The brain likes and needs consistency, security, certainty, fairness, autonomy and trusting relationships.

When these things are absent, not only do we fail to thrive, we become a little crazy in that we go into a threat state and lose reliable access to our pre-frontal cortex—our ‘smart’ brain—and are driven instead by our reptilian emotional brain.

So it’s little surprise that rumors of a department reorganization will stoke fear and grind productivity to a halt.

If you’re a leader thinking about reorganizing the deck chairs in your department, here’s some advice:

Make re-orgs a last resort

  • Take time to learn about an organization from the people in it and the clients it serves. It takes a courageous leader to NOT reorganize an inherited department. Re-orgs can act as an ego salve, giving us the impression of accomplishing something productive.

Involve others in designing the organization

  • Before you make up your mind, get out of your office, into the field, and talk with people at all levels below you. And by talk, I really mean listen. Feel free to share any nascent ideas you have, but be sure to ask questions like, “What have I missed?” “What downside do you see?” “How would you improve it?” or just “How could this idea bomb?” Then thank anyone honest and courageous enough to tell you.

Assure people early of their value and security

  • Even your most valued employees need to hear that they are safe and valued for their unique strengths.

Increase autonomy and buy-in by offering choice

  • Most of us have all been pawns in re-orgs that leave us feeling at the mercy of leadership’s whims– sort of like a child caught in a divorce with little say about the custody terms.  I recall one unusually effective re-org where my boss came to me and said, some announcements will be made this week but before we finalize, I want to know where you want to go. Then she presented three options with different leaders who all wanted me on their team. And she let me select the one that felt like the best fit. This was a brilliant way to show respect, give me some autonomy, and ensure I was in the role most likely to keep me engaged.

If you do decide a re-org is warranted, make sure you can honestly say these things about it to the people involved:

  • This will fix what you told me was broken and here’s how…
  • This should make your life easier and here’s why…
  • This should make you and our clients and partners happier and here’s how…
  • I heard what you told me and here’s how it changed my original thinking…

“Don’t even consider recommending a reorganization. Anyone who requires more than one reorg over the life of his or her career will forfeit a year’s income (including bonuses and stock options) and possibly serve jail time.”

~ Susan Scott Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today

Re-orgs are one of three of my least favorite dehumanizing corporate practices. To see the other two check out this post.

For more about how to create brain-safe organizations, read this.

Your turn!

Got a horrible re-org to share? Vent your pain (or suggestions) below.

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