In the February 11, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about navigating a reorganization.
My company will be undergoing changes after a reorganization and I will be settling in a new part of the company. I currently manage a team of five. The nature of my job should stay the same, but my boss, co-workers and direct reports will be all new people. I’ve been at this company for about a year and was just getting into a rhythm with my current boss and department. Now it feels like I have to start over and prove myself again in a new department — almost like a new job.
I’ve never been involved in a reorganization. I know from friends that sometimes a reorganization doesn’t turn out well, but I’m keeping a positive outlook. Do you have any advice or insight about these kinds of situations? Thanks!
When a company undergoes reorganization, whether due to a merger or due to any internal or external impetus, it can indeed be like starting a new job in a new company. There’s loads of opportunity and, of course, risks.
Every “reorg” is different, and the process and outcome really depend on the quality of management and on the company culture. You must decide whether what I’m going to suggest is prudent or risky and whether it fits your style. Then do what you think is best.
Take the initiative
I find that the best approach to corporate reshuffling, or reorganization, is to take the initiative to make your arrival easy for your boss and your team. You’re just as new to them as they are to you. Don’t wait for them to come to you. By taking the initiative, you will demonstrate your commitment to making it all work.
I’m not suggesting that you “take control” or try to position yourself as “the solution to the department’s problems.” Rather, show your new team and boss that you’re ready to get to work by making it easy for them to bring you into the fold. It actually helps to consider your insight that this is “almost like a new job,” and that’s why you might find this article helpful: Afraid to ask for feedback in job interviews?
I’d ask your new boss for a meeting to further introduce yourself and to “talk shop.”
How to Say It
“I’d like to get an idea of the problems and challenges the department faces, and to discuss how I can best contribute to your success.”
The point is to get your boss (or your peers or new reports) to talk about themselves and their work first, so that you can then direct your own comments and questions appropriately.
It’s like being on a first date. Encourage your date to talk. Learning about the other person is the foundation of any new, successful relationship — and it’s how to determine what you say and do next. Psychological research also suggests that when we ask others about themselves, they perceive us as more likable!
Here are some additional examples of talking shop.
How to Say It
- “Thanks for welcoming me to the team. Can you help me understand the team’s objectives, and what the day-to-day work is like?”
- “May I ask what led you to this job, and what you see as the key challenges and objectives?”
- “What do you think helps make this department more successful, and what might hold it back?
- “I’m not sure how much of this is already fleshed out, but it would help me to know what you’d like me to accomplish, or work on, during my first month, three months, six and 12. I like to think in terms of deliverables — because my job is to do what you need. The more concrete, the better, though I also realize the work can be fluid. And I’d be happy to roughly outline how I’d go about it. Then we can discuss and fine tune a plan that you’re happy with.”
Remember: Don’t appear presumptuous. It often helps to “ask permission” before you offer your ideas. Until you understand your new boss’s style, be deferential. Make it clear that, while you are self-motivated, you want to fit in, do your share, and focus on the department’s objectives.
Learn where you fit in the reorganization
If your boss asks you to talk about yourself, offer three things you accomplished last year that made a material difference to the business. Then ask what the boss would like to see from you in the coming year. This helps establish your credibility, and also focuses the discussion on the benefits you will deliver to the organization — not on your aspirations, which it’s fine to discuss later on. Your new team’s needs should come first. That will earn you the right to talk about what you’d like out of this deal — later on.
This is just one way to break the ice and start forming a sound relationship. It’s good to talk shop and get specific. It shows that you are hands-on and ready to contribute.
You can take similar steps with your co-workers and reports: Ask for a casual meeting where you can learn about what each member is working on and how it all combines to achieve the department’s and the company’s objectives. The more you can get your boss, your peers and your new reports to talk about their work, the more you’ll see how to best fit in.
I can’t promise that doing any of this will ensure you survive this experience, but I hope my suggestions help you see what some of the fundamental issues are in trying to succeed in any job anywhere.
For a more in-depth look at how reorganizations often work, check out this resource from the Wharton School.
As you’ve noted, a reorg can be like a new job. It might not work out!
I’m a cautious optimist, so I always like to consider a worst-case scenario when there’s a reorg, acquisition, or merger, because some of these “transitions” don’t always succeed. That means it’s smart to hedge your bet until you can form a sound judgment about the next few years of your career. This may surprise you, but it’s what I recommend to anyone when they start a new job.
Start (or continue) a quiet, low-level job search, just in case. You can end it if things go well at work, or accelerate if necessary. Keep a positive attitude about your new job, but hedge your bet and always have something cooking — don’t wait til the last minute. It will make you a more powerful decision-maker in the meantime for having something in your back pocket. Hopefully, you won’t need it!
In the meantime, find your new place. Take the initiative to get to know your new boss, your peers and your new reports — by helping them talk shop with you. I wish you the best.
Have you been through a reorg? What challenges did you face? Did you survive? How? What advice would you offer this reader?