How do you manage your team when restructuring is coming your way? How should you navigate through the changes? In this episode, The World of Work Podcast Hosts James and Jane share their insights and steps leaders should take to lead their teams in the process of restructuring. James emphasizes that the process takes time, and what resonated with him is looking after yourself because change is an emotionally charged situation. On the other hand, Jane suggests it is time to create space to process your emotions. Learn some valuable tips to face this challenge in restructuring through this insightful episode today!
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Management Challenges: A Restructure Is Coming
In this episode, we are going to be having a conversation about one of the management dilemmas that we are speaking about in this series. Those of you who read regularly will know we’re running a whole series in which we’re exploring the different challenges or some of the different challenges that leaders and managers face.
Quite a few people have emailed in some of their challenges and we’ve explored those. If you’ve got any more, please send them to Hello@WorldOfWork.io. In the meantime though, we’ve got a specific challenge we’re going to be exploring, Jane. What are we looking at? What’s the challenge that leaders and managers might be facing that we’re going to try and talk through a little bit?
This is all about the challenges that we face in management. Some of them have come from the audience and some of them have come from you and me and our experiences. We are talking about when restructuring is coming your way. The context is pretty straightforward. Imagine you are the manager of a team of ten. Maybe you’ve got a couple of more senior line managers in your team but the total number of people that you manage is ten. The organization is facing cost-cutting challenges and they’re restructuring. You were part of the team that was consulted. In quite a bit of detail, you shared your recommendations, only some of which were approved. It’s your job to manage the team through the process. In simplest, that’s the situation.
There are a couple of things I want to say. One is we are not HR experts. We are not going to be talking about the legal in detail. We’re going to mention them a couple of times. We’re not going to be talking about the legal and regulatory approach to this. We’re assuming that you’ve got an HR department or someone responsible for that to make sure you’re doing it. We are going to talk much more about as a manager, how you keep the team going through it and how you make it the least worst experience possible for them. I wanted to mention that. With that, I’m going to hand it over to you. Is this something you’ve got experience of?
I’ve got loads of experience of this. I liked your reference there early on to the least worst as well. That’s a great anchor point to base some of this conversation on. Do I have experience of this? Yes, from a few different angles. To be honest, the majority of experience I have from this is being on the other side. That is being involved in designing, delivering, and leading change programs that put through this type of change across organizations.
I’ve done quite a few of those change programs where I’ve been trying to support the restructuring of organizations, like what’s the new target operating model, what business architects pulling together in terms of future ways of working, and all that kind of stuff. Doing a lot of that work on that side is something that I’ve spent a lot of my career doing so it is a huge amount from that side. On the being done to perspective as opposed to doing to others, if you will, I’ve had some experiences as well but the majority of my experience has been on the delivering of the change itself. What about you?
I’m interested in this episode as I’m with all of them but particularly this. You and I have had quite a lot of experience in this but in very different contexts. I’ve never worked in an organization bigger than about 300 people certainly not in the latter parts of my career. I have worked predominantly in non-profit organizations. Therefore, funding means restructures happen pretty much on a cyclical basis every four years. It’s not always but pretty extensively.
I’ve been this person. I’ve been on the team. I’ve been the manager. I’ve been on the leadership team that’s been shaping it but always within small organizations. You talk about business architects, people designing ways of work. I’m like, “Imagine if that wasn’t the five people sitting in the room who lead the organization trying to figure it out?” I’m interested to hear this because you’ll have a very different perspective on what might help people but also interested in having this conversation.
For me, my experience of restructuring and working with others who are going through it and have been through it is what I would refer to as a major career influence, for lack of a better word. People fundamentally view their organizations and careers differently when they’ve been through restructuring. It happens every time.
No matter how many times you go through it, it shifts your perspective of power, what makes good teams, and who should be looking after themselves versus each other. It changes the way you look at the world. Certainly, that’s my experience working with other people who come to me to work with organizations. It’s super interesting to have this conversation and hear your experiences.
I’m going to jump straight back in on a little bit of what you said there because it is interesting. People who’ve read a little bit will know my background is in financial services, mainly large UK banks. Different sectors and individuals in different functions within different sectors have different sets of experiences with this.
