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BLUF: Rapid change in structure leaves new employee struggling to be effective.

At my location, we just had two of our most senior people let go. They were both immediately terminated and everyone, including these two managing directors, was just recently notified. They were let go by a new head of our division, an outsider hire only starting around three months ago.

Our location is, in practice, the headquarters of our division but it is in a different city than corporate. This is because we were an acquisition to enter the industry around 7 years ago. Nearly all of the operations never moved. The head of our division is the only individual above the two managing directors and the head has always been based out of corporate.

The two managing directors were in charge of nearly all of our division’s operations (around 400 knowledge workers, ½ hourly & ½ salaried.) This includes everything except: our supply and distribution network (Another division handles it) and our sales force (All the sales leaders are still intact.)

The responsibilities of the two managing directors have been split between 3 directors formally underneath them. I do not think that either of the vacant positions will be re-filled. I am assuming that this layer of management (managing director) is disappearing from our org chart.

Also, note that our company has a great culture and has always prided itself on taking care of its employees. The two managing directors have risen through the ranks and have been in this building for 10+ years.

As a neophyte to the business world, this is certainly a maturing experience for me. I am not worried about my job, nor anyone else’s here. Yet, I know the road is not going to be smooth for the next few months e.g. new reporting relationships, new goal alignment, and (I imagine) a torrent of unproductive behaviors (mostly either: stagnation or misplaced/self-serving efforts)

I will be spending a lot of my time helping one of the 3 directors learn about and organize their area of responsibility. The director has been around for almost 7 years and has seen nearly all aspects of our business.

My main questions are:

What should we be most concerned with in regards to work getting done?

What should we be most concerned with in regards to communication?

What should we be most concerned with in regards to unfamiliar areas of responsibility?

What actions have any members seen work well in handling similar situations?

What resources do you all recommend? e.g. [u]Podcasts[/u], books or academic pieces

I have a million things going through my head, as well as through my directors head I’m sure. I am still absorbing all of this to a degree, as I felt like I was hit by a truck when I heard the news. Everyone here is still absorbing everything too. People are struggling to make sense of it I think.

I am thinking the first thing we need might be a solid 3 month communication plan to keep everyone entirely in the loop so they can focus on their work and not worry (incorrectly) about losing their jobs.

Any other suggestions or answers to my questions are greatly appreciated! I am looking forward to learning from all of your experience.

I will definitely report back on what we did and how well it worked.

arc1's picture

Quentin,

Not sure I can answer your specific questions, but have some thoughts:

There is definitely a useful podcast around relevant to this. Mark talked about communication and cascading info, and I think it was this one: [url]http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/08/managing-during-mergers-and-acquist...

The main thing I would say about the situation is that it's always really tempting to buy into the "soap opera" which tends to spring up around layoffs and restructures. A friend I respect greatly once advised me that the best possible thing you can do in those scenarios is keep your head down, and avoid getting distracted / expending ineffective energy on things which don't actually relate to your job.

That is, the best way to get the work done is keep getting the work done.

I'd be focusing on:

- clear communication with your manager as to what they expect of you in the circumstances. Does my job change, are there extra tasks I should be doing, what can I do to help you, is there anything you want me to avoid doing

- don't get sucked into too many "water cooler" conversations

- maintain an enthusiastic attitude (worst possible thing for people who are now in the positions of authority, would be to feel that they don't have support)

- focus on your core responsibilities - whoever your customer is (internal or external), that's who you're there to please

You say you are not worried about your own job, but it wouldn't hurt to take a little bit of time to sit down and review your job description - what is it you're employed to do, where do you add value, what are your key areas of responsibility. You never know if your own manager is going to be approached to consider reducing headcount... always useful to be able to sell yourself at short notice!

Cheers, Chris

jhack's picture

Focus on your contribution. Get things done.

Prepare the briefing book as per the podcasts mentioned above. The book is incredibly valuable.

Network.

Don't assume your job is safe.

John

MsSunshine's picture

This year we had some Directors "leave", were bought by a bigger company, changed the whole organizational structure, ... Lots of change. Here's what I found in working through that in answer to your questions.

BLUF: Step up and be a leader in everything you do with everyone you meet with. Strike "not my problem" out of your vocabulary.

1. What should we be most concerned with in regards to work getting done?
[color=blue]People will mentally disengage and everything stops. You have to keep them moving through the changes that will come. People struggle with change and wallow/resist. You need to consciously plan on how you are going to work the organization through a change like this. People adapt to change differently.[/color]
2. What should we be most concerned with in regards to communication?
[color=blue]Be open. Be honest. Remember that talking at people isn't communicating. It always seems that "management" huddles in a corner, works out new plans and then dispenses that wisdom to the masses without thinking about how people handle change. Then they are suprised when people resist because they don't understand, haven't worked through the change, don't understand/agree on what is being solved, etc. Get the leaders and others involved that you need to work the group through the changes.[/color]
3. What should we be most concerned with in regards to unfamiliar areas of responsibility?
[color=blue]Be honest about what you don't know - don't pretend - and ask for (and use) help from people who do. Offer help if you are familiar with an area to someone who is new to it.[/color]
4. What actions have any members seen work well in handling similar situations?
[color=blue]The most effective way I found to help was that I formed a small group of leaders in different groups who met every two weeks at lunch but often ended up being support for each other at other times. The rules were that you could talk about problems but not wallow. We all brainstormed on solutions for them. Often we had similar problems. The goal was to be part of the solution - not wait for someone else to fix something. Everyone also shared one thing that was going well. I started with a few strong leaders and we pulled in a few leaders who were struggling with the change. It was great to see those people then go out and do the same - a ripple effect across the organization. You get a few strong people go from feeling like victims to driving solutions and lots of others follow along. I got the idea from reading a The Radical Edge by Steve Farber about changing your world and then reading about the idea of leadership circles. This is somewhat in between them.[/color]
5. What resources do you all recommend? e.g. Podcasts, books or academic pieces
[color=blue]Ones that will help you learn how you deal with change and how others do too. I like "Remarkable Leadership" by Kevin Eikenberry which has a chapter on this.[/color]

quentindaniels's picture

Thank you all for your input. I often feel there is a negative correlation between the length of a post and number of responses. Thank you all for taking the time to read and share your experiences. I need all the help i can get!

I believe the advice to me has worked so far. I've been really focusing on keeping my head down and working towards my goals.

I have already shared many of these thoughts with my boss. As I promised, I will report back with the net result of our efforts.

*sidenote, I have talked with a number of managers about the org in general and they all cite different reasons for the restructuring. I feel their could be 4 main drivers for the change: cost, structure, performance, or alignment. I have heard all 4 reasons cited. I don't expect upper managament to speak outright about what caused the change. But, is it often the case that everyone (including experienced managers) is so speculative?

terrih's picture

Alas, yes... secretiveness even when it's counterproductive.

I just listened to the Managing during Mergers & Acquisitions cast and I think there are some good points in that cast that can help with any kind of unsettling change.

For instance, my department and a couple of other departments reside in an annex building. We have just been told we're all moving to the main building. My boss told me to keep it a secret! Why? Oh well. The word got out anyway. But there was so much bzz bzz going around that I felt compelled to at least say, "No one's getting laid off." People naturally start worrying about the worst-case scenario when there's secretive bzz bzz going on.

So anyway, do listen to the M&A cast. Especially the bits about communication. I wish I'd listened sooner.