Over the last 5 years, I’ve stumbled my way through 3 painful re-orgs before I finally led and executed one that landed well. Truth is: reo-rgs will always be a consistent part of modern org design. But the challenging bit surfaces only after you’ve swallowed this bitter truth and come face-to-face with the responsibility of leading a re-org that helps everyone on the team the “why” behind the change. While I admit, leading is a humbling privilege, giving each teammate the opportunity to do their best work in pursuit of the business’s most important goals is easier said than done.
Because any time a change or re-org pops up, you need to consider each individual's goals, expertise, skills, interests, challenges, life needs, and much more before you assign them new responsibilities. And in the hopes of making re-orgs a little less frustrating and a little more fruitful for you, I want to share my top 5 org design principles that I learned from leading re-orgs. My aim is simple: to save you some pain along the way by sharing the mistakes I’ve made in the past (and sincerely hope you won’t) 🙏🏿 🙏🏻 🙏🏾
Let’s dive in.
1. Make time to plan
Re-org decisions have the potential to seriously impact employees’ morale, career outlook, and motivation to continue on your team. There are many elements to consider so just like all strategic projects, it’s important to make the time to rework and refine the decisions. It’s likely you’ll have many stakeholders to bring along and will want to play out multiple versions.
Use the disproportionate impact you have on your people in times of uncertainty. In leveraging this impact, you can encourage people to stay motivated and convince them that the changes made were made by keeping their interests in the forefront.
Our tip: If someone has expressed interest in a new domain or technology, leverage re-org moments to see if you can make decisions at the intersection of each individuals’ goals and a business need.
2. Explain the Why
As someone who leads an org design strategy, you’ve likely worked really hard on hiring, engaging, and retaining the talent on your team. So to continue with the spirit, treat those employees like adults and explain why you need to re-org in the first place. It’s easy to assume everyone has enough context. But over-communicating and sharing more context is always better than under-communication and leaving your team with little to no context.
Our tip: Your changes should boil down to a few key themes. For example, during a market downturn, it’s likely that one key theme is Focus. Your team will understand why new projects are deprioritized or backlog items are thrown out completely if you can trace the line between how their work is impacted and the “why” behind the change.
3. Be clear, not clever
Clarity may be uncomfortable up front but it spares everyone much more pain down the line. Make it clear who’s ultimately owning re-org decisions. Likewise, make it clear that those decisions depend on critical input from others who have more context than you do. If you’re re-organizing a multidisciplinary organization, make sure you ask each discipline’s leader for their input so you can make informed decisions.This way, you can maximize the chances that people feel valued and their needs are considered in the process.
Our tip: Bring your team along for the journey. But make sure you make it clear that you are ultimately accountable for leading the organization through change and uncertainty.
4. Personally communicate change to the affected individuals
No one likes surprises, at least not in the context of a re-org. Make sure you personally inform every individual affected by a change before it’s communicated more broadly.
Remember: most of the time, people are less bothered by change itself than the way a change is communicated.
Our tip: Make a list of every individual whose ownership areas, projects, role on the team, etc. will be affected by a re-org. Then, make sure you know exactly who will inform each person so that no one is accidentally overlooked. Don’t forget people who are on leave! Even if someone on your team doesn’t love the outcome of the re-org, they’ll like a heads up better than being blind-sided publicly.
5. Make yourself available
And finally, it’s important you make yourself available to talk through the changes. This can be uncomfortable but will have the biggest impact on the success of the re-org. The idea here is simple: make sure your team has access to you during a sensitive time.
Our tip: Use the medium that feels most culturally appropriate to you. Whether it’s a live AMA where you can field the team’s questions or an async Q&A doc, select a medium where your team can get answers to their concerns from you.
Modern org design thrives on treating the people you lead as adults. It’s why it’s crucial you explain the “why” behind the re-org, keep people in the loop, and make sure every affected individual is personally informed about the change before a wider announcement is made.
And remember, people look up to you. You’ve a meaningful impact on them so use it to keep them motivated all while ensuring you’re available to your team for answering whatever questions they have.
Here’s to leading effective re-orgs 💫