“Here We Go Again…Another Restructure”

Introduction

Anyone who has worked in large organisations or part of the public sector has probably experienced a restructure of their organisation or service. For many this will appear to be a regular occurrence and for others the restructure will never seem to end but the organisation will seem to be always under restructure or review.

I’ve been through a number in my career. The experience was never pleasant and never done well. Some seemed to be planned others haphazard with no real apparent direction to the change. All of them have been top down processes with little involvement of those most heavily impacted by the changes about to come about for the organisation.

Restructure in a Flash

One such restructure involved a large state government department. We awoke one morning to find the department had been split into two separate departments. The rumour was the Director General found about the restructure through the media. Overnight she had lost more than 50% of her staff. The restructure was done so rapidly that a logo had not been developed for the new department. Instead, the logo was the State Coat of arms and remained so for many months. The restructure seemed to continue on and off for the next few years. When I left that department two years later it was still being rolled out. The result being that no staff member could feel safe and relaxed in their positions. This must’ve had an impact on productivity, morale and staff retention. All significant costs that needed to be taken into consideration prior to embarking on large-scale change.

A Brutal Hit

On another occasion I witnessed a pretty brutal restructure. Consultants were brought in to conduct the process of restructure. Staff were interviewed and a plan developed to restructure the organisation. Although planned well and the consultants delivering a restructure the organisation had requested it was brutal on people and seemed to target those who had the most experience in the organisation. All management positions were made vacant with staff entering into open competition for the previous role. Staff were made redundant. Some were initially told their position was safe only to be informed a few weeks later that their position was to be made redundant, redesigned and advertised.  Years of experience left the organisation with some of those departing remaining bitter about the organisation and taking months to recover from the psychological hit they had received. The main reason given for the restructure was cost cutting. Promises were made that staff numbers would never reach the level they had been prior to the restructure. However, less than two years later staff numbers were above those prior to the restructure. The organisation had “new blood” but had lost the asset of experience and historical knowledge. Unaccounted costs prior to the restructure.

Change is Inevitable

Change is necessary for any growing and developing organisation. But it can be handled much better than the examples I have provided. These examples are very much of the “You are either on the bus or not” approach to change. A top down and poor approach to conducting a restructure or change. Nobody likes change, but when it is managed appropriately it is less stressful and, at times can quite liberating.

The difficulty is that both these restructures, and I’d imagine most I’ve seen, have viewed the organisation as a problem to be solved. This points the restructure on a negative course, looking for issues. Once you start looking for issues you will find them in abundance. Questioning along this line will always result in finding what you are looking for i.e. problems.

A Better Way

There is a much better way to deliver a restructure or any change. This better way is to use Appreciative Inquiry as a process to conduct change.

Appreciative Inquiry focusses not on what’s wrong with the organisation but what is already strong. It doesn’t go looking for problems but has a focus on discovering what the organisation is already doing that is positive and working and seeks to replicate that strength, build on it, to make the organisation better at doing what it is already doing well. Opposed to the view that the organisation is a problem to be solved Appreciative Inquiry view the organisation as a mystery to be investigated. It is about discovery and growth from this discovery.

Appreciative Inquiry is an inclusive process involving people from all levels of the organisation and can even include outside stakeholders. It will involve staff from the CEO down to the humblest employee. Its process is set up so that all can make a positive contribution to the matter at hand.  It gives people a platform to make a contribution to change, allows their voice to be heard and allows them to work as a community to build a stronger organisation.

There is much more to Appreciative Inquiry. I’ll address this in a later posting. Suffice it to say, it is a more positive and strengths-based approach to restructure or any change.

Conclusion

Appreciative Inquiry has been around from the 1990s and has been used by many organisations to guide them through the process of change. Government agencies have used this approach, as have many private corporations. My question is why is not apparent in many of the restructure processes most of us have encountered?  

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