Creative Leadership

“Reorganizing” Doesn’t Always Fix Problems

I’m all about change, but over the years, I’ve had a few clients who were so insecure that they wouldn’t keep a policy or idea around long enough for it to succeed.  Right now, in this financial crisis the country is facing, a lot of organizations are fearful.  They’re worried that if they don’t do something, everything will crash.  But before you start blindly reorganizing, take a tip from Roman General Gaius Petronius from AD 66:

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. And a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress whilst producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

Sometimes, reorganization simply creates the illusion of progress.  If it’s necessary, then by all means move ahead.  But if you already have a good strategy in place, then stick to it long enough for it to work.

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5 Comments

  1. The ability to develop a long-term strategy and stick to it is rare not only in ministry, but also in business, even with large public companies.  The emphasis is often on quarterly earnings, short term results, and quick profits. True commitment to a long term strategy is rare, because that commitment is rarely rewarded to the same extent as rapid results.

    The planet is now experiencing some of the economic results of short-term thinking.  Do whatever it takes to hit that quarterly earnings-per-share numbers.  This quarter has to exceed last quarter.  We have to prop up real estate, farming, banks, car manufacturers… For our government that short-term perspective led to relaxing mortgage requirements for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the guise of affordable housing.  And talk about short term perspective – if the main goal of our elected officials is to get reelected, and if that reelection cycle is two, four, or six years… is it any wonder our government leads our culture with short-term opportunistic thinking?

    And perhaps we deal with an ongoing addiction to adrenaline as evidenced by our society’s fondness for caffeine and the proliferation of devices and applications that keep us thinking about reading and answering that next email, twittering ad nauseum, text messaging our thumbs into premature arthritis, and mouse clicking from site to site in search of that next random piece of knowledge that gives us a glancing sense of accomplishment but often is nothing more than an activity trap.

    So it is in the context of our instant culture that our organizations seem to be pressed into change for the sake of change, often driven as you mention by insecurity in leaders who realize that constant change can be an effective means of keeping control of an organization because at the end of the day, only the leader really knows the game plan.  Also, change can be driven by boredom – which brings into play personality types and conditions such as ADD.  The wise leader will form a leadership team that balances his or her personality and will practice a certain level of submission to the team and find “safety in the multitude of counselors”.

    The current economic malaise is being characterized by some as not a recession, but a reset.  In other words, there are fundamental changes at work that are correcting the excesses of loose credit, bad management characterized by short-sighted decisions, and ethical shortfalls created by leadership motivated by internal ambitions and external pressures.

    But back to your points about frequent reorganizations.  This is primarily a leadership issue.  Sticking with a strategy that isn’t working is madness.  But usually rapid-fire reorgs are due to a lack of any long-term strategic planning process which is precipitated  by a lack of commitment to strategic planning by the person or persons yielding the power in an organization.  I have never seen strategic planning work without the commitment by those in power.  Employees often can see the need, but attempts to influence an organization into a longer-term management perspective will usually be futile without the sponsorship and commitment of leadership.

    Reorganizations are often important as a means of adapting, but frequent reorganizations should usually be tweaks and not tectonic shifts, or the lack of stability created may ultimately be the undoing of the organization, be it ministry, business, or government.

  2. My thinking on this kind of response was radically impacted by the book "Leadership and the New Science" by Margaret Wheatley. In it she contrasts the mechanistic analysis of Newtonian physics with the relational and interaction led analysis of quantum physics when applied to organisations.

    So a mechanistic view would see the organisation failing and root out the component (employee, department, product) that's failing and seek to replace/remove it.

    By way of contrast a quantum view would see the whole organisation as organic and subject to the interaction and influences of each component (people, ideas, opportunities, threats). Recognising that it's the relationships that create the current reality, this analysis inspires a problem solving approach that takes in the whole organisation, not just the bit that's failing.

    I've blogged briefly about the book at

    http://timabbott.typepad.com/timabbott/2008/11/leadership-and-the-new-science.html

    As a PS, thanks so much for your blog – I'm often challenged and inspired.

    Tim Abbott 

  3. An employee at a large company was sitting through his umpteenth meeting regarding the umpteenth reorganization.

    At the end, the manager asked if there were any questions.

    Employee: Yes. Why are we reorging again?

    Manager: If you have a car with a flat tire, what would you do?

    Employee: Well, I guess if I were you, I'd rotate the tires and see if that took care of the problem. 

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