As a piece of the broader context for the UK financial service industry, like most of the global services industry, our global financial services industry had some challenges after the ‘07 and ‘08 recessions in the US. There were huge cost pressures on those businesses. Changes in regulatory frameworks heightened some of the cost pressures on those businesses.
As an industry, the large UK-regulated banks have been heavily cost-focused. Within those organizations, people have been through a lot of this type of change. Your point about these changes influencing people and their careers is important. The first time that the organization I was in led one of these cost-driven large restructurings, it had a big impact on people. It has an important, significant, powerful, and potentially disruptive impact on an organization.
Where we were, we ended up doing this on a regular basis. Change kept happening. These types of restructurings got to the stage where every nine months, there’d be something. It was probably maybe every twelve months but the frequency increased. People had a mixture of change fatigue but also change resilience in relation to it. This became part of the way of working in these organizations. The impact on people does change the more they go through it. Despite this, there are always managerial challenges and things to think about when you’re leading these changes more broadly or when they’re happening to your team.
Different sectors go through these sectoral financial challenges as global economic conditions change. In 2023, there’s been a big cost drive in the tech world. It is probably the first time a lot of these large global tech players have experienced the type of restructuring that the financial services industry has experienced for a long time. These types of restructuring approaches and managerial approaches at the top level move through sectors. It’s rough noting that. Where do you want to start? What do you want to pick up? Kick us off.
The best place to start is at the beginning. Generally, within restructures, there is a point at which you know more than the team. There’s pretty much every point you know more than the team. There is this point which you know it is coming and you know the shape of it. Your team might have known and had an inkling it was coming. Maybe they’ve been involved in a 100-day consultation and there have been rumors going around and stuff like that but nothing’s firm.
What would be useful is maybe picking up from the point at which you know it is happening. You know it is happening and you know that it’s not a like-for-like for everyone on the team. Certainly, in my experience, no one’s matched is usually what happens. Within my experience, there are a couple of exceptions but generally, no one’s matched. There are fewer jobs than there are people and you are at the point of needing to tell the team.
The first thing I wanted to mention, and I’d welcome your reflection on that, is I always thought it was important as soon as you start talking to your team, at whatever stage you first talk to them, about giving them some certainty. I’m passionate about the SCARF Model social threats, which is David Rock’s work. It’s the thing I hang onto the most in all of this more than changing the patterns or any of that stuff. The reason is I want to promise the team how I’m going to behave. It helps me face tough conversations and hold myself accountable.
There are loads I can’t promise but I can promise that I will, for example, update them regularly. Even if there’s nothing to say, I will still send them an email saying, “I haven’t forgotten this is happening and it’s weighing on your mind. I don’t know anything more yet but I will keep telling you until I do.” For me, that’s always my starting point, letting them know what they can expect from me as a manager and also being clear that they can’t expect me to tell them everything I know. Sometimes, I’ll be like, “That’s not confirmed yet so I can’t tell you.” That would be something I can’t tell them.
That’s some great stuff in there. The power of process is important here and that role of transparency or as transparent as one can be in a good way, bearing in mind that you can’t always be transparent. These are fluid. It changes in different organizations. It’s not always the same but the way this process generally works is that there is cost pressure. Senior leaders are told by other senior leaders that they should aim to achieve a cost saving of X percent. For example, “We’re going to need to shrink 15% of costs over the next 2 years.”
A program of work will be created or a program will be set up to achieve that. People will then be drafted into that program or project and they’ll start working on what that might look like. They will be working with a group of senior leaders who know some things and maybe consultants and other internal secondees. They will work out what changes predominantly in terms of headcount would lead you to be able to achieve that cost saving.
That is then mapped into a future organizational design operating model that would be the go-to operating model. The majority of that is done behind closed doors under NDA. It is often in a different site with different people working on it with only the senior individuals in the function or business unit that’s being changed involved in that. That’s very much of a locked-away type of thing.
The way that we experienced this where I worked is at the point that it was time for that to be made public, there was a structured, clear process that would happen. What would happen is the most senior individual or their exec team would send out a series of meeting invites for the next day, and that becomes an announcement day. That announcement day starts with a most senior person reading a scripted summary of the change that’s coming and what that looks like. That is then followed up by a cascade of scripted conversations from descending hierarchical senior leaders down to a lower level, each being a little bit more personalized and a little bit clearer, guiding everybody through what to expect as a result of that change.
