Senior Managers: When a company reorganizes and makes cuts, what can you do to keep your team afloat?


By Rebecca Bennett

Budget cuts and “Re-Orgs.” It happens at all companies. No one is immune. So the best thing to do is to prepare not for the “if,” but “when.” When your department gets cut in half, here are some tips on how to stay afloat and reach to new heights.

15 Next Steps To Prepare for Post-Reorg

1) Win over your team. Find out why the reorg is happening, what the goal is, and how it will change the jobs of the people involved. Share this with your team. Try to get them on-board with the new direction. A lot resentment, bad feelings and uncertainty can persist even after the cuts are made. These feelings and thoughts get in the way of productivity and you won’t have you’re teams 100% effort working behind you.

2) Obtain information from all departing colleagues.

Sit with your departing colleagues and obtain information on their work tasks and responsibilities.  Walk through their day and document “How To” manuals on what they do and all the nuances. Document the process workflow, from deliverables, to actions and communications.

Have at least 2 team members review the process and collect the information from them that way you get thorough coverage and you immediately have a new process owner and backup owner in place.

3) Use Six Sigma Tools to ‘Efficientize’ Processes.

Six Sigma is a highly effective process improvement methodology. It employs around 100 tools that you can use immediately to make quick and long-term improvements. Examples of tools and their impact are Spaghetti and Value Stream Maps which can assist in reducing workflow inefficiencies, Kano Analysis in defining true customer requirements, Control Charts to see if a process is within reasonable operating limits, Root Cause Analysis such as The 5 Whys and Cause and Effect Diagrams as well as Benchmarking to define target performance levels to name a few. They will help make your workload more manageable and scalable for the future as well as make you seem like a genius because of the quick results you can obtain.

4) Simplify.

Take a look at your process workflow diagram and pinpoint any non-value add tasks, asking “Is this really necessary?” These are tasks that the customer would not pay for and do not physically change the shape or character of a product or assembly. Non-value add processes are considered waste. The first step is to eliminate as many of these as you can. The second step is to reduce the amount of time, effort, and resources spent on these. This applies to communication processes too. Eliminate middle-men and reduce turn-around time.

5) Prioritize.

In most cases you will get a blanket statement on the new direction of the company instead of a long speech with all your next steps laid out in order for you. For example, “Cut costs by 20%.” This could mean a lot of things, but it’s up to you to come up with the to do list and then put it in order by cost. With so many changes needing to be made you can’t spread yourself thin by executing them all at once. Start with the top most impactful ones and fully execute before moving on to smaller fish. Not all changes come in the same size package; some are bigger and more complex, which will take more time. We recommend pulling out the quick wins from the list and putting them into their own ordered list. Intersperse them among your bigger projects in order to keep up morale, motivation, and your team’s leaderboard.

6) Automate.

Automate any manual processes, especially tedious ones like data entry, that are susceptible to human error and present a risk to your operation. Create a process workflow diagram to define all the manual, most time consuming, and error prone processes. From there gather your team together to brainstorm solutions on how to automate each one. Be sure to include an engineer and IT representative in these sessions.

7) Rebalance Load.

Host an all-hands meeting to re-distribute the responsibilities and expectations. Letting your team volunteer for responsibilities puts them in the hands of those who want to do it, where you will see a far better performance than assigning them to somebody who doesn’t want it, even if they may be better at it. Any responsibilities left over you should attempt to evenly distribute among the team or outsource. Using the agile practice of having team members allocate a certain # of hours to each task up to 40 will ensure that no one get’s overloaded or under-utilized.

8) Outsource.

When people leave the company, the workload left unassigned can often times be too much for your little team to handle. A big mistake a lot of managers make is that they try to make it work internally no matter the personal cost of their team members. This is not a strategic approach and can end up working against your initiatives. Focus on the core business functions and what your team does best. Then outsource non-core functions. You can do this 3 ways: 1) Transition functions that don’t really fit under your umbrella that would be better off ran by a another department or group. You will have to make a case to them to show them what they gain from doing so, another challenge to be prepared for. 2) By hiring a company that excels in those particular functions or 3) Use part-time or temporary workers. Note that this must be initiated before your fellow colleagues depart so that way the newbies stepping in can get proper training and have a transition period to work out the kinks.

