It can only get better: How not to turn restructuring into a panic attack
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Once in a while companies are being restructured, processes made more efficient, organizations redefined, and departments merged or, in a worst-case scenario, made completely redundant. Whenever management announces changes, the disastrous sword of Damocles looms over each department along with question “Who will get hit and how?”
Even though most transformations are about preparing for new technologies, faster developments, cutting costs, becoming more efficient, and therefore being competitive in the future, they do not need to automatically cause panic attacks. But they always generate anxiety.
Uncertainties during restructuring can hardly be avoided. All fear for their hard-won privileges or even for their jobs. Many do not know how their work will change over the next few months – whether they will get a new boss or maybe even be relocated. Especially in IT, restructuring and far-reaching organizational changes are the order of the day. Whether you speak of digital transformation or a reorientation to new customers and new business models, if the company has been sold to a new investor or needs to react to a crisis situation – any announcement of change disturbs the daily work routine for some time.
As soon as it is clear that something will be changing, the rumor mill starts to turn. Everyone knows something, and everyone knows it better. But no one wants to give up his or her status. Especially among managers, you can often observe an interesting natural spectacle in such situations: In some ways, humans are like animals, so under stressful conditions, new knee-jerk behaviors suddenly appear. Humans are creatures of habit, and if they are disturbed in their habits, they must react. You go on red alert, you seal yourself off; you protect what you need to protect: your team, your responsibilities and your status. That is, until you soon realize that this does not help. Then you switch to competition mode. Anyone can be the enemy. Better to be on your guard instead of sticking together as a group. But even this strategy is not promising.
So, what is the right strategy when you know that much, if not everything, will change soon? Just keep doing things the way you have been doing them? What if everything that you have developed in recent months and coordinated with all the departments will no longer be relevant in the future? What path should you take: Hide and wait to see where you’ll reappear later? Or rather: Keep to the surface and stay visible, so you will not be overlooked? From the perspective of a supervisor, this always applies in any case: Remain open and realistic and above all, transparently communicate anything that can be communicated. As a manager, you are usually involved in change processes at an early stage. You have the job of being involved in new processes and naming suitable persons for new roles. But beware! Here you should neither try to overprotect your own people nor place them in any positions that are too ambitious for them. Job profiles, CVs and performance appraisals, as well as experiences from daily cooperation are the basic facts you need to consider in order to decide about headcount and responsibilities. Nevertheless, in many cases positions are always filled based on purely political decisions. People who have good contacts and have cultivated their network at the top over the years, who are visible and who have been successful will nevertheless often have an advantage in the end, even if they have clear shortcomings regarding the new position.
The goal should always be to talk openly with your employees about the decisions made and, above all, involve the employees as much as possible in the change process beforehand. Employees who understand why something is happening, what their goals will be in the process, and how exactly the restructuring should proceed, will feel more valuable and will thus be more likely to develop long-term loyalty to the company. Even if the employees are uncertain about the consequences of the changes, they will still have confidence that the solution is ultimately acceptable. But what should you do if your supervisor does not provide you with satisfactory and transparent information? If your questions are always put off and you feel that you are by no means being included in the process? If you hear that there is no news yet, even though you are already seeing some clear signals on the horizon and all your other colleagues from other departments are already in the know? This means: Stay calm, but do not let go! Confront your boss with the information you have already collected. Ask if these are rumors or if decisions have also already been made for your department. Make it clear that you do not feel sufficiently informed and ask when there will be official communication about the changes. There should already be an official implementation schedule, and at least this should be disclosed to employees at some point.
Ultimately, however, you should not panic or become unsettled by rumors, and stay in touch with your supervisors and colleagues. Continue to deliver convincing results, document all agreements for possible future supervisors and do not let yourself be carried away by cheap propaganda. Stay confident and communicate any worries and concerns to your supervisor. Do not automatically see the coming change as a threat, even if the current situation is discouraging you. Even if the developments in the coming weeks or months remain unclear, you should not be dissuaded from your plans. Keep an eye on your strengths, competencies and interests and seek regular dialog with the supervisor and other departments. Do not spread any rumors yourself and do not fall into a state of constant whining. That would just make things worse.
If at some point, it becomes apparent that jobs are being cut out in your department, you should already reach out and look for alternatives and even find out more about your legal rights. Also contact the works council, if there is one in your company. The works council should be aware of any decisions at an early stage and will have negotiated conditions to compensate for any social impact for the workforce as much as possible. If your supervisor then officially informs you about any job cuts, at least you are not caught completely unprepared, even if the situation is not easy for all those concerned. Ask for the opportunity to hire a coach or replacement consultant to help you find a new job.
But: Do not paint too gloomy of a picture. The demand for IT professionals in the labor market is still very high. Every change is always a new opportunity.