The Slippery Slope of Corporate Restructures

11/05/2016 10:37 | Updated 11 May 2016

The word 'restructure' in the corporate world is enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone who has endured one before.

If you've ever worked for a big company, there's a decent chance you're nodding your head right now. When a major restructure occurs it can impact what you work on, who you work with and the atmosphere that exists in your work environment.

Before you've had the chance to blink, the gloves are off and the game has changed. The job you originally signed up for is no longer the same. In all likelihood, you'll have a new manager, new colleagues and there is a strong chance you'll be working for an entirely different department.

There is also a chance that you will be made redundant.

Change is scary, and it can be extremely unsettling when you don't see it coming. I've mentioned in previous posts how human beings are creatures of habit - and when our routines and patterns suddenly change, it can send us in to a spin.

When the official announcement arrives, it's not uncommon to see some colleagues defending their turf and going to extraordinary lengths to ensure job security. Others will go in a different direction, updating their CV and spending the entire work day on LinkedIn. Needless to say it creates a jungle like atmosphere in the office.

This should come as no surprise when you consider that people have families to feed and mortgages to pay. It never ceases to amaze me how often large organisations miscalculate the impacts of a major restructure.

I'm not suggesting that change isn't necessary from time to time, and there is no doubt that modification can produce positive results if implemented carefully. In my experience however, the wheel is reinvented far too often in large companies.

I've endured a couple of organisational restructures in my corporate career and there have been a few common themes I've observed:

1) They usually occur due to a change in top level management. A new CEO or Head of Department comes in (often from an external company) and wants to put his or her flavour on the organisation.

2) In theory the new CEO or manager should compile a list with two columns: What isn't working & What is working. Yet time and time again, new management focus solely on the things that aren't working and shake up the entire organisation without maintaining some of the existing strengths.

3) Restructures often result in what I like to call 'Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic'. Departments are often given new names, merged with other teams and shifted to different areas - but quite often it doesn't change the view.

4) History repeats itself - If the new changes don't deliver the desired results, there's a strong chance that things will go back to the way they were. I once worked for an organisation that merged the Digital team with the Marketing team. The powers that be were adamant the two belonged together because 'digital and marketing should go hand in hand'. Two years later, and after endless butting of heads between the two areas, the organisation decided to separate them once again. While this may not sound like a big deal, it came at a cost. Many valuable staff members left the company and new talent had to be recruited.

Some of you may be wondering how the powers that be should approach change if it's such a slippery slope. I have some pretty firm views on this.

An organisation is nothing without its people. If change is necessary, leaders should sell their vision to staff members and give them the opportunity to put forward thoughts, ideas and feedback. The absence of this process results in the company operating much like a dictatorship.

Leaders if you are reading this - know that if your staff members feel included and relevant they're more likely to go that extra mile for you. Self interest and self preservation are detrimental if positive change is truly what you desire at your company. In football you'll often hear the saying "The name on the front of the shirt is always more important than the name on the back of the shirt". This effectively means that success is far more likely if you focus on the interests of the group rather than your individual KPIs.

Every ship needs a captain, and if the seas are rough a change of direction may be required. Before sailing in new waters, the captain needs to know every member of his crew and the role they play. He must be across their strengths and weaknesses and have regular discussions with them about the journey ahead. It's only at that point when he should consider assigning them to a new part of the vessel.

If the captain doesn't consult his crew, there's no guarantee the ship won't hit an iceberg and sink.