9) A Good Team Never Misses Practice.

Give your team some practice room. Imagine you asked the Lakers basketball team to play soccer for the Galaxy. That’s just like how it is when you ask an employee to learn a new position, new rules and entirely new game, you need to give them time to develop and master those skills and duties. Nurture an environment for learning. Sometimes when you implement an environment where mistakes are harshly criticized it ends up doing more harm than good. For one it becomes part of the culture, and secondly you will stress your employees out more than is necessary and they’ll end up making more mistakes or covering them up, which could have even bigger costs later on.

10) Acknowledge and Reward.

When someone completes a complex task or out performs, the most effective and proven way to ensure their continued performance is to validate it. It doesn’t have to be a monetary award as there are many factors that motivate, such as opportunities to self-direct, challenges for them to master, and public recognition. If you don’t acknowledge or reward, your team will quickly lose momentum, interest, and dedication.

11) New Career Development Opportunities.

If your company is offering new career development classes, take them! Run towards them. There is a reason they offered these at this particular point in time. They are working to changing the behavior of the company and looking to bring new skill in. You are not new, but this is your opportunity to show the company that you are interested and on-board with this new direction. It will also give you a better understanding of the new direction and easier to apply your skills and efforts.

12) Let the Employees Lay the Bricks.

Many companies and team leaders make the mistake of coming up with great ideas in a vacuum from 10,000ft high that, in theory, sound like winners. Then they go out to execute them and fail. The best method of coming up with and implementing ideas is to involve the real people who will be involved and run a pilot test. Add each layer of the idea one by one and see the effects, assess, and then modify. Take for example, building a new university campus, “You can either put all the paths down in advance, or you can have people walk and show you where the paths should be, and then lay the concrete.”

13) Retain Horizontal Collaborations.

When the composition of a team changes, the knowledge of how to work together gets lost. When you have a team that depends on the capacity of people to work together in horizontal ways, such as at a company that relies heavily on research and product development, this can be detrimental to progress. It takes time for a team to learn how to together and rebuild those relationships. Try not to disrupt those in the transition. Provide your team opportunities to develop those newer relationships outside of work, that’s where they can solidify the fastest.

Identify relationships that are beneficial to your work and make sure that you have a main POC and a backup POC internally, within your team, and externally, within the third

party company, in case the main one ever leaves that way you don’t have to build a relationship from scratch.

14) Prioritize People and Culture Issues.

Take heed from Donna Goss, co-director of the Leadership Development Institute in PA, had been through 10 major reorgs in a span of 29 years when she was a senior consultant at Bethlehem Steel. She said “The piece that always seemed to get put on the back burner” during the reorganizations, “was the people part, the culture… The products and processes get all the attention and energy. I once told a company president that every single time he ran into a problem in his unit I could trace it back” to a people issue … That’s where reorganizations tend to fall apart.”

15) Change Behavior.

When a company changes its structure, it’s not about the ‘who reports to whom’ now, that’s important. Focus on trying to get people to behave differently and changing processes, culture, incentives and re-aligning values. Those are the reasons why a company re-structures; the hierarchy is just a by-product.

Beware. Reorgs don’t come in one big sweep, although there may be one to point to. There are many little targeted changes happening after the big one. Once you make a commitment towards the new direction, don’t lapse back in your old ways. Stay on your toes and refer back to these tips when you need help resettling after the storm.


Leadership: Another Reorganization? What to Expect, What to Avoid. 2003.

Heil, Karl. Downsizing and Rightsizing. Reference for Business.

One thought on “Senior Managers: When a company reorganizes and makes cuts, what can you do to keep your team afloat?

  1. Pingback: Change, then Sustain! | LAUNCH!

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