When changing your organisation's structure don't do this!

When operating models change, new reporting lines, possible impacts to people's roles and the re-allocation of workload, there is no greater impact to an organisation and its people. One would hope that the changes are well informed, and that a transformation specialist is involved. When they aren't, the changes can take years for an organisation to recover from. Employees and leaders become disillusioned and disengaged.   

I have worked on many operating model changes and every time I have undertaken them I have never taken lightly the impact on individuals and their welfare. I have both worked on those transformations and also been impacted by those transformations and boy oh boy! When not handled well it is nothing short of toxic inefficiency. So from both perspectives, make sure that you and your organisation don't do any of the following next time there is a restructure:

1) Don't sit in fear about communicating

There will be times when you or the leaders will be afraid to communicate. Uncertainty is always a certainty in a change of operating model. The biggest farce is that those who are impacted are the people you need to communicate with the most, and yet leaders are often afraid of communicating with those individuals dye to the possibility of miscommunication. If that is the case, then ensure your People and Culture business partners spend time with the leaders to assist them to build confidence in having the difficult conversations. Always a remember that a leader who is not able to handle a tough conversation is not a good leader.

Even worse is if there is a leak to the press before any changes are announced internally and then there is no communication to the organisation to acknowledge the press coverage. Anyone remember Elon Musk's deplorable conduct when taking over Twitter? Misstep after misstep. However that is not the only example. The one common outcome is the loss of trust within the organisation that is hard to recover from.

2) Don't allow your personal bias' result in poor inequitable treatment of individuals

Regardless of whether you are a People and Culture business partner, a leader who is transforming their team or a change practitioner, hold true to the values of respect and equality and put everyone through the same process. There can be times where personal bias can come into play - consciously and unconsciously and this can create inequity which results in direspectful behaviour or unfair treatment. This will put the process in jeopardy.  If you are a business partner or change advisor there may need to be times to advise those who may be decision makers to also be respectful.

Without doubt through major structure change there are times of great stress, and emotions can run high, so it is critical to have a number of people who hold true to this point. At the very least it will mean that you can sleep at night, and at the most it will also mean that there will be less contesting of decisions and outcomes in the end if respect is a fundamental value being honoured.

3) Don't try to close down emotional responses

Emotions scare many leaders. Having individuals 'grandstand' and express their feelings in potentially disruptive ways can put leaders off. Rather than try and stifle what is simply a normal human reaction, make sure you create the space for emotions to run high until they settle. These can be called 'decompression' sessions informally, however they can be called Question and Answer sessions or Consultation sessions. Think of a can of soft drink where you are opening it for the first time. That hissing sound of air that was bottled up which is now released. That is what a decompression session is.

Sure you need to make sure that emotional behaviours are still within the acceptable professional boundaries, but it does serve to create the space for people to express how they feel about the changes happening. Also 1:1's can also be important so everyone gets an opportunity to have a say and get some time. 

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4) Don't expect that business will just 'go on' at the same pace when you are going through a structural change

As I have written about before there is no doubt that operating model changes impact productivity for a period of time. I have been able to quantify that over and over again. Projects becomes delayed, it takes a while if the change isn't managed well, for new teams to form and make their way up their performance curve. Continuity of business is the best outcome, disruption is the worst outcome.

Make sure that you proactively reprioritise things that can wait or can be impacted by the changes in structures. You will then be more efficient in being able to recover once the changes have been made. Many leaders forget about this to their own detriment and a disconnect eventuates with a 'head in the sand' mentality.

5) If you are a leader you need to take care of yourself as well 

I mentioned earlier the need for a decompression session for the impacted people, if you are a people leader who is running this change then you may need debriefing sessions with a peer or trusted colleague. Even the HR Business partner can provide that support. Having that space for yourself is critical, as it can be emotionally tiring holding the line of leadership where others behaviours may be less than ideal. In addition to this, you may need to take a day off or two just to have your own space, especially if things do turn hostile prior to staff leaving the organisation.

6) Don't ignore the needs of those who may have 'survivors' guilt

 For those who remain behind after there are structure changes and redundancies, there is a need as a leader to then address the survivor's guilt which may remain. All employees have relationships and interactions, and when those dynamics or if friendships are strong then this can be  very stressful time, after the dust has settled. Make sure that you cater for those who remain and spend time re-engaging them and feeling ok about being 'left behind'.

If you are going through a HR change, then make sure that all of the above scenarios are avoided, and you will be minimising the gap and emotion that comes with it. All change comes with a curve, in this case you can get ahead of it with some change intelligent actions.

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