Change comes attached to a quite a range of adjectives nowadays : inevitable, constant, accelerating, stimulating… ‘Big’ comes up a fair bit too. Despite Darwin’s efforts, discussions in the fifth floor and above favour revolution (although the chosen word is ‘transformation’) over evolution. But a recent blog posting by Neil Morrison, Group HR Director at Penguin and a man previously voted HR Director of the Year, suggested a different adjective where some kinds of structural change are concerned: mental. Recalling a previous employer’s approach, he commented:
“If you stayed in the organisation long enough, you got to see all the things that were undone, redone. It was a kind of cyclical musical chairs, but without the music, or a winner.”
Steady work for the composer and conductor, perhaps; but while they work towards their golden watch and handshake, the poor souls labouring away in the second violins must hack through a mountainside of pandemonium.
Neil identifies four main reasons for restructuring:
- A new leader wanting to make a mark (understandable, but restructuring is not the only available option; Neil’s verdict is that the outcomes are mostly either benign, pointless or both)
- Making something happen that currently isn’t (laudable, but it’s hearts and minds that need to be changed, not org charts or seating arrangements)
- Reducing costs (unless the organisation has overlooked serious overmanning for a protracted period, the real problem is more likely to be the business model than the headcount)
- Staff departures or organic change
Only in the case of this final bullet point does Neil see something that “makes any real sense” – but this is a situation that suggests evolution (and an evolution in response to the world around the organisation) rather than revolution. As the architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander has said:
“But in practice master plans fail – because they create totalitarian order, not organic order. They are too rigid; they cannot easily adapt to the natural and unpredictable changes that inevitably arise in the life of a community.”
When it comes to change, first understand your reasons. Upheaval for its own sake can be a destructive form of vanity, and the things it can destroy include trust and respect as well as performance and engagement.
Secondly, understand the type of change that is needed. If it’s individual or group behaviours that need revising, don’t waste money on changing the décor or revising the business cards: tackle the actual issues, even if doing so is a rather harder task.