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How to Operationalize a Reorg

The term “reorg” strikes fear into the hearts of many, but it can be a healthy and productive process that positions a company for transformation, rebirth, and long-term success.

There are several moving parts and interrelated elements to consider when undergoing a reorganization. Nailing the fundamentals is critical. These include strategic alignment, executive engagement and accountability, and communication.

For the implementation team tasked with making a reorg happen on the ground, here are the 4 most important factors for making the initiative a success.

1. Understand the goal

What is the overarching mission the reorganization is aiming to accomplish? What is the best strategy to achieve those goals? Let’s consider some examples.

One organization has a strategic mandate to become more responsive to shifts in the marketplace. They may plan to streamline functions by standing up a new department or spinning off an existing team.

Another organization is abandoning support of an unprofitable product line or service offering. Some roles will become obsolete, but the institutional knowledge held by the people in those roles is recognized as valuable to the company. The management team may create new roles and reporting structures to create a competitive advantage in high-growth areas of the business, and even generate excitement about new opportunities, rather than spin a grim narrative of widespread layoffs.

A third organization is automating critical internal IT services. People who used to perform manual tasks will be reassigned to deliver more value to the business. The management team may keep the functional areas intact but create a new governance structure. 

A clear understanding of the overarching goal that’s driving the reorganization is critical to design the best vision. But these reorgs can’t happen with the snap of the CEO’s fingers. They must be engineered thoughtfully, implemented in the least disruptive manner possible, and managed with the end goal top of mind. As details solidify, there are bound to be unforeseen and surprising opportunities to further support the organizational goals.

2. Facilitate collaboration among the steering committee

The second step in a successful reorg is to define the right leadership team that will be responsible for the initiative. This steering committee consists of a handful of executives, managers, and department heads. Selection is dependent on the key responsibilities and skillsets of each individual. They will determine the general course of action of the project.

Once the steering committee is established, create the space necessary to hash out the details of the reorg. Many questions need to be answered, and they will only be resolved through consistent collaboration of the steering committee. Are we all on the same page about our goal? (See step 1) What needs to be done to get there? How will we do it? Who will carry it out? Facilitating a series of working sessions for the committee is essential to determine execution against project goals.

Complex reorgs may take many months or years of regularly recurring workshops. It is vital to stay on top of the steering committee members. Executives’ schedules are constantly in flux as they juggle priorities and manage the business.

Set well-defined objectives for each workshop. If the executives get the sense the sessions are a waste of time, they will lose faith in the process and disengage. Especially with longer reorg processes, where the end game is years out, put extra effort into ensuring each session is productive and engaging.

Sample workshop objectives:

Week 1 Workshop

  • Objective A: Align on project purpose and goal
  • Objective B: Create an operating system. What is the steering committee’s governance structure, meeting cadence, etc.?

Week 4 Workshop

  • Objective A: Create a project roadmap with progress milestones.
  • Objective B: Identify existing and potential impediments. What are the hurdles? How do we mitigate the risks to success?

Week 7 Workshop

  • Objective A: Create a quarterly operating plan. Break up the project into smaller, more manageable timelines. What are the tasks required to reach the goal for the current quarter, the owner of each task, and the timeline to completion?

These workshops can be anywhere from a few hours to an entire workday. Often it can be best to locate these offsite in order to separate leadership from their regular day-to-day routines. Devoting time to strategy creation without being pulled out of the room for other matters will greatly increase productivity and mitigate the risk of losing key players during important decisions.

3. Communicate with discretion

Adding or eliminating roles, creating new reporting relationships, and evaluating talent are sensitive issues. To avoid accidentally leaking confidential information, run the project from a private office that won’t be used as a meeting room.

Plus, change is scary without a clear, personalized path forward for each stakeholder. People fear they’ll lose their job or be put in a role that they aren’t excited about. It’s important to communicate tactfully and intentionally and avoid prematurely sharing information.

When it is time to communicate information, do so consistently throughout the entire organization. In most organizations, the biggest challenge can be the collective buy-in and adoption of the reorg at every level of the business. Employees should ideally be excited about the change. This is impossible if they are left in the dark, confused, or scared of what is to come.

Leadership defines the reorg, but it is the rest of the organization, from the bottom up, that will truly feel the effects of it. Manage perception and communicate the right information at the right time.

Employees will have no shortage of questions when it comes to a reorg, no matter the size or complexity of it: Why are we doing this? When will it happen? How are we doing it?

Most importantly, how will it affect me?

Failure to bridge this gap between each layer of the organization is a potential pitfall that can jeopardize the entire initiative, resulting in confusion, resentment, misguided project execution, and an overall lack of motivation within the organization.

4. Demonstrate short-term progress to build momentum

Between sessions, there will be action items that must be completed before the next session can begin. Sometimes more research or data is needed. Sometimes it’s simply to document decisions or proposed changes.

At the beginning of each session, review the progress that has been made since the previous one. Demonstrate momentum and build trust in the process by following through and communicating in person. A reorg process can take months and executives will have a lot of other priorities competing for their attention. Don’t take for granted that everyone understands the importance of each step in the process.

A Real-World Example

Following the above guidelines, here’s how we facilitated a reorg on a recent engagement:

The organization identified the need to deliver a more competitive customer experience. They were determined to learn how to develop better customer-facing applications faster. With this objective in mind, we initiated a process designed to achieve the goal.

Through a series of 12 facilitated workshops held every 2-3 weeks, the steering committee defined their course of action and how to execute against it. They agreed that the existing IT organization needed a cultural overhaul, and the best way to move forward was to create an entirely new team focused on customer-facing digital interfaces. A new department of 80 people was spun out from the main organization, which retained control of maintenance, ops, and the help desk. They defined the new department’s mission and vision, core values and guiding principles, organizational structure, roles, requirements, talent, and communication plans through the collaborative sessions.

We were careful to keep sensitive information confidential throughout the process, communicating in deliberate intervals using various mediums of delivery, such as one-on-ones, department townhalls, and company-wide meetings.

We also worked hard to make progress, maintain engagement, document decisions, circulate key information between sessions, and start each workshop with a report on progress made since the prior session. Given the reorg was the first phase of a multi-year project, the time horizon was vast and we could have easily lost momentum. But over the course of just 5 months, we were able to socialize the idea of a significant reorg, fully define it, and announce it with unified support from the management team.

Key Takeaways

If you’re on a team managing a reorg, be sure to keep these success factors in mind:

  • Understand the goal.
  • Facilitate collaboration among the steering committee.
  • Communicate with discretion.
  • Demonstrate short-term progress.

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