What happens at that stage is you’re saying, “Here’s our current structure and operating model. There’s going to be a future change in the operating model. We’re not going to be able to map everybody into each role. This is what the process is going to be like.” The leaders say that increasing detail as it goes down through reorganization, cascading normally through 2, 3, or 4 layers of people. After that, managers would put in scheduled one-to-one calls. Those meetings would instantly be scheduled so each manager would have a one-to-one with each colleague in their team.
That process was hugely regimented. It was controlled from our perspective by an internal comms team. Scripting and all of the HR-type things that you’ve spoken about are done in the background. Union negotiations are done in the background. Everything is above board. Everything is regulated, controlled, and considered in advance.
What we find is that once you get on that steam locomotive of change and those calls start happening and everything starts happening, the process leads people along. There’s a lot of repetition of information. People hear things multiple times. It’s disruptive and difficult. It blows the week up as people have all these meetings to go to and things to absorb. People do get a chance to hear.
It gets to the stage where the managers start having those one-to-one conversations. They get provided manager briefing packs that help them understand what some of the impacts are, what they can and cannot say, and where to go with those conversations. That’s the end of the first stage, which is the announcement stage.
The way the restructuring process works in doing this is the announcement stage kicks off all kinds of other things that lead through to the remapping of people to roles over a 6-week or 3-month perhaps process. That is guiding people through to ultimately what the new operating model looks like with people in those different roles. What that process looks like is very clear. That process of getting from the announcement through to the outcome is a process that’s predefined and can be shared at this stage. A lot of that guidance around what to expect is hugely important and baked in this stage.
Different organizations do this in different ways. Some have a combination of outcomes and announcements. Sometimes, there are straight-up redundancies that happen, particularly in other countries. Some of those impacts are quicker. A lot of the work that I’ve done has had that announcement followed by a defined process leading to outcomes. That’s a lot of what I’ve seen.
With that repeated messaging and guidance of processing, all of that sweeps people along and strips out some of the risks around communication. It makes sure people hear a lot. It lets people talk about what to expect. It helps people provide some of that certainty. It brings a sense of, as much as possible, fairness around a process. A lot of that stuff is brought in by that heavily structured approach. Have I talked to you about that stuff before? Have I ever walked there?
It’s interesting because the organizations that I’ve worked with have none of the resources that are spent in the management of processes quite often in the organization. If you’re a manager with more than one tier below you, you’ll probably evolve in all of that. Things like designing the common strategy all happen with that leadership team because there are only 300 people. If you’ve got 300 people, you might have 50 managers and 10 people as senior leaders. It won’t always look like that.
There’s a limit to how many people. The comms team quite often will have only dealt with this within the context of this before because generally, the internal comms might be one person. It brings to start reality how much harder this is for managers and small organizations because they don’t have that stuff around them and how important comms is.
It makes it harder in that perspective. One thing that is something maybe a little bit of a challenge for some of the people in the larger organizations is sometimes, they find out the day or the day before they need to go straight into those conversations with their colleagues themselves. There’s sometimes a bit of a blindsiding that is maybe more likely in some of the large organizations. That’s a hunch. It’s hard for people who are reasonably senior middle managers in these large organizations to find out and go through all of this blindly while also trying to lead their team through it at the same time.
I don’t know if that’s the same in small organizations but that’s been one of the challenges. They don’t know what’s happening themselves. They’re not clear. They’ve only found out themselves that something is coming. They don’t know what their outcomes are. They don’t know where they’ll end up. At the same time, they need to provide some better assurance for their team. I don’t know if that’s the same in small organizations. It’s a reflection.
That’s fair. It relates to conflated things. One is not knowing, which is massively problematic because of the way in which you have to behave at the moment. Generally, in the smaller organizations I’ve worked for, that’s not the case. At some point, you had to be consulted because you might be the only person who knows how. You’re conflating something else which is worth picking out.
Not knowing is massively problematic because of how you have to behave at the moment, and you have to be consulted because you might be the person who knows how.
