Reorganized, Delayered and Downsized – goodbye trust

by Paul Hobcraft

Reorganized, Delayered and Downsized – goodbye trustSo who has not faced one of those moments when it is announced that there is a reorganization about to take place, it happens in all organizations. It often has the habit of freezing what you are doing; you begin to put things on hold, waiting to understand what this latest reorganization has in store for you. The questions start building up in your mind, it starts to block you. Creativity begins to be lost. Reservations begin to grip the thinking. Previous certainty suddenly gets replaced by growing degrees of uncertainty, as rumors begin to feed rumors.

Reorganization ‘announcements’ simply stopped innovation in its tracks

Until they unfreeze it with the new organization or their thinking behind it, innovation simply slows down When the change happens, as long as it makes sense, if it is clear and logical then its effect might not have been as disruptional as it might have been initially feared, innovation can return quickly. If not and when it is badly described, planned for, executed then it becomes a different story. Also when reorganizations are allowed to extend debate, dreamed up to ease the pain that actually do the opposite. They prolong the uncertainties over what seems, intractable time periods, you can say goodbye to innovation for weeks, months, even years. You actually might even never ever get your ‘innovation mojo’ back again.

We suffer continuously from the effects of reorganizations, of new policies, of redefining a business that suddenly wakes up to a reality most within the organization spotted ages ago. It gets even tougher when it has a delayering or downsizing effect. Then innovation simply goes into the deep freezer.

Changes when they come ‘out of the blue’ or allowed to be talked about in whispered conversations for months, totally weaken the underlying structure of one of essential tenets of innovation, that of trust.

Trust can be quickly destroyed if we don’t take care

In order for innovation to flourish in any organization, a culture of trust and openness must be established. There’s a direct and strong relationship between organization trust and innovation. Trust is extraordinarily fragile, so is innovation for much of its life before it is born, ‘seen’ and valued in the world.

Trust may seem like a very vague and intangible notion, but it has such value in today’s world. When we trust, it is decidedly real and concrete when it is present, it often moves the needle from one position to another one, infinitely more preferred and wanted to be central in our needs.

Innovation has some similarities to trust,  it starts in a very uncertain fashion, the more it is worked upon, seen and valued, the more it grows and gains, it grows a broader community identity it moves into those real and concrete-valued new concepts, service or business model. Something new can move the needle to something ‘new and preferred’.

Trust is so emotionally charged for all of us; it means different things to different people. New innovations can stir our emotions equally well. Trust and innovation both need consistency and being fair, each relies on the delivery of their promise.

When we break our existing social contracts both innovation and trust can equally suffer

Trust is based on a consistent experience of competence, integrity, honesty, transparency, commitment, and familiarity. Any change or challenge to this stops us often in our tracks. We become defensive; we tend to go into ourselves until ‘things’ become clearer.

Transparency and trust are at the heart of any innovation work that is worthwhile and transformational. Trust is a real driver of high performance. If we undermine it, we equally lose momentum, and we lose our ability to allow creativity and innovation to flourish.

Innovation activity becomes stifled until trust comes back into the equation by not just only being part of our social contract but in how and why we personally work, as well as in our trust in each other. It gives us a mutual reinforcing, a bonding that is stronger than often just the separate parts. Trust is such the foundational bedrock for us all. If we lose this trust component, we lose ourselves and what we stand for, doubt steps in and can take over.

Getting going again after any reorganization has happened does take time. How should we go about it?

It is important if we subscribe to the belief that trust is a real driver of high performance then we need to manage everything that is potentially endangering this trust in very focused, deliberate and explicit ways. When organizations make the decision to reorganize they must manage this in a business-like, integrated way, across the enterprise systematically, without fear or favour. If the same management rigor that is applied to managing for the bottom line, is managed to maintaining and advancing trust then innovation rebounds fast.

There is an awful lot of thinking through to take place within reorganizations. Often organizations get preoccupied on the announcement and not so much on the human side of its management. The thinking through of all the connections, networks and collaborations that trust does makes up within the day-to-day activities make up such a high level of the ‘deal’. Making reorganizing moves that undermine essential relationships stirs up emotions that can equally silently damage any recovery for much longer than anticipated initially. Getting trust back into its essential place is absolutely crucial and so many fail to focus on this vital point, until the issues associated with the lack of trust are staring them in the face. Often that is too late to stem the rush to the exits of people or the engaged minds and what’s left become faithful ‘reactors’ only. Trust has been crushed.

Keeping trust equals keeping innovation flowing

We know we weaken innovation when we make these structural delayering or downsizing decisions until we have fully bedded in the new organization. It needs time to be ‘judged,’ to see if it will deliver on its new promise, to make up part of a newly defined social contract.

If any change is not seen and recognized as being potentially positive in the long run, innovation is within the first group of activities that leaves. People simply make innovation work and those highly motivated by innovation, need a trusting environment or simply switch off or walk!

The focus needs to be on repairing and re-establishing

Firstly we need to repair all those vital internal and external points of contact within individual’s networks that were suddenly disrupted by the reorganization or the delayering effect. We need to re-establish individual and team trust so as to ‘fuel’ again collaboration that brings into the organization fresh innovation impetus.

We need to re-establish confidence within our networks and relationships fast. Innovation today is far too open and if you don’t understand what makes up the innovation value chain or more importantly “who” then some of the decisions to delayer, reorganize or suddenly asked to retire has a greater effect than you realised. You have a bigger hole than you thought and filling it becomes a significant consequence and sometimes organizations suffer a  major knock-on effect, not realizing this until far later.

We need to reach out and re-connect

We need to understand what we can really lose in ‘experience’, in all the network effects, with the changes that can take place from re-organizations. Suddenly that past and well established “connect and develop” needs to be “re-connect to redevelop” as trust needs to come back into the innovation equation. In today’s more open innovation world we need to be more thoughtful of what can happen if trust is altered, as relationships change and it is not given its critical place within the innovation equation and the organizations evaluations.

We can rapidly undermine trust when we do reorganize, delayer and downsize and the risks of weakening the underlying source of innovation become real. When organizations are pushing for more breakthrough or transformational innovation, any reorganization needs to be well thought through. Innovation can be seriously undermined in more ways than initially recognized.

You manage this thinking through badly and you lose that essential connection into trust and the innovation engine simply stalls. No amount of ‘fiddling’ after the event gets it going again effectively until trust has come back into the central part it does play, within any new organizational equation and especially for innovation.

Never underestimate the value of trust.

image credit: mediathirtyseven.com

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  1. Hi Paul – totally agree, at best you may get some “incremental innovation” and at worst…well I think you and Steve outlined the results.

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