Corporate restructuring has become a dreaded buzzword for many in the finance, tech, and legal industries. The upheaval caused to employees at all levels of the organization, including the executive rungs, during a reorganization can be cause for significant career concern.
How can you make sure that new bosses or those above you in the new organization know who you are so that you receive support for promotions, even as you find yourself with a series of new bosses? Is it possible even in the midst of corporate upheaval to make yourself seem indispensable during turbulent periods, so that you will stand out companywide?
Yes, there are ways to survive a re-org with your career intact—or better yet thriving. Here are eight ways to succeed in any environment:
Show flexibility. During reorganizations it’s important to show flexibility as an employee, according to Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “Recognize that reorganizations are a feature of organizational life, and they aren’t personal,” says Hillman. “When bosses change, it’s also important that women are quick to connect with their new bosses and let them know what they’ve done in the previous group or unit.”
Speak up. Many women in particular expect that their work will speak for itself, and that their accolades will be communicated to the new management team during a re-org. This is a mistake, according to Hillman. “Don’t assume someone (e.g. your old boss) has told them, and don’t make the mistake many women make of assuming that if you do a good job, it will get noticed,” says Hillman. “Transitions are key times to make sure your contributions in the past and continued commitment to the organization are well communicated.”
Think beyond the scope. Mitchell D. Weiss, an adjunct professor of finance at the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business, has owned and run multiple companies, including a bank subsidiary. After being hired as the subsidiary’s head of operations and promoted to president a few years later, Weiss was in charge of corporate “reengineering.”
He found that the employees who stood out during these reorganizations were not the ones who jumped up and down to be noticed. “The actions that will attract the right kind of attention during a re-org are doing the best job you can, thinking beyond the scope of your immediate responsibilities about ways to improve the enterprise’s overall performance, and working well with your colleagues,” says Weiss. “In fact, these skills are highly prized, especially during company reorganizations. If your company doesn’t appreciate that, another one will.”
Modify your role. Weiss notes that re-orgs are often process-driven affairs. With that in mind, his team focused on organization design during restructuring. In particular, they wanted to know if they had the right people in the right managerial positions—and if they in turn had the right people reporting to them. If they didn’t, then changes were needed.
“The people I valued most were those who limited their kingdoms while collaborating with their colleagues to avoid operational redundancies,” said Weiss. “Engaged, attentive managers know who these people are. And if it turns out that a re-org is likely to have a negative impact on one or more of them, good managers will also work hard to modify their responsibilities so that they may be retained.”
Don’t fear the process. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to pay attention to what management has in mind for the reorganization they’ve undertaken. Weiss advises that executives and employees at all levels understand the goals, process, and timeline of the re-org—and, as important, do what they can do to help.
“Don’t be afraid of the process—become involved in it,” says Weiss. “Not only will you demonstrate your capabilities, you’ll also enhance your skills as a result. Companies value employees who are not only on the lookout for ways to improve their company’s performance, but are also adept at implementing them.”
Demonstrate grace under fire. With more than a decade of experience working for the second-largest municipality in the U.S., Patricia M. Villasenor, executive director for the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, has successfully navigated three reorganizations in less than five years.
She recommends that when navigating a reorganization, employees remain focused on previously established goals and timelines. “While panic may seem like a natural reaction, use the re-org as an opportunity to demonstrate grace under fire,” says Villasenor. “Show your superiors that you are capable of meeting and exceeding goals no matter how the hierarchy may shift.” The executive director adds that if you approach the change strategically, then you will position yourself as a shining example of leadership and resilience.
Develop a “power mentor.” Management expert Bill Rosenthal, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, advocates developing a relationship with what he calls a “power mentor.” He explains that a power mentor performs the usual duties a mentor does but also does the following:
· Keeps the mentee current on what’s happening in the organization and its ongoing strategy changes
· Showcases the mentee’s accomplishments to upper management
· Provides input for the manager’s performance review
· Identifies all opportunities for skills development
“Every manager should understand that re-orgs are a constant in the workplace and are rapidly becoming the norm,” says Rosenthal. “The best way to survive in this environment is to develop a relationship with a power mentor, who can serve in a ‘mentor as advocate’ role to solve problems.”
Get recognized. Re-orgs present an ideal opportunity to get recognized, according to Dr. Kathleen Brush. She should know—Brush has more than 20 years’ experience as a C-level executive for companies of all sizes, public and private, foreign and domestic. She has also taught international business and leadership, international marketing, and organizational behavior at the university level and for corporations—and beyond just teaching about reorganizations has personally spent more than 15 years in turnarounds.
Brush notes that after a re-org, there is often confusion because people who used to handle certain tasks are no longer there. While many will use that as an excuse for why something hasn’t gotten done after a re-org—the old “Janey used to do that and so there is no one to do that anymore”—those who get recognized will see a re-org as an opportunity to take on extra tasks.
“If you want to get recognized, jump in and take care of what Janey used to do,” says Brush. “Before you jump in, let your boss, who may be a new boss, know that you can cover for Janey, no problem. When you jump in and help out after a re-org rather than joining the ranks of the whiners, you are leaning in the exceptional direction.”