I was thinking about something that happened to me and I’ve lost it. That’s good. That’s the first time that’s ever happened in the history of us recording episodes. I was probably caught up in all the multiple times I’ve experienced restructuring. The point I was trying to make was that if you don’t have the time and space to know about your role, then you are asking a huge amount of a manager. I don’t necessarily think that’s a big or a small thing. There are situations where people in big organizations are going in and going, “I know I’m safe because I happen to know that this is a particular area they’re not looking at restructuring.” That makes a big difference.
As a manager, you’re sitting there like, “I know I’m likely to be mapped because I know how many jobs there are,” versus, “I’m pretty confident that I’m in this too.” It has pros and cons. On the one hand, it is much easier to talk with others to go, “I’m in this boat with you too,” so they tend to be more compassionate and your team will be more forgiving of mistakes. It also takes down barriers. On the other hand, if you know everything’s going to be okay, you are highly motivated to keep everyone engaged. You’re like, “I’m going to be managing this team in the end.” Also, it allows you to focus on them. That’s hard.
I’ll never forget. I went through restructuring many years ago when I was very junior. I was challenging HR on something about the conditions that my team had been given to reapply for their jobs. I didn’t think they’d been given enough time because it was a major organizational deadline the same day. I got pulled aside by HR and they said, “Do you not understand you are safe? Do you not understand that you’ve been mapped?” I was like, “Yes. It’s the fact that I’ve been mapped that allows me to fight for them because they’re going to be my team at the end of all of this. That matters to me.” It stuck to me in that moment that if you know or you are likely, or you’ve got confidence in the likelihood of your outcome, it changes your perspective.
Different people will be in different places with that. It is worth calling that out. Do you have anything that you want to build on from what I shared there? Where would you start? What are some pieces of advice that you would have for a manager who either knew that this was coming and it’s been announced they’re going to move these changes or maybe they didn’t know it was coming and it’s been announced? What are some of your bits of advice for somebody who is living this?
I’m going to run through 3 or 4 things that matter. I already mentioned the SCARF theory. Being predictable and reliable and giving people some sense of certainty in an uncertain world is powerful even if that certainty is, “You’ll get an email from me every week whether I know anything or not.” It is being open about, “There are going to be times I can’t tell you stuff. I will know and you won’t. That’s the way the legal or the regulatory system works.” It is being present, having a presence, and showing up more often. Don’t miss team meetings during restructuring periods. It’s a bad plan.
Restructuring: Being predictable, reliable, and giving people certainty in an uncertain world is powerful.
The point that you made is that in bigger organizations, they’ll hear things 5 or 6 times. Small orgs don’t get that so do it. Repeat everything fifteen times. “When is the date? When are the things happening? What can they expect?” Repeat the same messages. Challenge senior leadership to have a detailed FAQ that is public-facing and that people can add questions to and be answered.
Be conscious that everyone will react differently. You do not get to decide how people should or shouldn’t get over things, deal with them, or cope with them. Your job is to keep the show on the road while things are going on. Understand and be emotionally connected to where your staff are whilst also thinking about how to get things done. That’s important. You have to give people a little bit more space. Don’t make tight deadlines or put people under unnecessary periods of pressure during restructuring. It’s not fair.
Don’t put people under unnecessary periods of pressure during restructuring. It’s just not fair.
For me, there are two big things. One is around if you know anything about people’s backgrounds, it helps here. If you understand that someone has got a big new house and they’ve stretched themselves, you don’t need to raise it with them but you do need to be conscious of that. That may be additional. When you go into one-to-ones, it is asking people, and this is stressful for everyone, “Are there any particular things that this is going to make this particularly stressful for you because of? Is there anything that you want to talk to to have a space to talk about it?” Know what the organization offers.
If the organization has EAPs or Employee Assistance Programs, know about it and signpost people. That links to my last point, which is about you and as a manager, keeping yourself going and knowing your boundaries. It is easy to try and want to fix the world for people but you can’t. What you can do is keep yourself healthy, keep yourself sane, and manage boundaries appropriately.
Don’t turn into a counselor in this but do signpost and make sure people are getting the support they want and deserve to have access to. Advocate for them. If you think the process isn’t working, challenge upwards. If you think there’s something that people have missed in the processes that should be happening, challenge upwards.
At the same time, this is the point at which I tend to lean heavily on my close friends. People I speak to once a month, my closest friends, suddenly, I’m talking to them a lot more frequently. That’s because I need a place where I can trust to process that I feel pretty crappy about myself some days. That’s my whistle stop. Do any of those things resonate with you?
