Reorganising – Issue 33

The other day I had a drink with a friend and they asked me why I no longer wrote the Future’s Rambling articles. It was the first time in the several months since I stopped writing that anyone noticed, or at least said anything to me about it. Interestingly, this person was not a Geyer employee and the reality is there are more people who read Future’s Ramblings who don’t work here than do. As a result I figured I could get away with a little hiatus, after all who was going to say anything? As always happens when you think you are getting away with something, you aren’t, as luck would have it someone did notice, Cathy Jameson.
Before you draw the wrong conclusion and align me with Tinkerbell, whose little light goes out when you stop clapping; you should know my purpose for doing these is not for you to clap. I would write them whether you read them or not as they are preparing me for my next career as a romance novelist. In addition to that useful purpose, the other reason that I write them is for you all to gain new perspective on what drives organizations and in turn apply this knowledge to workplace design.
Like many of you I have been flat out and this too was a contributor. A lot has gone on these past few months, one kid doing his HSC and now at Uni and the other continuously playing baseball. On top of that there is a new Prime Minister as well as all of the changes at Geyer such as our new operating structure. When the company restructure was announced I was asked if I would continue to write the articles even though I was not the Leader of Futures. My response was absolutely, just because there is no Futures doesn’t mean that I would, or could stop rambling. People have been trying for years to get me to shut up or at the very least get to the point.
Of course saying you are going to change and actually making the transition from old to new are two different things. Transitions take time and there are both emotional and tactical hurdles to overcome, letting go can be quite challenging particularly when you’re not entirely sure what it is you are going to. Sometimes the hurdles seem so large it makes you wonder why you would have ever considered changing anything in the first place. Really did you every stop to think, why can’t we just stay the way we were? Well I will tell you why with a quote from David Packard the founder of Hewlett Packard “To remain static is to lose ground”.
Many companies undergo change far more profound than our little old restructure and for many restructures are an annual event. My friends at the Financial Review claim they restructure about every 18 months and the practice I used to work with did it three times in the six years I was with them. I just caught up with one of our old clients in New Zealand and they have replaced the entire senior executive. So we not alone, nor are we unique, in fact we should pat ourselves on the back for being smart enough to respond to economic pressures and shifts in business climate.
Change is an inevitable part of life, just look down at what was your flat belly and is now your beer gut if you don’t believe that’s true. However, just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it easy. Change brings new challenges and demands for everyone within a business, from the CEO to the person who answers the phone. When companies restructure, expand, merge or takeover another business they can be quite vulnerable; if mishandled these changes can often undermine the positive outcomes the business hopes to achieve. Often this is manifested in a higher degree of employee turnover, decreased cooperation and teamwork and increased level of stress, anxiety, absenteeism and illness.
In the article 18 Ways To Survive Your Company’s Reorganization, Takeover, Downsizing, or Other Major Change author Morton C Orman, M.D lists ways that we can make these kinds of changes less painful. While not all are applicable to our situation, I have listed those I believe are:
1. Be Prepared for Change – Morton talks about Global transformations and local and national economic forces that we must respond to survive in business today. These bring new competition and technology that can often put us off guard. For those of you new to the industry this will be meaningless, but today Geyer now competes with companies they never competed with in the past such as Colliers and CBRE not to mention the furniture manufacturers. Morton’s advice is to assume the “rug could get pulled from beneath you” at any time. Then, if this happens, you won’t be caught off guard. You’ll already be psychologically and emotionally ready.
2. Express sadness, loss and anxiety about the future – We are not meant to pretend it isn’t painful when something we care about changes, it is part of what makes us human. Unfortunately the business world frowns on dummy spits and too much time in the bathroom crying.
3. Watch out for unrealistic expectations – When a company decides to change it is generally done in hopes of specific outcomes, we are cautioned not to expect too much too soon. Give it all a bit of time to settle in before you decide it doesn’t work.
4. Acknowledge any increased pressures, demands, or workloads – This one is near and dear to my and other’s hearts. It is difficult to transition to the new way of being when you are flat out doing what you did before.
5. Protect your leisure time – When changes occur there is often more work to be done to assist the transition which can lead to overwork by people responsible for making the change happen. At times like these it is particularly important that you look after yourself.
6. Don’t ignore your family – Even though work may absorb your time and emotions, make sure there is a reserve for those you care about.
7. Don’t turn to alcohol, drugs, food or other chemical coping strategies – Forget the Friday night drinks and call the EAP if it all becomes too much.
8. Remain upbeat and positive – They offer no advice on how you achieve this when you have turned away from alcohol, drugs and food. Never the less, Morton says when organizations change the climate must remain positive even though individual members of the organization may be having negative or uncertain feelings.
9. Get creative – “rev up” your natural powers for creative intervention, give yourself the opportunity to think about things differently.
10. Celebrate your accomplishments – We talk about this so much but do we really do it, and are we celebrating the small steps we are taking toward making our reorganization a success?
11. Improve lines of communication – Morton says the more crazy or chaotic work is, the more you need to talk. Not talking exacerbates the crazy feelings we are all having. He advises you should have more meetings, not less.
12. Learn from the experience of others – When undergoing organizational change many companies and individuals try to cope on their own when they could benefit greatly from the experience of others. Don’t just sit and suffer in silence.
13. Never become complacent – The advice is that once you sort out the emotional, physical and financial impacts of a change you should stay limbered up for the next change on the horizon – because there is bound to be one.
For many companies the key to making a restructure work is to be very clear about your company’s focus – at Geyer that is to be the global innovator in physical environment consulting. Now that we have cleared that up we can get going and may even follow the advice of Carly Fiorina the X CEO of HP who said “Preserve the best, reinvent the rest”. Sadly, she didn’t have great success with that, but it is still a good quote!
If all else fails we can follow the advice of Keith Yamishita a change consultant who has helped companies like Hewlett Packard, Mercedes-Benz and the Public Broadcasting Service. He says if the change is too daunting or pace is too slow you should hold your company hostage. “Declare your vision in a public way. It’s human nature to procrastinate. And without any kind of enforcement, your strategies will remain exactly that — strategies with no action. Avoid the problem by committing to a timeline. The good news is that it’s also human nature to perform — especially when you have a big audience.”

Sources:

18 Ways to Survive Your Company’s Reorganisation, Takeover, Downsizing, or Other Major Change Copyright © 1995-2002 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP
by Morton C Orman M.D

Designing Where We Work
by Peter Lawrence

Finding the Future Around Us
by Shoshana Zuboff,
Fast Company Magazine Issue 91 February 2005

The Carly Chronicles – An Inside Look at Her Campaign to Reinvent HP
By George Anders
Fast Company Magazine Issue 67, January 2003

Keith Yamashita Wants to Reinvent Your Company
by Polly LaBarre
Fast Company Magazine Issue 64, October 2002

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