Preparing for the inevitability of organisational restructures

Organisational Change
Paul Slezak

A few weeks ago, I was watching the morning news. At one point the news anchor crossed to a reporter covering the devastating floods in Queensland and the reporter was speaking to a man whose property had somehow not been as damaged as many others in the same area.

“You must be counting your blessings”, the reporter said to the man whose three kids were also standing around him clearly very excited to be appearing on national television.

The man paused.

“When did Noah build the ark?”, he asked.

I wasn’t sure if he was questioning the reporter directly or the viewers at home, but before she could get a word in, all three kids responded, “before the rain” in unison.  

The question was clearly one they had heard their father ask (and probably even answer) many times before.

He then talked about the importance of being prepared for floods, fire, or any type of threat to the status quo. I got the feeling he had probably been a boy scout in his youth.  

“Noah was definitely on to something”, the Queenslander said before the reporter threw back to the studio.  

“So was that guy”, I thought to myself as I switched off the TV to get on with my morning.

Being prepared for an organisational restructure is just as critical as preparing to secure a property from an impending flood.  

While many professionals might not link the two scenarios, the consequences of a poorly managed restructure can be far-reaching, impacting employee morale, organisational culture, the employer brand, and overall business performance. This is precisely why preparation is not just a precautionary measure, but a proactive strategy to mitigate risks, optimise operations, and ensure a seamless post-restructure transition.  

Preparing for an inevitable organisational restructure involves a combination of strategic planning, effective communication, and proactive management especially when it comes to layoffs and redundancies, perhaps the most sensitive and challenging aspect of any restructure or transformation. Employing best practices can certainly help organisations handle the process with empathy, fairness, and efficiency.  

Clear objectives must be defined to guide a restructure particularly when its core goal is enhancing efficiency or cutting costs as this is when people’s positions (and livelihoods) are most likely at stake.

Communication is paramount throughout this process. Transparent communication builds trust among employees, addressing concerns and providing clarity on the reasons behind the restructure. At the same time, leadership engagement is equally crucial. Involving key decision makers ensures a unified approach and instils confidence among employees in the company’s ability to navigate change.

One of the goals of your off-boarding game plan should be to be to ensure as much ‘humanisation’ as possible at every step of the way.

Whenever possible, avoid it being clinical. Agree on a carefully thought-out time frame, from when the consultations will start, through to how you will conduct separation conversations. Acknowledge the emotional impact of layoffs and ensure you provide emotional support to impacted employees. Remember, honest and open communication about the need for redundancies is crucial. Clearly convey the reasons behind the decision, the criteria for selection, and the anticipated impact on the organisation.

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Learning about potential upcoming changes, and the possibility of being let go will create anxiety (not to mention more questions). Whenever possible, provide as much notice to affected employees. This will enable them to prepare emotionally and practically for the transition and will facilitate a smoother exit process.

As part of your preparation and planning, ensure you have enough support from the leadership team or HR made available in the lead-up to, during, and immediately following the critical conversations.  

If necessary, have key points or even scripts for key stakeholders to refer to or follow, since for many, a restructure will be completely uncharted territory.

Your goal is to reduce employee anxiety and provide as many answers as possible around what’s going to happen next.

As part of your preparation for the restructure, you might also want to carve out time to ensure your leaders are comfortable with what lies ahead for them in the process. If they haven’t had to let anyone go before, you should provide them with training on how to have an effective separation conversation whether it will be taking place face-to-face or remotely. Equip them with the skills to answer questions, provide support, and above all maintain a positive work environment during potentially challenging times.

If you are planning to offer your impacted employees an outplacement or career transition program (and this is highly recommended), then you should investigate whether your provider of choice also has online tools and resources that can be made accessible to any remote employees as well as the ability to co-ordinate remote or hybrid career coaching programs.

If you know that a restructure is on the cards, whilst you might have a redundancy strategy in place, you may also want to consider the benefits of a redeployment strategy.

Redeployment is a perfect opportunity to give an employee a fresh start while staying within the business, allowing them to potentially embark on a completely new career path while continuing to live and breathe the same company values that resonated with them when they initially joined the business.

However, a redeployment strategy is not simply a matter of sharing a list of possible internal roles with an individual who might be retrenched as part of a restructure. Providing them with coaching and support to focus on their transferable skills and potentially ‘fill in some skills gaps’ or help them step up into the new role is essential. After all, you wouldn’t want to offer an impacted employee an internal move but for them to feel like they were being thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Keep your employer brand top of mind as much as possible when preparing for a restructure.

How you maintain your position as an employer of choice is critical particularly during times of uncertainty. Figuring out how to build a positive employee experience during a transformation (for both impacted employees and those remaining in the business) is more than just a nice-to-have. It’s essential. In an ideal world you want all your employees to feel cared for, supported, and safe.  

Remember, a poorly handled or insensitive approach to layoffs can damage your employer brand and reputation particularly given the number of terminated employees who post scathing reviews online on sites such as Glassdoor.

The inevitability of restructures and layoffs underscores the need for careful preparation and strategic planning.

Organisations that approach these challenges with empathy, transparency, and a focus on employee well-being are far better equipped to weather any storm, just as our Queensland friend had reinforced on the news when he (and his kids) reminded viewers that Noah had built the ark before the rain. The key lies in recognising that, while restructures may be inevitable, the way they are handled can shape the future success and resilience of the organisation.

Remember, at Jobaccelerator we help outplaced employees land their next role faster with our on-demand job search portal that serves personalised, high quality and curated content, coupled with guidance from expert career coaches.