Redefining roles in the wake of an organisational restructure

Organisational Change
Paul Slezak

“Can you chat?”, the text said.

Stella was normally a lot less direct, so I immediately assumed something was wrong.

I was right.

We finally connected later that afternoon when she was able to step out of the office.

“I’ve known the ship’s been sinking for at least six months, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone”, she said. “Least of all to myself, but if I don’t make some big changes now, it will be all over”.

I asked her a few specific questions, but instead of answering them, she just continued letting out her anxiety.

“I know I’m going to have to let people go”, she said. “This has always been my biggest fear. That after all the effort we’ve put in, that it could all be over. Just like that”.

Was Stella reaching out to me as a friend of nearly 20 years? Was she reaching out to me as a leadership or business coach? Or was she reaching out because she knew that in a previous life, I had been in exactly the same situation and that I might have all the answers. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Regardless, of course I’d be there to help her through whatever lay ahead for her, for her team, and for her business.

We agreed to meet over Zoom that evening.  

Stella was far more upset face-to-face than she had been over the phone earlier. The pressures of making these decisions (especially in her role as founder and CEO of the business) were clearly taking their toll.

Having been in her shoes, I explained to her that in first few years of any startup, coming close to the precipice is an inevitable reality. Over a 10-year period in my own business, I found myself there four times, and each time the prospect of layoffs was an incredibly daunting challenge, requiring careful consideration and strategic planning.  

However, I wanted Stella to know that amidst all the panic and uncertainty, there could be an opportunity to reshape her business for greater resilience and adaptability.

“Forever the optimist”, she said. “You always seem to find the silver lining. But meanwhile, I haven’t slept in three days, and I just want to throw up”.

“I’m just telling it as it is”, I replied.  

Stella had received a very lucrative investment early on and had grown her team to 50+ employees.

“You’ve built an amazing business, so I want to make sure you don’t jump to any conclusions or make any rash decisions, which could end up impacting more people than necessary”.

Sure, her business was in strife, but I needed Stella to shift her mindset. Instead of purely looking at the situation through a lens of cost cutting and streamlining operations and potentially shedding staff en masse, I wanted her to focus on the prospect of retaining and redeploying talent. This shift would represent a more strategic approach to mitigating the negative impacts of organisational change on both her team and the overall culture.

Rather than resorting to immediate job cuts, one approach could involve the implementation of flexible work arrangements to retain valuable talent while the company worked through this difficult period.

Another option might be to consider what future hires she’d had in mind to potentially build new products or grow new initiatives, and whether any of the existing team could perhaps step into any of these roles. New customer offerings without any additional headcount or salaries.

While the concept of internal mobility is typically associated with larger enterprises, this strategic approach recognises the potential within any existing talent pool and aims to match employees’ skills with emerging needs within the organisation.

Redeployment is a hot topic now but one that is unfortunately still often overlooked.

There are many reasons why employees who may be required to be released as part of a restructure should be considered for potential future roles within the business. After all, it’s the perfect way to keep strong talent inside the organisation even if a position needs to be made redundant. Not to mention keeping an employee very happy while keeping the IP within the company and not letting it walk right into the hands of a competitor.

Thankfully, this idea seemed to pique Stella’s interest.

If she really believed she would need to wind down a particular function (or functions) in the business that weren’t contributing sufficiently to the revenue goal, redeployment could be the perfect opportunity to give certain employees a fresh start … while pivoting or building a more profitable offering. To allow 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 joined her in the first place.

Redefining roles within any organisation involves a comprehensive assessment of skills, a reassessment of organisational needs, and a strategic alignment of the existing workforce with the company’s goals.

While redeployment is an effective practice, its success depends on a well-defined framework for assessing skills and identifying suitable roles during any restructure – regardless of the size of the business.

I encouraged Stella to think about this seriously and to begin the process by conducting a thorough assessment of the skills present within her existing workforce. This mapping exercise would help her understand where each employee’s strengths lie and how those skills could be harnessed in potential new roles. By aligning the existing skill set with emerging needs, I reiterated that Stella would be able to identify where (and how) her current team members could contribute most effectively.

Business owners, business leaders, and HR leaders should consider talent redeployment initiatives as an integral part of the redefinition process.

Actively seek alternative roles for employees facing potential layoffs. In a larger organisation, this might involve collaborating with different departments, business units, or even (as I had suggested to Stella) considering roles that may not have existed before. Whenever possible, the goal is to match individual skills with organisational needs in creative and strategic ways.

The success of redefining roles hinges on creating a culture of adaptability

It’s important to actively foster an environment where employees feel encouraged to embrace change, take on new challenges, and continuously evolve their skills sets. This cultural shift is vital for the sustained success of the organisation in the face of a restructure.

By the time we finished speaking that evening, Stella was (thankfully) feeling far less anxious and reactive. She appreciated that in addition to all the other plates she would have to continue to spin, in the face of the likely restructure, she would commit to thinking of innovative practices that would prioritise the professional development of her people.

Of course, in the event that even after taking all my ideas into consideration she found herself having to let people go, I urged her to acknowledge the emotional impact of redundances and invest in outplacement support to assist her impacted employees in their career transitions. This would demonstrate a commitment to her employees’ well-being well beyond their tenure at her company.

Flexible work arrangements, internal mobility programs, and talent redeployment initiatives underscore the shift from a reactive stance to a proactive and more human-centric approach to a restructure.

As companies recognise the value of their workforce as a strategic asset, these innovative business practices are poised to reshape the narrative around redundancies, fostering a culture of adaptability, resilience, and continuous growth within organisations.  

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.