Management News travels at different speeds

Reorgs for the Average Joe

You’ve been here…

You get a random email from your boss that you need to meet with him urgently at some odd hour of the day. You sit staring at the email, wondering what could be up. No rumors of layoffs are in the air… the company is hitting it’s number this quarter. You don’t believe you’ve done anything to merit a “talking to” outside of your regularly scheduled one-on-one, so… what’s the deal?

The time comes for the meeting and you decide to not bring your laptop or your notebook. When you walk in your boss’s office, you look into his eyes and immediately know…

You’re about to be reorganized.

My boss was fairly good about it. He came right out and said that part of my group was moving. He explained the justification and asked me for my thoughts. We chatted a bit more and then he blew it, “I held off from telling you because things are changing so much and I didn’t want to jerk you around. Things have now settled down.”

Hah. Right.

Before we rip on the boss, I’ll explain what exactly a reorg is and offer some advice for the Average Joe on how to weather the chaos. First, a reorg is not a layoff. Layoffs can occur as part of a reorg, but they are a side effect, not a cause. Tips and tricks for dealing with a layoff is an entire other article. Reorgs are when teams and products are shifted around in order to account for some external change. What kind of change? Who knows. Maybe the market has shifted or maybe the economy is crap. The point is, someone, somewhere in the executive chain decided, “We need to make an adjustment in the organizational structure”.

Below are some useful rules to pay attention to during the reorganizational chaos as well as some tips and tricks for surviving them.

RULE #1: News travels at different speeds & people are paranoid

As mentioned above, reorgs start to serve a single purpose and then the political intrigue kicks in. From the moment an executive says “reorganization” until days after the reorg has actually occurred, the company rumor mill kicks into high gear. Who is going where and why? Are there layoffs? Why is it happening and when?

There are truthful answers to all of these questions and then there are rumors. Particular hot tidbits of can travel through the organization like wildfire even when a reorg is being kept on the down low because people are paranoid and want to know what is going on. These tidbits will confuse you not only because you won’t be able to discern the fact from the fiction, but also, the information will travel at different speeds depending on their journey through the organization.

Here’s the scenario. When your boss finally breaks down and tells you, “It’s settled. Your organization will not be touched. Don’t sweat it”, you’re going to be relieved. Problem is that it’s also likely that someone, somewhere discussed potential, unrealized changes in your organization and when that fact find it’s way to your desk several days later via tip from a close friend, you’ll be wondering, “What isn’t the boss telling me?” Guess what, now you’re paranoid.

This sea of fact and fiction swirling around at different speeds is the biggest problem with reorganizations. A bungled communication plan means, for the large company, days and days of lost productivity because Average Joes are suddenly not worrying about shipping product, they’re wondering if they should be looking for a job.

Average Joe Advice: Fact of the matter is, your boss is probably fairly well informed and he/she is speaking the truth as best he/she can. Every other piece of data that ends up on your plate should be suspect even if it’s from a credible friend. They might be trying to be helpful by telling you, but who knows where they got their data? (See Rule #2: “The Grapevine”)

RULE #2: “The Grapevine” or People hear news in terms of what they want or People are really, really paranoid

A major contributor to the rumor chaos around reorgs is the grapevine. Simply put, information that starts out as fact slowly becomes more and more rumor with each transition from one person to another. Let’s watch:

VP of Engineering to Her Staff: “They’re building a new hardware group under Ted. It’s not clear where they’ll be getting the headcount. One option would be to sacrifice headcount in other groups.” (What happen: VP stated the facts where she could, trying to give her staff a heads up)

Manager of Engineer to His Staff: “Ted has a new group. We’re liable to lose a headcount in our group.” (What happen: He starts with the facts and then follows up with a strong opinion, he’s losing a headcount. Why is he saying this? Maybe he’s been with the company for years and knows that when his boss hints at something, it’s going to happen.. who knows. The rumor mill is now officially in effect.)

Sr. Engineer to His Friend: “We’re losing headcount and it’s going to Ted’s new group. Gosh, I hate Ted.” (What happen: What was fact is now full fledged rumor ready for rapid consumption into the grapevine. YAY!)

