Why Employees Should Play an Active Part in Organisation Redesigns

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A global e-mail goes around to the whole company, announcing that the senior management have drawn a new organisation chart and front-end staff are being cut. It doesn’t have to be this way, yet it’s a typical scenario across organisations. I’ve personally been on the end of such moves numerous times in my career as an organisation design consultant and I have never seen a positive version of it that doesn’t damage moral and the psychological contract of the survivors. Here is why employees should play an active part in organisation redesigns:


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Although these large-scale decisions ripple through an entire workforce, only a few key players from top management are involved in the planning process. The result is a compliance-driven strategy to implement the change among employees who are most affected yet have little influence.

Engagement in an organisation redesign takes more than an announcement calling for change. It requires the mobilisation of a workforce outside of just management and trust in employees to support what they help create. Here’s why your employees should play an active part in the organisation redesign process.

Why Compliance-Driven Change Doesn’t Work

A redesign mandated by management is probably the worst possible way to release increased efficiencies or introduce a transformative change. It’s also lazy on behalf of the managers leading the change. They can hide from the real issues and focus attention on managing redundancy, which will follow an HR script in order to safeguard the organisation from legal challenges later on. How many meetings? How much money is wasted in non-value-add activities?

But wasn’t the redesign necessary? Maybe.

Firstly, if your ‘redesign’ is a vehicle to achieve a reduction in staffing costs, then take a moment to take a step back and reevaluate. It is pointless, and ironically an inefficient activity in itself. If you need to downsize quickly, you are better off being honest with yourself as a manager and your employees and just do it.

Go to HR, issue whatever notices you need to, work out the numbers and how this affects your operations, put together your contingency plan and get on with it. Your employees will thank you for your pragmatism and for not subjecting them to a charade. In my experience as an organisation design consultant, managers using redesigns to downsize have left it far too late, using their existing model to turn the ship around quickly enough. They need to do something far more radical than playing the restructure game.

Recommended reading: How To Raise Employee Morale in 4 Quick Ways

Foundational Elements of a Redesign

So, what is a better way to steer your organisation in the right direction? Well, it’s a bit like asking for directions, I wouldn’t start here mate. If you’re operating within a successful strategic narrative, then you should be aware of a few key factors:

  • The dynamics of your operating environment
  • Where you are on the product/service lifecycle
  • How you are creating value for the customer
  • What that customer base is
  • Who your closest competitors are, as well as how they make money

In this age of disruption, you’ll have a finger on tangential competitors who could leap into your sector/market with a shift in strategy. The best way to achieve this is through monitoring of the marketplace and reaching short and longer term forecasts. If you’re not reading business literature such as the Financial Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, you’re behind your competitors. These publications give rigorous insight into the now.

In terms of the integrity of your operating model, you should be aware of your environment and be making adjustments as you go along. However, you should also do an annual review of the whole, using a systems-based organisation design model as part of your business planning efforts.

Steps to Successfully Engage Your Organisation

Ok, so that’s in an ideal world. But what about the times when you’ve been caught sleeping? Maybe something ‘big’ hits the industry that no one was anticipating. This happens, and you can still redesign without it being a faux engagement effort.

1. Manage Risk

Just downsize first and quickly as said before – follow the legal processes that you need to. Here you might need to employ risk management strategies to manage the disruption to the business. Just get on with it, don’t wait. The longer you leave it, the worse it is. It’s like credit card debt. It doesn’t go away because you put the bill in a drawer and can’t see it.

2.  Practice Transparency with Your Staff

The minute it is ‘safe’ to do so, communicate with the remaining staff about what comes next. Be as transparent as is possible, because you want their support. You need to be trusting. This is important, as they have stayed and are looking for direction and leadership. Your employees need to feel that they stayed for a reason.

3.  Include Those Who Possess the Necessary Information

Next, the true redesign work begins. Generally, you begin with what is the basic high-level value stream of activity that creates value for the customer. Here it is important to answer a critical question for yourself, who is best placed to give this information? It may not be your Directors/VPs and CEO. Those individuals should be involved without a doubt. However, you need to be sure that you are gathering data from those that have the most up-to-date view of how the work is done today. This might be located further down the organisation.

There is no reason, other than arguments about ‘status’ being the reason for people to be included in a room, that lower ranking employees shouldn’t be included. In fact, I argue they should be there, as they have the data you are looking for.

4. Increase Everyone’s Level of Involvement

As you build the new organisation, you then increase the level of involvement throughout. Why? Because the CEO knows very little about what the workers on the front-end does. And they shouldn’t. Even if they’ve moved up through the organisation from bottom to top, they do not know today what it takes to do the work. That data is at the front-end with those employees.

At this stage, you are building true engagement. Those front-end employees have the opportunity to shape their own world and create additional value to the customer, which feeds back up to the enterprise wide strategy. It is a crime against the organisation to invite people to flashy presentations about the future of the organisation, if they have not contributed to the design of that future.

5. Maintain Engagement Throughout the Redesign Process

Keep up this type of engagement from beginning to end. When you don’t know the answer, say, I don’t know and invite the organisation to contribute to the solution. Create space in all the design meetings for people to come and observe and voice an opinion, even if they haven’t got decision rights in that meeting. This includes situations whereby you are in collective bargaining type arrangements. As long as your legal/HR advice says it can happen, allow it.

Trust is the bedrock of all relationships, making decisions behind closed doors creates space for misunderstanding and mistrust. Sometimes this is needed to protect the organisation. But more often it isn’t, and when it happens it only serves to increase the egos of those in that meeting, building an unnecessary feeling of power and authority. Increased egos do nothing to support redesigns, they are a hindrance.

People Will Support What They Help Create

Clearly there are meetings and corporate data that is not appropriate to always share with everyone. This thought piece isn’t a call to make an organisation vulnerable by oversharing information. It is a call to senior leaders to be open and honest about what they are doing and why and, critically, to involve employees directly in the design of their working world.

Pragmatically, engagement is simply the quickest and easiest way to achieve ‘buy-in’. In fact, it is not ‘buy-in’, it’s ‘build-in’. You don’t need to sell something to someone who was an integral part of building it. You don’t need any faux engagement presentations. Your employees already know the new design. They were there with you designing it, making sure it was an improvement on the old.

Over to you now. What's your experience of engaging your employees during changes and organisation redesigns? Tell us in the comments below. 

 

 

 

 

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