What Most People Get Wrong About Org Restructuring

As a leader of a reorganisation, you’ve likely taken time to understand all the strengths and weaknesses in your current environment, looked carefully at multiple options and brought your team on the journey. 

You and your team have sold a vision for the change, and communicated it well. 

But, things didn’t turn out as you’d hoped…

With pressures in the business and economic environment accelerating, restructures or ‘re-orgs’ are becoming more and more common. 

And as we’ve talked about before, reorganisations are a misunderstood, and often mismanaged, process – which goes some way to explaining why they rarely deliver the value intended in the expected timespan.

Here’s some ways that you might be going wrong, and what to do about them.

Design is the start, not the end

During the design phase of an Org Design project, people can feel motivated by the strategic nature of the process and their involvement in it. 

They might see it as an opportunity to solve organisational challenges (or even achieve some personal goals).

But it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the resulting design – whether a revised operating model or org chart – means “job done”.  In reality, the design is just a jumping off point for what actually needs to change. It’s a suggestion for the implementation, not an implementation itself – going through the process of imagining and drawing it doesn’t, in practice, make it true.

To turn your head away after the design is complete and declare victory is exactly the kind of thinking that leads to poor real-world results.

Research on transformation conducted by McKinsey suggests the largest share of value, even in successful transformations, is lost during implementation.

If we’ve to learn anything from this research, it’s that not following-through with the implementation stage and neglecting to guide your team adequately through the process may be costing you heavily.

The difference between the success or failure of a transformation is determined on the ground.

Any reorganisation is only as good as how well it is implemented.

The devil’s in the detail

For an effective change process, restructuring requires looking beyond the visual org chart to understand the organisation’s plumbing and wiring..

How many organisation charts have you seen that actually tell you how the organisation works? I’ll bet very few, as their very purpose is to simplify a complex system into a series of boxes and lines.

For that reason, it’s important that any restructure needs to go beyond the visual representation of the org chart to look at the plumbing and wiring more broadly.  Without doing this, you risk creating a gap between the intended future state and the current reality.

In managing change, people tend to focus on external and practical details (the “what”) like tasks, timelines and budgets.  In reality, activating a new organisation is an adaptive and dynamic process that involves changes to “how” roles connect, decisions are made, and teams come together.

As part of the design process, it’s important to do some scenario testing to understand how the new model will work in practice.  We call this “water through the pipes”.  You’re making sure everything is connected as it should be and there are no unexpected leaks.

It’s important to do this to check understanding of the new processes, discuss what steps need to happen, which roles are accountable for what and how to do the handoffs well. You can also use it to showcase how the new approach solves the identified problems or creates an intended experience for the customer.

The process isn’t linear

Despite what your transition plan might suggest, implementing a restructure is not a linear process. You’re going to encounter problems along the way, and they aren’t always small either.

According to a McKinsey survey, more than 80% of reorganisations fail to deliver the hoped-for value in the time planned, and 10% cause real damage to the company. So instead of hoping to win it big, why not involve yourself in the process and see through the day-to-day?

Your role as the leader of the exercise is to encourage everyone to spot the new organisation’s teething problems, debate solutions and implement the appropriate fixes as soon as possible, in line with the logic of your original plans.

You might take some lurches or stutters forward and a few stumbles back.  But the overall goal is to move towards what you envisaged through a series of big or small changes over time.

It won’t happen quickly, and it won’t happen perfectly. But with the right strategy, and enough persistence, you’ll have the best chances of a success.

What this means

Effective implementation is key to your reorganisation’s success, and yet it’s often treated as a fait accompli (or worse, an afterthought).

By expecting problems to arise and responding with swift solutions, you can keep the focus where it matters; on continuous improvement, and adjustment of the design in response to real world events.

Persistence in committing to the journey, rather than “the end state”, will keep your team aligned and ensure that your vision for the new organisation can be realised over time.

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