Just Because It's Natural

Restructures. Or as we Americans say, reorgs. Look, I’ve been a party to, a part of, a perpetrator of, and a participant in countless restructures. Some of them went well; Most of them did not. I’ve been merged, blended, acquired, transferred, combined, distributed, laid off, promoted, laterally moved, elevated, and … only in New Zealand… lifted and shifted.

Okay, pause for a moment for a personal rant.


You DO NOT lift and shift people. Ever. I am not a f*cking package. You cannot simply pick me up and drop me in another part of the slide deck and expect me to treat this as no big deal. It is a change. If you lift and shift me to another department, another senior leader, another division, another group — even if I keep my manager and my role and my responsibilities — I am not a brown cardboard box. I might just lose my sh*t anyway. Plan for it.

Corollary. Do not EVER tell me you are ‘just lifting and shifting’ my team. Okay? Because that… THAT is the definition of adding insult to injury. You broke me and my team at least temporarily while we adjust to the new part of the slide deck, while you simultaneously patronised me by saying I shouldn’t care because it’s just a small change. You don’t know that. You don’t know if I’m going to like this. Maybe I loathe the new 2 up you’ve moved me to. Maybe I don’t like that division. Maybe I’m worried about where I’m going to sit now. You don’t know how I will experience this small, simple cut and paste operation. Stop telling me it isn’t a big deal; You’re not convincing me with that bullshit.

Lift and shift. God damn I hate that phrase.


Any change that we experience repeatedly should in the normal course of things gradually become easier. Restructures appear to be a notable exception to this rule for many people. For some reason, no matter how many restructures people experience, they appear forever surprised by this one. This one is for whatever reason more challenging, more frightening, bigger, badder, uglier, less competently handled, more inexplicable than all other previous restructures. Why are they restructuring again? Why now? Why our team… we’re doing such a good job? Don’t they trust us? Don’t they like what we’re doing?

Look, at least at the personal level, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many things you can do to make a restructure less traumatic to you personally. You want to do all of the following: keep your professional toolkit up to date (social media, resumes, network of contacts); be able to describe your skills without using any reference to your current company or industry; have a minimum of three months run rate in the bank (if you don’t, start saving now); know your fall back job (the job you could would take if you had to get work FAST which might not be ideal but would keep the roof over your head… mine is technical writer); and perhaps most importantly, be open to change. These are all change resiliency 101. If you want more info, let me know by email, and I’ll get you started with some previous blogs on these topics. For company reorgs, the bottom line is that first you have to just accept that all companies -- and particularly all large companies –restructures regularly. You have to take that as one of those “let it go” aspects of 21st century corporate life. Live your professional life assuming the next restructure of your role is within 3 to 6 months. All the time. Embrace the uncertainty of that. Stop assuming that tomorrow is going to be like yesterday. It won’t be.

It helps to think of the ‘company as an organism’ metaphor. This postulates that a company behaves like a creature. It responds to stimulus such as food or pain by moving towards or away from the stimulus. It begins life vibrant and expands rapidly, goes through a paroxysm of teenage insanity, settles into productive adulthood, and then eventually gets stiff, cranky, and old before dying – often unloved by its children. In this metaphor, you can then understand restructures as a form of breathing. It is a way of sucking in new oxygen and energy and blowing out poisons and useless gasses. It is a way of expanding in some areas and contracting in others. It stretches the muscles and reduces the stiffness.

There are many ‘typical’ motivators for restructures and even here the breathing metaphor helps understanding. For example, a very common form of breathing results from the tension between centralisation of functional knowledge versus customer and business awareness. The contraction comes as a business pulls similar functions into operational centres of excellence. All the people who do Type A work in this group, Type B over here, Type C over there. In this movement towards similar functions working together, we gain efficiency through shared tools, shared ways of work, shared knowledge. We all get better at our jobs and – weirdly this never works but it’s always a WIIFM for these contractions – we will somehow be able to do more A if all the As work together. This doesn’t work because, just as a random example, you don’t actually manage more projects when all the project managers sit in the same building and use the same templates but… okay. Whatever. Now when we pull people together like this, each person brings with them their experience with ‘the business’. On the upside, they are all now managing projects the same way, using the same reporting dashboards, participating in the same conferences, etc etc. But over time, all the As sitting with other As forget what is like working in Division 23 or selling Product Astro. They become super vested in their A framework and process and forget how hard it is to build Astros. They completely forget that their customer is someone who actually has a choice of products and maybe if they do something stupid, it won’t be Astro. They lose business awareness.

Then the company hires a new consultancy and/or management team who say, “I know what to do! Let’s push all these specialists out into the business! Each business will have their own A and their own B and maybe two Cs. All that expertise will be right at the fingertips of the Product Astro leadership!” All the As and Bs and Cs get reassigned bringing with them all those experiences and frameworks and standard ways of work. This works tremendously for a while as sheer inertia means the Bs will still do Bish things. However, eventually the old As and Bs leave, we hire new ones who don’t know those processes and invent new ways of doing things… And then we start all over. Breathe in, breathe out. Contract, expand. Centralise, decentralise.

Roll with it, people. Each time the company takes a breath in, we have a chance to recharge, find new work, connect with a different set of people. And fun story here, each time the company lets a breath go, we have a chance to recharge, find new work, connect with a different set of people. Breathe in, new opportunities. Breathe out, new opportunities. No room in the new structure? No problem. My resume is polished, my network popping, my LinkedIN up to date, and it’s a lot more fun over there. Until it isn’t, and then I’ll maybe come back to where I started. God knows they’ll have restructured several different ways in the meantime. Move in, move out. It’s all as natural as breathing.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.*” ~ Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

* The more things change, the more they are the same.

Karen ToastComment