A lot of that stuff crosses over quite a bit. One of the things that I’ll check out but goes across all of this and that links to this is that processing stuff takes time. It takes time for you, your team, and everyone. It’s hard to hold onto that and know that but this stuff takes a little while. This isn’t day one or the end of this process. What happens on day 1 isn’t what’ll happen on day 2 in terms of the way people feel about it. What you’ll see when there is an announcement like this is that people will flip to focusing on processing. That’s what happens.
I do remember the first time I was part of a program of work like this. We had via organizational announcement that change or restructuring is coming. I remember getting off call and looking around in the large open-plan office I was in. Nearly everyone was up from their desk. You never call that first announcement call finished. People came off their headsets and put their phones down. Pretty much everybody stood up and went to somebody else to have a conversation.
Even then, I knew that there was something in that processing space going on. I didn’t know as much as I knew about how people work but this was people trying to make sense of what was happening around them. Some people were excited. Some people were anxious. Some people were scared. Some people were uncertain. All of those different emotions were there as people were kicking this information around.
The metaphor of image I even had at the time was it felt like somebody had put a new ball into an enclosure and everyone was there, kicking it around and moving it around, trying to make sense of this thing. It takes time. It will take time for you and those around you. You could read up on things like the change curve and stuff like that. That’s helpful. Knowing that this stuff takes time is important.
Something that you talked about that is important and has resonated with me is the importance of looking after yourself throughout this. Whether you’ve known in advance or not, this is an emotionally charged or often an emotionally charged situation where people are experiencing a range of emotions as they try and process this. Some people will be angry. Some people will feel it’s unfair. Some people will be giddy with excitement and that nervousness like, “I shouldn’t laugh but I’m going to laugh anyway because it’s all a bit much type of space.” All of those types of emotional pressures are there.
Change is an emotionally charged situation where people are experiencing a range of emotions as they try and process it.
Even if you are not feeling them, being around many other people who feel like that can be a depleting or draining experience. In itself, it can be tiring and confusing. It is important to make space to look after yourself. Your point about speaking to your friends and peers is important. Looking after yourself and speaking to your friends and peers is a great thing to do.
Maybe having peer groups do this in a helpful way or discussing this in a helpful way is good. If you are doing things like a series of one-to-one conversations with people to talk about what an announcement means for them where possible schedule breaks for yourself, don’t do this back to back. Leave space for them and you. Don’t overstretch it if you have time and an opportunity to do this.
Also, if you are somebody who is leading managers who are themselves going to be cascading in a place of uncertainty, try and make space for them and support them as well. It’s difficult but recognize that they are going to be doing difficult things themselves if you’re a manager. Try and encourage them to leave space, leave breaks, have opportunities to get out of your office, and go for a walk. All of that stuff is important. That stood out for me as something you said that I wanted to elaborate on.
I’ve got lots of other thoughts but one of the things that goes through my thinking on this and is increasingly part of what I would think about where I’m doing this again is to try and be clear on who you want to be. We talk sometimes about our values and the importance of having a set of personal values, self-awareness, and clarity on this. At the very beginning, you said, “How do we make this the least worst outcome?”
Something that would be important for me in this situation is to try and think about what my values are and try and be clear on who I want to be as a leader and manager throughout this. What are the stories I’d want people to say? How would I want to look back on the way that I behaved throughout this period? I would try and be clear on that as much as I could in advance. It’s hard to think and navigate that decision-making process and your values in that moment. Even so, it’s worth trying to think about how would you want to tell the story of yourself in six months’ time. Who would you want to have been? How would you want to have behaved? What would be good?
I know that certainly, a younger version of me would’ve been tempted with gossip, and isn’t in the organizational dreadful and alignment to all those unhelpful thinkings. That’s not who I’d want to be. I’d want to see myself as somebody who tried to think about what the end state was quickly, navigated some of that change myself, stayed compassionate, and acknowledged that change often needs to happen. There’s not too much benefit in shouting and railing about this.
I’d like to try and move through that quickly and be kind, compassionate, considerate, and inclusive. I’d want to paint that picture of myself in advance and use that as a way to try and guide me through those difficult moments as these change conversations happen. That’s who I’d like to be. That reflective activity is helpful.
