The Corporate Re-Org: The Business Equivalent of Musical Chairs

BlogHer Original Post

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been having a girls weekend in Dallas with a college roommate. Originally we were headed to her hometown of Des Moines to visit her 87- year -old mom -- a quick hop, skip, and a jump for me down 35Wm but looming inclement weather forced a change of plans.

While the weather folks in Dallas are warning people here of the bitter cold --- their arctic blast resulting in 40 degree weather feels like an autumn day to me.

As Paul Simon says, " one man's ceiling is another man's floor."

And so it goes in corporate America. While management often views re-orgs as ways to signal to investors they are nimble and willing to embrace change, employees who actually live through the re-org have a somewhat different take on the benefits of re-orging.

My college roomate loves her job. She loves the company she works for, "They say thank you and send emails out telling folks what a great job you're doing." There's just one bit of anxiety. Earlier this year there had been talk of spinning off her division.

When they didn't happen, the company did a reorg.

The 250 people who work in her division now report to a guy who live 1000 miles away whose previous management experience consists of managing two people.

When she talks about the re-org she just rolls her eye. She and her office mates are taking a wait and see attitude.
Her frustration is shared by many.

Corey Sherman of the Strategy Blog has a wonderful post on the culture of re-orging in a post called Reorganize THIS!

A Sure Sign
As Tolstoy once observed about families, each “unhappy” company is unhappy in its own way. Healthy organizations, though, have lots in common.

For instance, they don’t usually need to reorganize.

Shuffling organizational cards is merely feint of hand, dealing with symptoms, not problems. It’s intuitively counterproductive – like carrying signs saying “We Don't Know What We're Doing.”

And when a company has to reorganize again, as bad ones typically do, the signs reappear, this time with “Kick Me – I'm Stupid” stamped on the back.

Who’s Zooming Whom?
Actually, as organizational leaders see it, they’re not the ones who are stupid.

We are.

Managers, and their consultants, think re-orgs camouflage flawed thinking and poor business decisions. Indeed, they maintain, a re-org sends positive signals about the company's commitment to change — especially when it's driven by the newest, most jargon-loaded business models.

Leaders restructure companies to convey the image of being flexible, responsive, and on the cutting-edge.

But they really do it — because they’re clueless

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GhostGirl who blogs at Surviving the Workday shares Corey's assessment about the clueless nature of companies when it comes to implementing a re-org. GhostCirl started writing about her company's reorg in November. In a post called, The Dreaded R-Word she shares her observations of being a manager sharing the news. More recently she wrote a post sharing how its been going.since the reorg was announced.

Now that we are several months into it, with no end in sight, I have come up with a list of things that have been universally perceived as, shall we say, less than positive, by the employees. I might add that my layer of management is equally feeling their frustration, it’s just the nebulous Powers That Be who are excited and satisfied by the changes.


She has a list of 8 things companies that are planning a re-org should avoid doing.
A sampling:

5. Decide not to tell any of the workers anything because they “don’t need to know and it might change.” More information, even if it is changing, is better than none. People really, really hate feeling like no one is telling them anything. If you talk to them, and treat them with respect, they will help you, not hinder you.

6. Decide to re-org the re-org. One change at a time, people.


In the comment section of that post Ms. Theologian asked GhostGirl if the company was going to save money. Here is GhostGirl's response:


GhostGirl Says:

Nope, it’s actually going to cost them money since they have to hire three more people to do the same amount of work.


GhostGirl goes on to say that she believes the real motivation was to standardize everything. She says, " I think it's a pet project of someone."

Carol Kinsey Goman  is a consultant/author/speaker whose expertise in on helping organizations and individuals thrive on change. Her holiday letter e-mail about surviving a re-org made its way to Daryl Kulak, The Holistic Economy.He received permission to post the email on his blog. Here is snippet of the email called Counterbalance.

During one of AT&T's many transformations, I interviewed the woman in charge of Employee Health Services to find out what she'd observed about the most resilient people in the organization. I asked her if she noticed anything that these employees had in common that helped them deal so successfully with change: Did they work in a particular geographic region? Had they reached a certain level of the hierarchy? Did they perform similar functions? Were they male? Female? Younger? Older?

The manager told me that none of those factors made a difference. She said, "People who thrive on organizational change have two things in common: They take good care of themselves and they have outside interests."

As I continued talking with professionals in thirty organizations (and seven industries), the same theme kept repeating in my interviews. People who were the most adept at dealing with organizational change, not only had a career -- they had a life.


Re-orgs are so prevalent in our business culture that Mary Jo Foley who blogs about Microsoft on ZDNet.com, recently headlined a post "The Microsoft reorg week in review."

So what’s one to make of all this churn? Brain drain? Panic over Gates’ impending role change? Or just “if it’ January, it must be time for yet another Microsoft reorg”? Word is there are still some more reorg shoes to drop in the next week or so, so stay tuned….


The fact is that re-orgs are so common place that no one is surprised when it happens. And, like ghostgirl shared, its not that unusual to have a reorg within a reorg.

Yet still, one could hope that businesses could learn to do it better.If you are going to do it, why not stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

As my friend says, " They're always talking about re-orging. Has anyone tried organizing first?"

Image Credit: 4to40.com

Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness

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