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How to Successfully Complete A Major Reorganization

Alignment
Convincing
Reorganization
Roadmap
Fairness

4 November, 2021

Kirk Gray
Kirk Gray

VP Engineering at McGraw Hill

Kirk Gray, VP of Engineering at McGraw-Hill, recalls his experiences performing major reorganizations of departments, including successful techniques to ensure a smooth transition.

Problem

Previously, I worked in an organization that had looming changes, including shutting down an entire office and letting all of that leadership go. Our company wanted to keep the engineers and quality assurance members, but this brought up the challenge of doing and keeping this major reorganization on track while keeping as many members as possible. It was not easy to point towards a successful and bright future with layoffs and downsizing. My company tried to use this process as an opportunity to spark change, bettering our whole organization and making it more successful as a whole but we were challenged to gain alignment and clarity.

Actions taken

When I took on this reorganization, my first step was to develop a respectful method of communicating the changes. It was essential to treat those leaving the company with dignity and walk away from those conversations feeling morally sound. After having difficult communications with those exiting our organization, it was vital for us to shift the focus from negative changes to positive ones.

An entire discussion needed to happen concerning the topology of teams and what purpose they each served, how they worked together, and how they made our customers’ lives better. If I couldn’t explain the answer to these questions, it meant that I needed to either provide these teams with a new problem to work on or disengage the team.

Moving forward, I strived to align the proposal for the new structure of this organization with my leadership's ideas. Reorganizations are less about cutting and shifting teams and more about making an organization more successful in the long run. During this process, we wrote vision statements for each team and had them craft roadmaps to help visualize their objectives and timeframe.

The roadmaps were based around a year to 18 months and listed the specific purpose for each team. Creating roadmaps and vision statements for each team was powerful for our organization and increased the team’s clarity and understanding of their goals.

After alignment was obtained, the actionable steps of the process came. This was where leadership talked to each team member and described the changes that would occur. We made sure that we met with everyone, as the worst way someone could find out about a major reorganization is through an email or online communication. I found that this step is easy to overlook as it takes the least amount of time but ultimately affects the most people.

While the transition is in process, I scheduled one-on-ones with those affected immediately. Instead of sending out mass communications, I met with nearly 75 people over the course of six workdays. My goal was to personalize the change for these team members and help them understand our expectations for one another.

In many reorganizations, individuals lose a direct supervisor that cares about their well-being. I wanted to ensure those affected felt they could talk with me openly. Although I empathized, I did not apologize for it, as apologies make change seem negative when it was beneficial for our company.

Once my teams knew how they would work together, I gave them goals to work towards. I hoped that these goals would rebuild the sense of belonging that my teams felt towards our organization. I wanted to give them something audacious to work on right out of the gate, to grow their camaraderie and exercise these new team behaviors.

Lessons learned

  • Many decisions have to be made in a vacuum during reorganizations, as the information is rather secretive. It’s easy to get tunnel vision as a leader who can’t talk about this major action. Finding someone to bounce ideas off of can be very beneficial, even if those ideas are rather opaque to maintain the security/privacy of the decision.
  • As reorganizations unfold, there are so many moving parts, but it is vital to dedicate time for the personal connection aspect of a reorganization. If those affected by your changes don’t have scheduled time to meet with you, there will be a higher turnover rate and negative consequences.

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