As a real side conversation before I come back to you, I want to say some of the things that I’ve done, I’ve seen or perceived people, which sounds a bit bad, get off on this a little bit and be drawn to the power of being in a position of authority and all of this. I would not want to be the type of person who seems to get a buzz from telling people about these negative outcomes. That’s a reflection. When I see people who are indulging in their importance in all of this, that’s something I dislike. I wouldn’t want to be seen as that type of person. Do you have thoughts on those reflections?
There are two things in that. One is I mentioned having friends, peer groups, and stuff like that. You picked up on that and I agree with it. Even if you are the least hierarchical manager in the world, this is the time to understand that everyone deserves the same information unless they are in a position where they require something different. Unless you’ve got managers in your team who are managing, in which case they all require the same information, everyone should be getting the same information.
I’ve seen somewhere someone has been close to their number 2 but then, number 2 has been at the same level as 3 other managers. That number two has known stuff because they’ve been using it as a way of sharing. No one’s meant any harm but the reality is it becomes patently obvious when those people are together. They know different amounts of information. That’s incredibly unfair. Find your peer groups outside of the group that you’re managing. This would be my first piece of advice. If you are managing people who are also managing people through it, create space for them to share with you so they can process their emotions.
The second thing that I wanted to mention was, and it is related to your last point about how you’ve known people who are into drama, I was that person the very first time it happened. I was in my first job. I’d had three promotions. I knew my value to the organization unbelievably well. I knew it was a struggling organization and I knew I had value to them. To me, change was exciting. You say, “I didn’t know as much about people.” I knew nothing at that stage about people. All I knew was that I had discovered for the first time that some people didn’t like change, which had blown my tiny little mind that was always excited about change.
Everyone was stressed. It was the first time. I remember a friend of mine who I also worked with, pulling me aside and saying, “You have to understand that people do not feel the same as you and they may want to talk about it with others, not you. They may want to not talk about it. They may see you as a threat. They are entitled to feel all of those things. You may not be the best person to help them through it if you cannot relate to them what it must feel like to not like change.” It was a seminal moment. I’m still grateful to that person for pointing that out to me.
Restructuring: You have to understand that people do not feel the same as you. You must understand they may want to talk about it but with others.
They were similar. They love change but they were like, “We get it but you’re not the right person. You need to dial it back. We know you think you are being helpful but you’re not.” For me, I realized it could be perceived the way that I was into it. I was excited. It hadn’t occurred to me. All of the people around me I thought were brilliant. I was like, “It’s our chance to create a new department.”
It made me realize how it was perceived but it also taught me an even more important lesson, which is that we all process differently. I’ve had this conversation quite often with CEOs of small orgs where I’ve said, “You’ve lived with this for six months now because it’s been in the back of your head that it might come. There was a board meeting. You have dealt with and processed so much. We don’t even have the same amount of time for these people to process. They’re not CEOs. They’re not designed for this stuff necessarily and they certainly don’t have the experience to manage it.”
They were compassionate to start with. Most people I’ve worked with have been brilliant people but somewhere along the way, they get a bit impatient. I’m like, “You don’t get this. Do you remember six months ago when you were stressing on the phone to me about it?” That’s where they are except probably even before that. You need to accept it, sit on it, and stop being impatient about it.
Restructuring: You just need to accept an incident and stop being impatient about it.
It’s that moment that if someone doesn’t do that with senior people, that’s when you end up with the comments like you’re either on the bus or you’re not, which is unhelpful through a change process. I’ve seen it a couple of times where people have said, “We’ve given you time. Now, you need to accept it is coming. Either you’re on the bus or we leave you behind.”
It annoys the good people who are on board with change but have basic compassion because they’re like, “I was on the bus with you but I’m thinking about getting off because you’re being an ass.” That ability to recognize everyone processes differently and then be able to give them or help them make sure they’ve got the space to do that is important.
Something that’s in my mind with this is how we navigate those conversations with people. One of the challenges that’s hard for individuals having these conversations with their team members is how you acknowledge, validate, and support the emotions, feelings, and difficulty of navigating change that your direct reports are sharing with you.
