand ‘why’ the change. They need to understand that their purpose has changed and not just their boss. They need new expectations. If you don’t give them all this they will keep on doing what they were doing and that will produce the same result (at best) that you had before the structure change.
There are risks in structure change. Go in to one without a risk analysis at your peril.
You need a plan, for no other reason than for your people to see that you are in control of this, you do know what you are doing and you should be trusted to make decisions about them. You also need a plan so that you know where to turn to when there are hiccups (there will be).
You need good, solid, robust communication and feedback channels.
You need patience for the long haul. Structure change takes a while to bed in and to work.
You need empathy for the people whose lives you are throwing up in the air.
In my time I have seen organisational reputation improve as a result of structure change. I’ve seen employee engagement increase immediately after a structure change. I’ve seen increased business results after a structure change. These were nothing to do with the change, but the way the change was managed.

Restructure the right way for the right reasons and I hope that you too can get the right results.

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One Response to “What Restructuring Isn’t”

Deb Nystrom says:

I appreciate this post Martin. It especially is useful after seeing so many of your points illustrated in the typical IT re-orgs that happen in many organizations.

Large universities are prime candidates for spring cleaning structure change problems due to an aversion to through the year performance management and avoidance of crucial conversation regarding observed low performance.

Such dialog could actually save careers, gaining staff the time, tools & training they need to succeed, or at the very least, giving them some feedback that could lead to insights of where they might be better able to succeed.

You reference managers pay — yes, it may have more to do with maintaining status that it does about doing the job with critical competencies.

Top level leadership models of the "right action" along with relentless, good leadership development, can make a big difference.

–Deb, Reveln Consulting