5 Things to Think About When Restructuring
Over the years Charlton Associates have been involved in a number of different restructuring exercises with a wide range of clients and we have reached the stage where we can step back and think of some guiding principles to help organisations faced with the need to make significant changes to their organisation.
You can never have too much communication about restructuring but organisations frequently have too little. Managers can be afraid of sharing their thinking at an early stage but this can be a mistake. When considering making changes at work we would encourage you to be as proactive as possible.
There is a delicate balance to be struck between keeping people informed and creating a climate of uncertainty and instability when first mentioning the need for change. A common mistake is to keep people in the dark and spring change on them without enough time for them to consider the proposals. There is a mistaken belief that moving swiftly is always a good idea and reduces the anxiety staff feel. In reality, people are much more likely to feel angry and upset about not being consulted; it reduces their feelings of trust and confidence in their managers and the management of the company and increases their cynicism and reduces their motivation and desire to work hard.
We encourage managers to share all the issues you are taking into consideration so that the staff can be encouraged to see the bigger picture. Invite staff to comment early on proposals and ensure that there is room for them to have a meaningful say in the new structure. By involving staff in meaningful consultation you can significantly enhance levels of trust, build stronger and more effective relationships and increase their motivation and engagement.
There is a hierarchy of communication with critically different levels of effectiveness; as you proceed down the hierarchy each different level reduces the chances of being understood and increases the chances of false messages being transmitted between group members.
At the top of the hierarchy of effective communication comes one-to-one face to face exchanges where both the sender and receiver has a chance to refine the message and seek and deliver clarification.
In large teams this isn’t particularly time efficient and so people use larger meetings where we talk to teams. Providing these meetings are as small as possible and you are open, honest and direct and employees have ample opportunity to ask questions, then employees will find them very reassuring.
The next level down is written communication. It is very important to have documents prepared with the key messages that can be used to support direct communication. The problems come when written communication is used instead of or as a replacement for face-to-face communication. It’s always preferable to send direct individual letters/email rather than global emails/messages. Only 7% of the meaning in any communication comes from the words themselves and the opportunities for misunderstanding, confusion, doubt and uncertainty are legion if this is the only or the primary method of communication.
One of the elements that contribute to unhappiness, cynicism and discord is failing to demonstrate that plans can be adapted in the light of feedback from employees. Don’t move too far too quickly, if you produce a draft, make sure it is just that. Don’t think that it’s up to managers to have all the ideas and to be perfect all the time. The more staff are engaged and have opportunities to shape and influence the changes, the more change will stick and be supported. (Look here at David Brent from The Office making a complete hash of telling his team about changes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5ToxGDA-4M)
Our recent experience has shown that even if the communication is excellent where staff understand the whys and wherefores and there are no threats of job losses, anxiety can rise to very high levels. It’s important to recognise that even in the best run organisations with good team morale, the prospect of change can be profoundly unsettling for some people.
It’s very important to understand that there is an inbuilt preference for the status quo, people are often quite prepared to put up with less effectiveness and efficiency because the psychological effort involved in change is too great. Managers need to understand that there need to be a compelling case for change that is recognised and endorsed by employees if the changes are going to achieve the desired effect.
One of the biggest mistakes that organisations encounter is in setting unrealistic deadlines and timescales for the process. There is a need to balance the need to let people know quickly what will be happening with the need to move at a pace that allows everyone to participate at their pace.
Don't think you need to do it all yourself, seek support for making the changes happen, identify the resources you’ll need in time, people and money. If you’re doing it internally, make sure the lead person has the capacity to do this along with the other parts of their job. Try to find internal champions for change who have credibility with other employees and can be advocates. If the changes planned will make a positive difference it won’t be hard to find them.
There are times when getting an outside organisation to help can assist the process. It can be useful to have a third party giving some of the key messages and if you choose the right help, they will have experience of managing these sorts of changes in a number of different settings and are likely to have the time, energy and commitment to keep things on track and deliver the change in a timely manner.
Don't take our word for it...
Qualitative Research findings
Hazel Lonsdale, Chief Executive, Third Sector Services