When you’re having these conversations, it can feel unfair. How do you make that feel like something that you’re listened to? Quite often, at the same time in those conversations, you get people saying things like, “This is unfair. The organization’s doing the wrong thing. Don’t they know that this VAT is a bad thing?” It’s hard to be both accepting and validating of their emotions but not slipping into agreeing with their statements about this change being wrong and bad.”
As a manager, part of our role is to hold onto the fact that, “This is what’s happening. There are reasons for this. Decisions are made.” We do not let that alignment with the message disappear while, at the same time, validating the emotions. We don’t want to be a dissenter with our people. We don’t want to say, “The organization’s stupid for doing this. It’s all dreadful.” We don’t want to go down that route but we do want to validate their thoughts, feelings, and emotions about this.
It’s a bit difficult to manage that nuance at times. It can be tempting to say, “I don’t agree. I don’t know what they’re doing but we better go ahead.” That’s not a helpful ultimate thing to do. That’s often not the adult way to treat people. Walking that line of acknowledging emotions and feelings but sticking to facts is a hard thing to do. Being intentional about that in advance can help but there’s a little bit of nuance in that. Have you experienced that? Have you seen that tension in place?
I have. It’s a difficult time the first time you go through it. It changes every time you go through it. Your knowledge and your awareness, and I know this is going to sound obvious, are so contextual to your wanting to be with the organization. How much do you care? How much do you want to keep your team? How much do you see that they want to keep you? There is a real point I’ve seen people go through restructures.
I went through one where I was like, “I know I’m no longer the priority in this organization.” If I was going to group people, I’d be in group three. I’m good but I’m not part of this core need. Somehow, I was much more comfortable with it because I was like, “I’m not worried about me and my team. I’m going to help these people get the best job they want.” That’s a very different experience.
The tension of what’s right for the organization is also hard. There are so many tensions going on all the time. It’s why I bang on at the beginning about consistency, reliability, and certainty. There are always these people who go through it and they’re like, “What will be will be.” They like Zen. There are also other people who jump straight away. They’re like, “I’m off to find somewhere because I can’t be doing with going through all of this. I’m going to go and find a job where I don’t have to deal with it.”
I feel like everything changes so quickly and fast that it’s easy to be inconsistent. It’s not anyone’s fault but it’s hard to offer some certainty. I feel that there are loads of these tensions. There are all these different ways in which you’re being pulled, pushed, and thinking about, doing the day job, and all of those things. I don’t know.
What I’m saying is that management of all those tensions and emotions, I reckon to dial it up to 20% of your job for the 6 six months. I almost feel like it should come with therapy. There should be a golden rule where if you are managing people through this, it’s like, “Here’s your supervision period where someone’s going to check in and make sure you are doing okay.”
Manage all the tensions and emotions. Just dial it up to 20% of your job for the next six months. It should come with therapy.
For me, much of that goes straight back to that values piece. It’s a bit of a broken record but who do you want to be? I’m like, “Here’s the manager you want to in six months to look back and say, ‘This is who I was.’” Spend some time and make a couple of bullet points of who that person is. Pre-empt some of those dilemmas you might face and look at them through the lens of those values or who you want to be. It doesn’t fix all the problems and it’s hard to change the way we think about things but pinning down some of those core things will help with that.
I was going to tell one little side story, I don’t know why this popped into my mind but then, I had a couple of thoughts to share. We talked about the importance of NDAs, keeping stuff compliant, and all that stuff. One of the first of these programs I was on was a finance stream program looking at various things. We were looking at how to restructure finance function, great teams, and stuff like that.
I also was responsible for tracking program benefits, which included things like cost savings including salaries. I had a schedule from HR of expected cost savings. There was my name. I was down there as cost-saving as a redundancy. I was like, “That’s nice.” What a way to find out that I’m on an exit list. I ended up not leaving all around. There we go. That is an example of a little gaff that happened.
The gaffs are extraordinary and constant. Someone’s making a slip of saying someone’s name instead of the job title. I’ve seen someone talk about the job title wrongly. They got the word wrong at the end and said management instead of executive even though we’ve all talked about it and agreed on what level it is. Suddenly, there’s a change in the room. Everyone’s like, “Is that person going to be senior?” The problem is they backtrack and everyone is like, “You’re backtracking because you’ve seen the reaction.” You’re like, “No.”
