How Leaders Can Improve Company Culture After a Reorganization

by Nettie Nitzberg, Principal, West5Consulting

Once news of an impending reorganization hits a company, the environment of that company changes almost immediately.  Feelings conveyed by the word “reorganization”—or “reorg” for short—can quickly and completely pervade an organization’s culture in a matter of minutes.

cultureHowever, there are steps that leaders within the organization can take—before, during, and immediately following a reorganization—that can salvage the culture of the company and help those that remain to feel secure and invested in the company.

Develop a ‘People’ Strategy

One key component to keep in mind when planning a reorganization is to create a strategy that addresses the people issues, in addition to the organizational, financial, and legal issues.  Understand that a reorganization causes fear, angst, and anxiety, and the uncertainty can be overwhelming.

Don’t be surprised to be witness to disengagement, disgruntled employees, a collapse of conversations, and a very strong rumor mill.  To combat these side effects of a reorg, communication is imperative to this strategy.

Develop a ‘Communication’ Strategy

Employing a communication strategy will help the organization’s leadership to stay on message, as well as be proactive and transparent.  Holding town hall meetings, video conferences, or HR roundtables to communicate with employees and address topics such as what the company is doing, why it’s doing this, and what the outcomes are expected to be are great ways of reaching the majority of employees, in manners that provide clear communication and opportunities for feedback.

Rebuild Trust Among Employees

Once it’s made clear that certain positions will be eliminated as a result of the reorg, it’s vital to bring together those that are left into functioning teams.  This will not happen overnight.  Early on, the newly formed “teams” are really groups of angry, frustrated, and confused individuals.  Any trust that the company culture had cultivated prior to the reorganization will need to be rebuilt and added to.

The first way to start to rebuild this trust is by answering questions – specific questions.

The Harvard Business Review article, “Three Answers Every Employee Needs,” provides some advice from Betty Jane Hess, the former head of Arrow’s acquisition integration team. “When we make an acquisition,” she said, “every employee has just three questions: 1) Do I have a job? 2) Who do I report to? and 3) How will I get paid? Until they get answers, nothing else matters.”

Although in this instance Hess is referring to acquisitions, these are the basic questions that go through the mind of every employee whose company is somehow changing, whether by being brought on by another organization, merging with a new company, or reorganizing the existing structure.

Managers should also hold conversations with their team members about where they are now, where they need to be headed, and how they want to get there.  These types of dialogues go a long way toward building trust among employees, as well as alleviating many of the lingering questions and concerns that have arisen from the reorg.

It’s also not a bad idea to approach a reorganization the way one might approach onboarding.  If employees will be reporting to someone new, arrange a lunch or schedule a meeting to provide an opportunity for a one-on-one discussion.

Revise any performance-based or personal goals if necessary, and perhaps consider assigning someone as a “transition mentor” – possibly for an entire department – who can serve as a go-to source for all things related to the newly reorganized company/business/team (both formally and informally).

And, if a new leader is assigned to an existing team, he or she may also consider going through a new leader assimilation process, a quick, nonthreatening way to get answers to important questions and to openly address concerns the team may have.

How Long Should It Take?

Following up on these initiatives over the course of a year is a reasonable timeline to not only allow time for employees to acclimate to their new situations, but, just as importantly, to position them for success in this new (or newly defined) role.

Executives who embrace consistency, transparency, and a proactive approach will go far toward ensuring their newly reorganized company is in the right shape for future success.

Nettie Nitzberg Nettie Nitzberg is a recognized expert in helping global companies maximize their people investments, and is founder and principal of Boston-based West5 Consulting, which focuses on solving people problems that impact business success.  She can be reached at nettie@west5consulting.com.

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