Coping with a Reorganization – A Quick Guide

I think I can see the new org chart from here…

Over the decades I’ve become something of an expert on reorganizations.  One, I’ve been in information technology and IT departments LOVE to reorganize.  Sometimes it’s driven by the technologies, sometimes by geography, other times the whims of some madman in leadership who truly believes that the problems are rooted in the org structure (oh you silly leader!) I have a master’s in HR with an emphasis on org design, so I’m often the person that gets pulled in to offer counsel on organization structures.  I’m not saying they always listen to me, but I do get asked which makes me feel good.

Another thing that makes me a relative expert is that I have “survived” roughly 216 1/2 reorganizations in my illustrious career.  “Survived” is a relative term here.  Reorgs have provided me with countless new managers over the years, new career paths (none of which I asked for) and a plethora of angst, a mountain of anguish, insurmountable pain, numerous sleepless nights, and suffering that has left me with a strange facial tick.

Reorganizations are a part of life under the Corporate Overlords.  While painful and time consuming, it is often easier for them than actually fixing the problems their teams struggle with.  Rather than fix it – you make it someone else’s problem.  Issue resolved, right? It doesn’t matter where you work, reorgs are part of the DNA of organizations now.  They can create the illusion of progress while at the same time waste countless hours of productivity and torpedo morale. Even when they have positive outcomes, the process itself is inherently stressful.

As a war-weary correspondent from the reorg-front lines, I offer you the following do’s and don’ts.  I cannot say I always follow my own advice – I am merely human after all. In general, however I DO adhere to these concepts.

What to do:

You have to figure out what is driving the reorganization.  The biggest indicator of how a reorg may play out is the justification that is presented.  Why is this reorg happening in the first place? Is this a cost cutting effort or is the shuffle designed to streamline operations?  Understand that and you may get a good idea of what the future-state structure might look like or alleviate some fears you might have.

Focus on the behaviors you wish to project to the people making decisions.  The short version:  Do your job and do it well.  Nobody wants to be near Sister Stressy.

Support your people.  Yes, you are nervous.  Your team can sense that.  You need to keep them focused and as calm as possible.  You’ll be tempted to not talk about the reorg, but this is a time when you need to engage with your people more than ever.  Be an awesome manager.  Even if you have no idea what is happening, listen to your people and give them time to vent then relax.

Just because your manager is freaking out – doesn’t mean you should. When it comes to reorgs, there are people that are in-the-know, people who don’t know what’s happening, and those that think they are in-the-know and are wetting their beds at night in full panic-mode.  Your manager may have no idea what is going on, so don’t get caught up in their drama.

Tune out the rumors. Every little tension is magnified during a reorg.  People talk and, well, make things up.  Don’t play into the rumor-mill.  Rumors consume time, ratchet-up tension, and divert you from doing things you should be doing.  Better yet, kill the rumors entirely.

Listen.  Listen to your staff, your leaders, just listen.  You will learn more than you think if you simply pay attention and process what you hear.

Remain professional. Assuming you were professional when all of this started…stay the course.  Think about the kind of image you want to project and fake that…fake it hard.

Update your resume’.  This is more psychological than anything else.  It is 50% about being prepared, should the reorg go poorly for you.  The other 50% is that it IS something that you can do, something you have control over.  Take the time to update your CV.

Make sure your manager knows what kinds of opportunities you might be interested in. Reorgs are not all negative.  Many offer new possibilities, new roles, new departments.  Take the time to make sure your manager knows what skills you have and things to be on the lookout for, should opportunities present themselves.

Watch job openings.  This is a little trick of mine that works.  If a reorganization requires new positions, they will sometimes be posted before the formal org chart announcement is made.  I have found that monitoring the job postings for your company can give you some insights as to what might be going on.

Remember, unless they ask for it, no one cares about your little opinion.  Trust me, with my ego, I have an opinion on almost everything. That doesn’t mean I need to share those with leadership in hopes that it will guide their decisions.  In fact, it almost always plays out as a negative when you forced your opinions on them unsolicited.

Trust in what is real. Unless you hear about it officially, it is likely speculation and guesswork. If you get a real “official” org chart or message about the change, well, that’s real and pay attention to it.

