Rational Reorganization

When your company decides to reorganize, how do they tell the people who are affected?

Do they have one on one conversations with the people who are involved, the people at all levels, explaining why it’s happening, how it impacts them, and give them a choice in the decision? Or do they get everyone in a room and announce it all at once? Do you get any kind of notice at all that something is coming – or do you just put it together based on the look of stress on a VP’s face and the number of closed-door meetings with HR that suddenly populated your VP’s calendar?

Having been a leader, I understand, to some extent, why companies do this: change is disruptive and you want people to keep working for as long as possible; you aren’t sure what you’re actually doing until the very last minute (and, in larger organizations, whether you can get approval for it); some people (my hand raised) find the period between when they learn about a change and when the change takes place extremely stressful. In public organizations, if the change is large enough, it may also impact the public perception of the company or relationships with other organizations.

The truth is that these changes are also stressful for leaders, and they develop tunnel vision around the big picture without considering the impact on the individual people who are most affected.

Unfortunately, whatever the reasons for why it happens, the result is the same: people who accepted a job because they liked the nature of the work or were attracted to work with a particular manager, may find themselves with a different job description or another manager. Teams of people who had worked together sometimes for years, now find their work-families split, and their social support networks dissolved. And people are mad at management, resentful of being treated impersonally because it reminds them that, no matter how much you like or believe in an organization, if you work there you are ultimately just a human “resource” to them, as opposed to a human being.

So what can you do instead?

Let’s take one change management model, PROSCI’s ADKAR, and look at how it could work, with very little additional effort by the company, and only a modicum of courage by leadership.

In a nutshell, ADKAR says to progressively build Awareness that change is coming, Desire to support the change, Knowledge about how to change, Ability to demonstrate skills & behaviors, and Reinforcement to make the change stick. There’s a lot more to it that you can read more about here.

If we apply this model to a reorganization, here’s how you can do this:


In team meetings or one-on-ones, talk about the need for change, what is the situation that is causing a need for change, how it impacts the organization as a whole. Storytelling works well here.

For example: Over the last year, as I’ve observed how our team operates, it’s become clear that we need more structure around how we approach our work. It feels like we keep reinventing the wheel instead of leveraging the tools we’ve already got. [If a small enough meeting, throw in some specific examples.] This is causing us to take longer to deliver product to the customer, and that makes us less profitable. I’m giving this a lot of thought. I’d like you to give it some thought, too, and share your ideas with me.

[Ok, you may not really want their thoughts but, guess what? They’re the ones doing the work and they may actually have good ideas that you haven’t considered. And, even if they don’t – even if they just want to take up your precious time to show off how smart they are – listening helps. It makes them feel heard, which will help them buy into the change later.]

Notice that we didn’t actually say that change was coming. You don’t have to say that change is coming. I once did a whole change management campaign to rally store managers behind a new product that was super-top-secret, and that had the potential to cause them to fear for their jobs, without ever mentioning that the product was coming. You can do it – just talk instead about the circumstances that cause people to realize something is needed.

Ideally the Awareness stage should happen early enough that they have time to process the awareness. You may even need to build awareness through a series of meetings, communications, or blog posts, culminating in the announcement that specific change is starting on a specific date.


This is where you talk about the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me.

Example: We’ve been talking over the past few days/weeks/months about how we have an opportunity to become more efficient at what we do, and we’re going to reorganize how the work gets done. This change will accomplish several things: First, it will give you clear role definition – everyone needs to know what they’re responsible for and what they can count on each other for so you aren’t left hanging because someone didn’t do what you thought they were going to do. Second, procedures need to be streamlined – right now, you’re spending a lot of time filling out duplicate forms, that’s got to stop. You didn’t take this job to fill out forms – you took this job to sell to customers.

Notice that this is all about the people who have to do the work, what matters to them, and what will motivate them. Get them on board by helping them see how the change benefits them.


Now you get more specific and describe how the change affect their day to day lives.

Example: We’re going to split the work up differently. Instead of having one person devoted to email communications, one person devoted to the intranet communications, and one person focused on Task Management, we’re going to align the work by the departments we serve. For example, Legal, HR, and Internal Audit will be aligned together. Joe, you’ve got good connections in HR and will have that group, and will be responsible for managing all their email, intranet, and task communications – that way, if two people in HR start to send the same communication in two different channels, you’ll realize it ahead of time. I know HR has a lot of communications, but Legal and Internal Audit have fewer, so it balances out. If you do run into a perfect storm of communications from all three, let me know and I’ll help you through it.

Focus on their day to day, what the typical day will look like for them, without getting into the details.


Now get really specific: what are the tactics they need to employ while doing that work, what skills do they need to develop, and how will they develop them.

Example: This is a new way of working for us, so let’s go through the details. First, I want you each to schedule a monthly touch-base with your departments. Include the department lead as well as the people you work with on a daily basis. The purpose of this touch base is to [….] In addition this monthly meeting, we’re going to start providing these reports […] And we’ll start having a morning stand-up where we triage the work for the day and resolve any process and capacity issues.

I’ve made this example very directive. You could also make it participative, which will get you more buy-in: We need a way to get better foresight on what our communications partners are planning. How shall we do this?


Reinforcement happens over time. Keep talking about the change, add components to your weekly team meetings to review metrics and discuss how things are going; touch base in your one on ones on specific performance issues. Recognize when the change is working and praise the behaviors you want to see again.

Is there anything there that is difficult, challenging, hard to do? It requires a different mindset, a little thought. And a little courage to do something different.

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