Going Through a Reorg? Three Ways to Quell Employee Fears and Boost Morale

CoachHub · 14 February 2020 · 5 min read

If it feels like your company is continuously going through round after round of reorgs, that’s because it may well be. Organizations are shuffling their decks more often than ever before, and most businesses expect that to continue or even pick up pace in the next five years.

Traditionally an exercise in cost-cutting or efficiency, factors ranging from digitization, disruptive technologies, market forces, the political landscape, and even new legal changes are fuelling the increased pace of org chart shake-ups.

While they may be inevitable, reorganizations come with a considerable time, energy, and emotional cost, especially as just 12% of organizational restructurings meet their intended deadlines.

The main issue is that companies see reorgs as organizational problems to be solved when, in reality, they’re very individual, human processes. With that in mind, there are a few moves that companies can make to at least reduce, if not eliminate, some of the fear, ambiguity, and loss of morale that tends to accompany reorgs.

Heavy up on your comms

According to McKinsey, the leaders of reorgs tend to fall into one of two traps when communicating the transformation with their employees:

  1. “Wait and see” strategy: Trying to keep the whole process a secret to protect employees, and only revealing details once they have all the answers. However, secrets leak, rumors spread, and employees panic.
  2. “Ivory-tower idealism”: The CEO holds a townhall or posts an intranet update telling all employees about the upcoming change and assumes the whole company will be just as excited as she is. Employees are cynical, the leader seems uncaring, and rumors spread regardless.

So, what is the right approach?

  1. The first step is having all senior leaders and reorg leaders recognize that, while they might have a plan and a vision for the future, the real transformation is just beginning. Executives need to be aware of that and be proactive in managing it.
  2. Enlarge your internal comms team and ways of working, or even create a comms team dedicated to keeping employees updated about the reorg.
  3. While townhalls may play a role in any communications plan, they’re not a one-and-done shortcut.
  4. Involve as many senior executives as often as possible in communications. In their comms, they should touch on the following subjects:

• An acknowledgment that personal change is the hardest part of any reorg.

• Highlight that there is a strategy behind all decisions, which may seem indiscriminate at ground level.

• Discuss the advantages of the reorg.

Focus equally on what won’t be changing – maybe company culture, mission statement, office locations – to give employees something to hold on to at this unsettled time.

  1. Communicate frequently and clearly, without room for inference, and you will avoid a lot of the gossip that damages morale.

Map the fears of all employee types

What happens to the individual during a reorg can be boiled down to elementary psychological constructs, such as fear, ambiguity, and anxiety. The fear of change is extreme in almost all humans, and it’s very much at play during a big company reorg. If a reorg is a human process, inner transformation at an individual level has to take place before an organizational change can be successful.

One way that a company can facilitate that is by identifying the primary reasons that employees may be experiencing fear and anxiety.

  • The spotlight tends to be on job losses, and this is a crucial issue to address, clearly, and honestly.
  • However, some employees may have extra emotional baggage tied to their employment. Maybe they’ve recently bought a house, they relocated for this role, or they care for a family member or loved one. The thought of losing their job could be devastating in these circumstances.
  • You’d expect that employees would welcome a move towards becoming a flatter organization without classical leadership, but what about those who’ve worked all their lives and only recently gained promotion to a position of leadership? This reorg represents a significant shift in their self-image.
  • The same applies to highly-driven and exact employees who have a set career plan in mind and could see a reorg as a catastrophic derailment.
  • If your company has been through several reorgs recently, employees who’ve previously rolled with the punches might find this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back – one stress too many.
  • Then there are the large numbers of employees who like their job, their manager, and their team and can’t imagine coming out the other side in a better position.

Identifying the main reasons why employees may feel fearful and anxious can help you plan your communications and start to put measures in place to manage the fear.

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Make it an active transition

Employees are often passive participants in a structural reorganization – it’s something that happens to them, which creates a feeling of powerlessness. While it may not be practical to have every employee in the boardroom helping to make strategic decisions, some steps can be taken to give employes a sense of agency in this disruptive moment.

Coaching, for example, can turn anxious, nervous, and fearful employees into a positive, focused, flexible, and proactive workforce. While digital coaching is powerful year-round for both managers and employees, it is particularly cathartic during moments of significant upheaval.

A good coach can help employees to figure out what they want, both long-term and also from the current reorg, and it gives them a chance to sort of reorg their own values and goals, as well as potentially an opportunity to start again if needed.

Support such as coaching is valuable for employees who may lose their jobs as a result of the reorg. Still, it can be just as useful in helping employees – especially those facing the fears outlined above – in adjusting to their new job, circumstances, or surroundings.

Organizational reorgs are messy, uncomfortable, and unsettling for all involved. By understanding that they are moments of human transformation as much, or more, than business transformation, companies can make sure restructuring happens quickly, smoothly, and, ultimately, helps the company and its employees all get to where they want to go.

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