Network with your friends to make sure they are not melting down.  This is a good time to be a good colleague.  Help your friends keep an even keel.

Keep in mind that this is not personal, it only impacts you that way.


What not to do:

Let the reorganization overpower your performance.  Fretting and wringing your hands is not helping.  Focus on your work, not letting your imagination crank-up your panic levels.

Draw unnecessary attention to yourself.  This is not the time to showboat or flaunt your successes.  It is also a good time to not screw something up.

Overreact.  Just like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says:  Don’t Panic. It upsets your staff when you curl up in a fetal position on a video conference call.  This is a time to remain level-headed and demonstrate that you have things under control.  Corollary to this:  Don’t whine.  No one likes the whiner.

Try to read between the lines in communications.  There’s no hidden clues.  I have watched people tear apart a communication about a reorg, attempting to see if there is some coded message that tells what leadership is thinking.  Trust me, your senior leaders are not smart enough to hide clever Easter Eggs in their emails to telegraph their intentions with a reorganization.

Try to force your way into the process.  “I’m going to call up so-and-so and let them know how I think this should be handled.”  Yeah, that’s a horrible idea.  Even if you have a legitimate reason to need to know the results of a reorg, the leaders often cringe when you try and force your way into the room.  A corollary to this:  Don’t demand anything from leadership.  Ultimatums are a definite no-no during a reorg.  You are in a position to demand nothing when it comes to a reorganization effort.

Turn on your colleagues.  We’ve all seen it before.  It’s the corporate equivalent of the film Gladiator when its reorg time.  Managers turn on each other in some bizarre thought that this is battle to the death, complete with Star Trek fight music for a background.  It’s not.  You don’ t make yourself more desirable by slamming your peers.  You only come across as a douchebag.

Change your personal plans.  “Maybe I should cancel my planned vacation.”  Here’s the deal, the reorg will happen if you are there or on the beach or in a hospital bed.  Often times there are delays etc., so trying to guess when exact word will come from on-high down about the results of a reorg is at best, an inexact science.

Try and get ahead of the reorg effort.  I had a manager who thought he understood what a looming reorg was and tried to beat it to the punch, restructuring our team according to his “vision.”  The result – he was wrong – and we ended up reorging twice as a result.  There’s only one thing that sucks more than one reorg…and that’s two reorgs.  Don’t be that guy/gal.

Job hop to avoid the change.  Unless you know for absolute assurance that you are going to be negatively impacted by a reorg, don’t try and jump ship.  Making a job change because of fear is a bad thing to do…if that is your prime motivator.  Not matter what assurances you may think exist, you could be taking on a new role only to get reorganized anyway…at that point lacking the experience in-job to help solidify your position.

Rewrite your job descriptions.  Some reorganizations are top-down driven.  They start with the senior leadership structure and work downward.  More rare reorgs are bottom-up, looking at what roles are needed and where at the grass roots level.  Rewriting your job descriptions to try and position your staff one way or another is often a waste of time, especially if the effort is top down.  Don’t try and beat the system here…it is often seen for what it is, cheating.

Gossip or guess.  Spreading potential misinformation can work against you if the wrong people find out.  Don’t be part of a chain.  Listen?  Yes.  Spread gossip?  No.

Hire non-essential people.  Hiring someone in and then telling them three weeks later that their job and reporting structure may be changing is just plain mean.  At minimum, anyone you’re hiring in needs to know that the department is being reorged so they can factor that into their decision.  Think of it this way – would you like to know the situation before you had to make a decision?  There you go.

Dig your heels in.  Resistance to change is natural, expected, fruitless, stressful and a waste of energy.  No single employee has ever successfully derailed a reorg effort, so trying is just frustrating for you.  There’s always a lot of reasons to not change, but that doesn’t mean that the change is going to stop.  The concept that you are mounting some sort of gallant resistance effort against the will of the Corporate Overlords plays well in your head and havoc with your career.  You will not wear down the will of the organization to bend to your way of thinking.  The sooner you try and adapt and demonstrate your willingness to accept change, the better things will be.

Now, if you need some chuckles during this entire process – I recommend the following links:

The Resume’ We All Wish We’d Written

Funny Job Titles

Humorous Org Structure

or you can check out my book – Business Rules – the Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords. 


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