Too many leaders treat changing the org chart as the solution to every problem they encounter at work.
They are constantly redrawing lines and putting new names in the boxes.
In some cases these changes make sense. In others, the underlying problems have little to do with the org chart and changing it simply buries problems that leaders either haven’t yet identified or do not wish to address.
Org chart changes = DISRUPTION
Whether appropriate or not, these changes cause stress. Leaders have new responsibilities and new employees.
Employees have new bosses, coworkers, and tasks. Because people may now find themselves uncomfortable with what they are doing and with whom they are doing it, productivity and team spirit often decline in the short-run.
While you should count on short-term disruptions, you need to figure out how to prevent long-term problems.
Answer these questions
You may well see a need for org chart changes. I just want to make sure you’ve done your homework first. Here are the questions you should answer prior to any sort of reorganization.
What goal(s) are you hoping to achieve?
Any sort of change initiative should always begin by wrestling with the question, “Why?” Your employees will certainly want to know why.
When you think about your answers, imagine getting in front of hundreds of employees and telling them your reason.
It’s got to make sense to them. It should be clear and meaningful. Employees should be able to visualize the benefit, and the benefit should be large enough to compensate for the all-to-easily-imagined drawbacks.
What might be on your list? I can think of better and worse potential goals.
- Align more closely with our market segments
- Speed decision-making
- Improve flexibility
- Break down internal silos
- Increase authority on the front lines
- Mix things up
- Address low performers
- Address quality problems
- Reward a senior leader’s good performance
- Counter complacency
Thinking about a structured way to communicate about needs and goals with employees is a critical aspect of your work.
What impact will your proposed org change have on your goal?
Goals are typically about obtaining some benefit or eliminating a problem.
Especially when the goal focuses on addressing a problem, you really need to dig into the problem to make sure you fully understand it. As you know, there are symptoms and there are root causes.
Addressing symptoms rarely works in the long-run. You need to make sure you know what those underlying issues are.
Only after exposing the root causes and understanding why they are happening will you be positioned to decide whether your idea for an org change will address the problem.
What are the root causes for the problem you are trying to address and will a reorganization correct it?
Who are the likely winners and losers if you do an org change?
As much as you’d like to think of it as a win for everyone, that’s rarely the case.
Employees are crabby about change when they believe the change is somehow hurting them. These losses can be real or imagined. It doesn’t matter much. If your employees believe it, you’ll need to deal with the impacts.
You’ll never know everything employees might be thinking they will lose, but you can guess, using this list as your starting point.
- Relationships: They liked the old boss or old coworkers. The new ones are in the best case an unknown and in the worst case already people they don’t like.
- Status: Titles, job functions, size of organization, office locations, and responsibilities all affect a person’s status. Ego matters, and when you start messing with the org chart you will boost and lower some egos. You need to be ready for that.
- Turf: Human beings are pretty good at quickly deciding what belongs to us. These are my customers, my employees, my processes, my equipment, etc. When your org chart changes yanks stuff away from people, even if they are getting new “possessions,” they won’t like it.
- Competency: We all get good at what we know and have done. Org chart changes often means new responsibilities. Taking on something that’s unfamiliar is hard. It’s easy to feel the loss of competence. Few people like being in that position.
- Security: Organization changes often feels like a game of musical chairs. Efficiency is often on the list of goals. That might be interpreted as fewer boxes on the org chart. Your people are going to wonder if there will be a box for them when the music stops.
When I worked in a company, we did a lot of org chart changes, usually something significant almost every year.
I had all the usual concerns about losses when it was happening. One thing I noticed is that I usually came out pretty well. More times than not, the change felt like a win for me.
At the time I hadn’t thought much about it, but I wonder if my coworkers noticed. And if they had, what did they say about it?
If they see favoritism in the decision making process, there will be resentment. That’s a quick way to destroy teamwork and trust.
How might you gain input from people prior to making this change?
Surprise org chart announcements rarely go over well. Wouldn’t it be better to start the conversation with everyone early in the process?
There are a couple ways you might involve a wider audience in the decision.
First you could ask folks to help identify the key issues and the goals the organization ought to pursue. Together build the case for change prior to determining what that change might be.
Second, you could gather reactions on organizational ideas well before they become settled decisions.
For example suppose you have a couple competing ideas for org changes. You could describe the two concepts to a wider audience and ask them:
- What are this ideas strengths/weaknesses?
- How would could this idea be improved?
- Is there another concept that would better help us meet our goals?
This feedback will be more useful if you leave names out of the concepts. Yes, people will guess who is the most likely person for each position, but do your best to focus on concepts and not personality at this point.
As you refine the plans based on the feedback, you could continue to ask for more feedback, right up to the point when it’s time to decide.
How can you involve people during the implementation of the change?
It’s time to decide. Are we going to make an org change and if so, what’s it going to be?
You might think that you can simple announce the change and then move on, but it’s not that simple.
Now the real work begins. How are you going to make this work?
Your to-do list might include:
- Teambuilding for people who haven’t previously worked together.
- Refining roles and responsibilities that go along with all the new boxes on the org chart.
- Establishing new or refining existing processes.
- And on and on…
This is the perfect time to involve as many people as possible who are interested and qualified to take on the work of sorting through the details.
What looks good on paper may well be a disaster in practice, unless the people who do the work help figure out how to make the change a success.
Do your prep work
Making an org change will never be easy or without consequence. Still, by thinking carefully about these questions and acting appropriately on the answers, you’ll raise the odds that your change, after some adjustment period, will produce better results.
A neutral can help keep everyone focused on answering these questions. If you want that kind of help, reach out.