I have spent more of my career being reorganized than I have being organized. In my day job I work in organizational change management, which is ironic because reorganization is part of the job. Oddly enough I got my job via a reorganization. I’d share that story but I think the emotional and physical scars are more than enough of a reminder of what it was like. Suffice it to say that I have a knack for reorgs, which is a skill that is almost worthless in the real world.
As always, my proviso is that this has NOTHING to do with the organization that I am currently employed by. This is simply a humorous look organizations in general. Any resemblance to any person or legal corporate entity, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Disclaimer mode now disabled…
Reorganizations are often dubbed as transformative and they are. They are change in its most pure corporate form. There are two overarching models for reorganization that outline the phases of a reorg. One is the traditional change management model, or a variation of it, John Kotter-isms, a melting iceberg and penguins, blah blah blah.
The second and less known are the real-life phases that the employees actually go through during this process. This has not been documented until now because the truth hurts and most organizations don’t want to admit this is what they inflict on their people regularly.
Depending on the reorg, you may go through these phases in the course of hours, days, weeks, or months; dependent on your level of mental stability. They are perfectly natural reactions. Your results may vary.
So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I present to you, the real-life phases of a reorg:
Good…I’m glad this happening. This place was pretty screwed up phase. The announcement of the structured chaos to come is made. Hey, let’s be honest; we all know that our organizations could be improved upon, some more than others. Much of the problems the staff have been coping with were the result of the last reorg. Maybe this change will fix some of the problems? It could happen…right? Right? This phase usually is pretty short-lived because it takes very little time for management to crush employee optimism into a fine powder to sprinkle on their mocha lattes.
Raw, unadulterated panic phase. When the leadership and staff realize that things are about to change and it could (will) happen to them. This panic often stems from the mental acknowledgement that the people driving the reorganization don’t really understand how your organization functions in the first place (usually because they are in charge.) In fairness, you don’t totally understand it either – but that does not quell the panic. The sheer terror comes from the thought that someone with the mentality of a fourth grader might be setting the course on your career and future. Buy new sheets, you’ll have a lot of night sweats and screaming.
Beat these bastards to the punch phase. There’s always some closet-Einstein-wannabe that thinks believes they know what the problems are and will reorganize or dramatically change processes before the formal reorganization in an attempt to stave it off. “If you knew it was broken, why didn’t you fix it a long time ago?” This knee-jerk reaction generally sows even more seeds of chaos and forces people to undergo two or more reorganizations; or as I call it, “Fun on a bun!” No one is smart enough to guess what the fourth grader is planning, so just please, don’t try.
Trying to read the tea-leaves phase. This is the search for information and attempts to interpret what little is leaking out. People troll for information from job posting boards to Linkedin. Management does not give the staff the credit we so richly deserve in this area in terms of trying to piece together what is coming. Self-proclaimed savants or Long Island Mediums, make predictions based on the soup of the day in the cafeteria. Even a mere dullard becomes creative in attempting to ferret out information. Any information gleaned is subject to random and wild interpretation, guesses, or leaps of logic. In other words, it’s mostly worthless.
Attempting to stake out territory phase. Like dogs marking their yard, mid-level and senior managers begin posturing during this phase of the reorg. This could be the “puff your chest-out” phase as well. Leaders (and I use that word loosely) suddenly proclaim from on-high that they are in charge of a team, a body of work, a process, or anything to make them seem more important. While entertaining, this rarely instills confidence in your leadership. Right now you are picturing your manager taking a pee in the yard – admit it.
Jockeying for position phase. Reorganizations generate meetings. Often these covert off-site affairs, held with pentagrams on the floor, hooded cloaks for the participants and black candles for effect. These covens (yes, I used that word) are where management tries to position themselves in the new org structure. They come before whoever is leading the reorganization and plead their case as to why they are awesome and deserve to continue on with minimal impact. They will barter with their teams, often crushing other people’s careers to preserve a proverbial seat at the big-kids-table. This is a clash of egos vs. what is right for the organization and that clash often wracks up a body count. Those not invited to the meetings will hang out in the hallway outside, hoping that being seen will trigger some sort of positive reaction with those bartering their staff’s souls/careers.
Leadership feeds on itself phase. Cue the Star Trek fight music please. Da-da-da-da-dah-dah-da-dum! The more opportunistic leaders begin to undermine their colleagues. I guess the thinking is that they make themselves look better by making their peers like worse. The level of backstabbing could make for an entire season of Game of Thrones, sans the nudity. Snide, off-handed comments (or outright lies – dealer’s choice) aimed at eroding fellow leader’s characters mark this stage of the reorganization.
The “I no longer give a flying fu*k at the rolling-doughnut,” phase. Reorganizations have a tendency to drag out, for a variety of reasons (chiefly being that you can’t reorganize something that was never organized in the first place.) When this phase happens the staff reach a point of “just give us the new org charts so we can get on with our lives.” When you place people in limbo long enough, they cease to care about the end-game. You could hand them a turd on a piece of paper and they would be happy simply because this time-wasting, angst-fueling process would be over. All hail the new turd!
The apathy phase. Every reorganization that has ever been announced misses its own artificial deadlines. There is a point where the staff just throw their hands up in the air and work grinds to a halt. Leadership usually has no clue this is going on – they are attending reorg meetings after all.
Final bloodletting phase. This is the actual announcement of the new organization structure (or target operation model – TOM) itself. The final winners and losers are known. Remember Gladiator – “Are you not entertained?!” There’s no time for mourning. Leadership wants return on investment for the time it took to put the new structure together. The formal announcement often leaves folks agreeing with some parts of the change, and puzzled by others. Fortunately the apathy overwhelms the last vestiges of staff resistance.
The run up the flag and declare victory phase. “Suck it up bro.” There should be a lot of change management activities to help the staff adopt the new operating model/structure. These are generally tossed out of the window. It’s time to get back to “BAU – business as usual…or is that unusual?” Despite all of the planning, there are huge gaps that are created in almost every reorganization that leave the staff confused as to how to proceed.
The new resistance is born phase. Leaders who were losers but not terminated begin to undermine the new organization. People entrench in their ways of working. The more delusional pretend the new organization doesn’t exist (crazy, right?) Revenge is a dish best served in a filthy kitchenette I guess. People begin to build organizational friction between teams, processes that inflict harm on others, all to spur on another reorganization and a chance for those hurt in this reorg to rise to the top again. Go forward in time a year and start at the top of the list!
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