Friday, March 31, 2006

Reorganization Addiction

Is your organization addicted to reorganization?

Do you re-org about once a year?

Do you do it with the intention that it will solve all kinds of problems?

Do you find yourself thinking of the next re-org as inevitable?

So do I.

Hi. My name is Bruce and I’m a re-org addict.

Re-orgs suck.

  • Reorganizing is disruptive to work in progress
  • Reorganizing lowers employee morale
  • Reorganizing lowers productivity
  • Reorganizing incurs a bunch of direct costs (e.g. office moves)
  • Reorganizing always seems like a good idea at the time

I think that most reorganization can be avoided with diligent long-term planning and discipline.

Having been through several major re-orgs, I have noticed that it is true, “The seeds of the next re-org are planted in the current one.” There is an attitude that extends all the way into upper management that if you “just wait a year, another re-org will happen”. As if re-orgs were a fact of life; like the weather. I think that this is primarily the result of a lack of forward planning and looking beyond the next 6-12 months to see how each of the organization decisions made today (often for expedient, short-term reasons) play out in the long run. Of course it is hard to do that when you know that the next re-org is only a year away… and around we go.

I think that the majority of re-orgs are the direct result of the failure of leadership to make long-term plans and stick to them. By failing to do this planning, by failing to look beyond the immediate problems and short-term solutions to those problems, they lay the foundation of the next crisis. They get locked in an endless cycle of organizational firefighting. You can tell that these re-orgs don’t really solve any fundamental underlying problems since you just have another one falling on the heels of the first (or the fifteenth depending on how long you’ve been at the company).

In principle I think you can avoid this.

I think that the way out of this is the same way the founding fathers got America out of the revolution game. You need to make small predictable revolutions a way of life. Bake them into your planning. Just don’t try to do the whole thing at one big shot. The founding fathers chose every four years (two if you’re a member of the House of Representatives, six if you're a senator) as the time scale for mini-revolutions. You can do something similar.

Maybe you need to set the leaders of your current teams down in a room and ask them, “What do we want our organization to look like and act like in 2-3 years time?” Once you can get them past the “it doesn’t matter what I think since they’ll only reorganize us” phase you can start doing some real mid-term strategic planning for your organization. Write the plan down! At the same time that you generate the plan, schedule a 3-6 month checkpoint and (here’s the hard part) hold yourself to it. Then at the checkpoint, review the plan. Make any tweaks you need to and schedule another 3-6 month checkpoint.

This is really a question of discipline. Organizations need to change and grow as the business changes and the staff changes. But they tend to handle it in the way that earthquake faults handle the movement of the tectonic plates, they store up the stress until there’s a seismic event and all hell breaks loose. But by making small, predictable adjustments as there is change I think you can avoid this kind of grief.

Yes, I have a re-org problem. But at least I admit it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. Some companies (GE) have instituted the revolution by encouraging management to change jobs every two years. I imagine this keeps people aware that their performance is always on the line and they are never more that 2 years away from being out of a job. I like the mini-revolutions concept except perhaps when it happens at the top. New CxOs every 2 years is bad, no?