Restructuring Respectfully

11th March, 20224 min read

Even the word conjures up whispers of fear in an organisation. “Restructure” the veiled name for redundancy, job losses, dismissals, and contract terminations. But can an organisation handle the restructure process in a positive way? How can we get employees to embrace change within an organisation, even if it means there’ll be fewer roles at the end of the process?

Having sat on both sides of the fence in recent years – being on the receiving end of a restructure process and then the implementer I’ve seen first-hand the emotion from both sides. I know what it feels like to have the role you play in an organisation be ‘re-branded’ and ‘re-evaluated’; but I’ve also been the inflicter, the decision-maker, ultimately the one that’s had to break the news to the team.

What I’ve learnt from both sides of the process can be distilled into one word – patience.

Planning is essential

Prepare, follow, and most importantly, share a plan. Everyone needs to understand what is happening and be provided with clarity. It’s obvious, but it also provides a time-box – the process will end! And individuals can work towards a date when the new structure will be in place. It’s vital to plan ahead so that you aren’t delivering one restructure and then re-thinking it again – deliver it right, first time.

Awareness

Tell everyone WHY this is happening. Be truthful. Don’t sugar-coat the message. Be honest and open about the reasons for the change. Raise awareness of the positive possibilities the restructure can offer. The process can be a force for good – there will be positive opportunities. But remember, make sure there is a human focus – not a corporate one.

Thoughtful

Think about what really needs to happen and what the impact will be on individual roles – pre-empt concerns and worries. Have a set of answers in your back pocket ready to deliver. Think about how you can move towards a positive state, even if those around you are descending into negativity.

Individual

Recognise each individual and give them space – make them feel like they have ownership of the process. People will get defensive, allow them the opportunity for anger, annoyance, and frustration. Work with them to allow them space to communicate and find things to be positive about for today, tomorrow and the future. Understand their aims and their goals, these may sit within your organisation or outside of it.

Engagement

Get everyone engaged and open to the change. The restructure process doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. If you are an organisation that embraces change it can become part and parcel of the everyday. Find ways to prepare employees to be open to change – that way you can play to their strengths and not pigeon hole individuals into one role – and they’ll be much more likely to be engaged in any restructure process.

Needs

Recognise the differing needs of each individual and support them, where practicable. Provide some form of support network for the team. There will be those employees who are empathetic and emotionally intelligent, so encourage them to offer support. If you haven’t already, provide access to mental health resources. When there is uncertainty, and a period of change, individuals will react in many different ways. Have a support structure in place to help support the negative and anxious. This is the time to bring in your mentors and coaches – those individuals in your organisation who can offer support and advice and help the individual to look ahead and realise their potential.

Communication

Communicate with the whole team. Don’t just present to those affected. Ensure that the wider team and organisation are aware what is happening. The correct message will then be delivered, rather than emotional responses being shared. Remember to keep the dialogue going – don’t just communicate once. Hold regular meetings and keep everyone informed of what is happening. Ensure there is a channel upwards as well as downwards, so that those in the most senior positions and conversely the junior positions are well-informed.

End Game

When the process has ended, don’t just leave it there. Keep the communication channels flowing and keep supporting the individuals. Check in with the team and seek feedback. Get the team to focus on the positive outcomes. Allow time for reflection on the change at the end of the process. Learn lessons from the experience. Review and challenge yourself to think about what you could have done better.

So, for anyone out there delivering, or going through a restructure process right now, think about ‘patience’. Let’s be patient both with one another and with ourselves.