Sometimes, you need to lay the pieces down on the table, sort and rearrange them, and then reassemble. Organizations change, internal and external pressures intensify, fortunes rise and fall like the tide, and historical approaches should be challenged in the name of innovation, improvement, efficiency, and effectiveness. Such is the case for leaders who wonder whether their infrastructure is optimally organized for success. In other words: reorgs happen.
I have worked in organizations that reorganized on a regular basis, almost predictably so. Due to leadership churn or chronic underperformance, the instinct can be strong to mix things up a little. I’ve also worked with organizations when some type of restructuring was clearly necessary, but it never happened… for a whole variety of reasons. Let’s face it: some of us inherently like change and others abhor it. In my book, I talk about my own parents. My dad disliked change greatly and wholeheartedly embraced the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’ attitude while my mom loved, loved, loved change, sometimes rearranging the furniture in our house for no good reason and frequently to hilarious effect. My dad loved that.
Most of us are someplace in between these extremes but we do tend to lean more so in one direction versus the other. As such, reorgs are often viewed as exciting and necessary in some circumstances and dreaded and to be avoided in others. The context matters here.
I always encourage clients to avoid a reflexive ‘we’ll fix it with a reorg’ mindset. There may be a particularly vexing or politically complicated situation that a leader is struggling to resolve and so may conclude that it’s time to reorg at a broader level. The downsides are obvious – that leader will not be addressing the core underlying issue and may be subjecting others to difficult and unnecessary change as a result.
The two questions a leader must ask herself are:
- Is there an underlying and compelling reason for the broader change? In other words, is there a vision for the change and does this reorganization help achieve it? Such a vision could be long-term financial improvement, enhancing reputation, innovating, etc. The changes must adhere to the vision and make sense based upon that rationale.
- What is the scale of the change? I have seen organizations describe something as a reorg when in reality, it was only a limited and highly focused change that was taking effect. Such wide language will fail to convince when there are only narrow changes.
Reorganizations are sometimes vitally necessary and become a cornerstone of a broader change agenda. They should never be used to mask the approach to solving a more specific problem.
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