We’ve talked about 42 different versions. Everyone forgot the version we’re talking about. You have to be kind to yourself about this stuff. You can’t be accountable. You can tell people, “That’s not what we meant. It was an error. Sorry. We understand. We accept. We’re dealing with a huge amount of information here.” If people choose not to believe you, that’s fine. There’s not an awful lot you can do about it.
I’ve got a couple of final thoughts before we wrap up. It is boring knowledge transfer processes post-announcement. We’re not talking about that here but how do you move your team to where it needs to be? If you bring in new deliverables into your team, bring in new people, or bring on new responsibilities, as you’re moving tasks within an organization, there needs to be a structured process, particularly in the type of work that might be procedural and need to be done regularly to make sure that you move things between teams well.
Having that structured process is important. If you’re a manager absorbing new work or handing new work over, you’re probably going to be involved in managing a knowledge transfer process for a period of months or however long it happens to be. That will be a big part of the job. Be aware that’s coming and recognize that’s a key part of what role is.
You mentioned how sometimes people say, “I’m out of here,” when something like this is announced. That’s cool. Some of the people who I thought were clear were strong performers who were like, “This is coming. I’m confident I can get another job pretty soon so I’m going to do it. Why take a job from someone else? Why not move on? It is the time. Let’s do it.”
There was something reassuring about somebody thinking, “I’m out of here,” with no resentment. They are like, “I’m good. I’m going to do it. Let’s go. Somebody else can have one of those roles. I don’t need to fight for this. I’ve got something else I want to do something anyway so let’s go.” I’ve enjoyed seeing that. There are challenges with that around whether or not people are going to get redundancy payments or whatever it is. There’s something nice in that.
The last point from me, depending on what level you are in the organization, it’s worth knowing that the way you implement and lead changes like this can have a big impact on the future of the organization, your culture, the stories created, the ways of working, the mythology of your organization, and all of that. There’s a huge amount of opportunity associated with all of this. It is trying to look for those opportunities at the early stage of this and trying to think about what you want those stories to be and what type of organization you want to be. How you lead something like this in line with your values is important.
The last thing I’d say is whatever you end up doing and however you’re doing this, it’s good to try and not burn bridges along the way. The fewer bridges you burn, the easier it is for good people to cycle back into your organization in the future if that turns out to be the right thing for them. The more kindly they will speak about you, the better your reputation will be. Whatever happens, look for opportunities and try not to burn bridges. Those are my final thoughts. Have you got any other final thoughts on some of that?
All of those are good advice. To build one of the things you were saying about some people leaving and knowledge transfer, never forget that if you are planning on staying, the period afterward, the team will not be the same. You have to rebuild the team and go through the process of rebuilding trust. You have to be reforming. There will be weird splashes or ripples that go on for quite a while.
Never forget that if you plan on staying the period afterward, the team will not be the same. You have to rebuild the team. You have to go through the process of rebuilding trust.
I’ve had people a year later turn around and go, “You never fought for that person, did you,” after something unrelated that they don’t know about. They didn’t know that person came to me and said, “I don’t want to stay. I’m ready to go. I’m focused on thinking about where I’m going so please don’t worry about me in this process.” It is what will be will be but I’m also open and looking. They had got a job before the end of it.
People don’t know that and don’t need to know that. They will have feelings that they have not shared about your behavior that might come out and that may unknowingly change the dynamic of your team. Particularly, when organizations restructure and then new people come into that team, about three months later, there’s a hidden resentment of, “Why did someone have to go through all that emotional pain?”
The other thing is people never forget how organizations treat them in those situations. That’s the good and the poor. I can still tell you how every single one of my restructures, whether I was involved or not, made other people feel where they hurt people’s feelings, where they were disrespectful, and where they got right.
They all become part of your history. They do shape the stories of your past and who you are. There are great opportunities but also some risks. When well-navigated, it is going to have a good impact. That’s probably all we have to say on this topic. This is a great topic. We could talk about it a lot but let’s wrap this conversation up again.
This is part of our management dilemmas series. We’ve got more on our list and some more requests from other readers. If you have anything you’d like us to chat about, please send us an email at Hello@WorldOfWork.io. We will add you to our list of topics and cover it in the future. That’s it from us. It’s time to say goodbye. It’s goodbye from me.
It’s goodbye from me.