This is simple example, but it illustrates basic human nature. We want to know what’s hell is going on and when we don’t, we’re likely to make stuff up which gives the impression we do.

Average Joe Advice: Once the rumors start flowing in your particular reorg, some pretty radical stuff is going to cross your desk. I guarantee you that while much of the tidbits are crap, there are likely gems of truth in each piece of information. I advise a journalistic policy here where you confirm tidbits of information with independent sources before you start pulling your hair out.

RULE #3: Reorgs are never going to feel like they’re over (and they’re not)

The time from when you hear about a reorg to when it’s actually executed is going to be four times as long as you think. Reorgs take forever. Plans are designed, confirmed with stakeholders, adjusted with feedback, run up the flagpole with the Big Boss, and then taken back to the drawing board. All the while this “official” process is going on, there are hallway shenanigans going on as individual political players are jockeying for headcount. All of this information is informally inserted to this process, forcing even more iteration.

Average Joe Advice: My advice here is pretty simple. Reorgs take a long time and create a lot of noise. You can either choose to become a fanboy of the reorg and pay attention to every little detail or you can do what you were hired to do, work. If you choose the fanboy route, I suggest a regimen of active listening and aggressive hallway conversation acquisition.

If you’d prefer to ignore the reorg, I recommending sitting backing in your chair and enjoying the scurrying about. Take comfort in the fact that you’re still employed and, hey, if the reorg affects you, maybe a change of scenery is going to do you some good. Don’t forget to ask for a window in your new office.

Incidentally, this is where my boss blew it. By telling me, “I didn’t want to jerk you around” and “it’s all settled”, I realized he was reasonably new to the whole reorg process. In the case of my company, the reorg had just begun a few days before and I knew, given the size of the company, we were due for, at least, two to three more weeks of organization churn. (Note: I started this article the day the boss delivered the news, it’s been two weeks since then and the buzz has not yet stopped).

RULE #3.1: Most folks actually love reorgs (but hate to admin it)

This is tightly related to Rule #4. Reorganizations represent opportunity to those who are unhappy with the state of the current organization. As mentioned above, the moment organization stakeholders hear there is a reorg brewing, they start working the grapevine to steer the course of the reorg in their favor. When you combine this fact with people’s love of gossip, you’re guaranteed a big juicy, drawn-out reorganization.

While you, the Average Joe, may be annoyed by all the hallway conversations and closed door meetings, the fact is, most folks love this shit. Who is getting moved? Really? Wow. No way? He’s an idiot! That blows! Etc. etc. For some reason, conversations about reorgs sound a lot like conversations about infidelity.

The group responsible for generating the most noise around reorgs, ironically, is the group who has the least affect on their eventual outcome, the Average Joes. These are the people who are lingering in the dark while the management team wades through strategy, political agenda, and fiscal responsibility looking for a plan which gets the company out of wondering who works for who and starts worrying about building product again.

5 Responses

  1. Sounds like the old “Hose in an Anthill” effect.

  2. OK OK OK I KNOW two organizational management articles IN A ROW.

    PRETTY DAMNED DEPRESSING.

    I swear I’ve got something a bit less corporate for the next article.

  3. Stonewall Jackson 14 years ago

    What sort of tie should I be wearing to meet clients in the new economy/dot com bust??? PLEASE LET ME IN ON YOUR SECRETS!

  4. Konrad 14 years ago

    Actually, I kind of like the business articles. It’s a hell of a lot better than the “What kind of shoes to wear to show your boss you’re a real mover and shaker” type of crap you’ll find in magazines.

    So it’s not Vegas or tech stuff but the topic isn’t always that important. You can take a boring topic like management and say, Hey I noticed that people behave in a certain way when X happens.

    The nominal topic is management but what you’re really doing is making observations about how people communicate and behave in groups.

    I guess what I’m saying is if you’ve got something interesting to say don’t shy away from writing about it cause you think it’s a boring topic. It’s the stuff that’s incidental to the topic that’s actually worth reading.

  5. Uhhh, where is “Rule #4”?