Moving deck chairs is not the solution to improving performance and culture change

There are many internal and external factors that influences an organisations strategic direction and ultimately how they are structured.  Some of these factors are unavoidable but many can be foreseen and appropriately managed with the right planning.  Internal workforce challenges however, aren’t that straight forward.  It’s particularly challenging when the performance and culture of an organisation is preventing or impeding on the achievement of strategic goals. Organisations with entrenched cultures and the lack of internal capability to develop and implement practical solutions to align workforce and strategy generally find themselves restructuring as a means of addressing these challenges. It’s seen as a quick fix, albeit expensive if redundancy payments are on the cards and can disrupt the organisation for many months if not years.

In some cases restructuring is seen as a means of addressing individual performance issues and exiting individuals who ‘don’t fit in’.  Unfortunately, this is the reality, or at the very least, restructuring is seen as an opportunity to do so.  But should you restructure as a means of achieving this?

Firstly, no.  The objective of restructuring an organisation or department is a means of achieving strategic direction with greater efficiencies in the way work is organised and delivered. Restructures may occur as a result of a merger, acquisition, and downsizing, introduction of new products or service, alignment with strategy and vision and/or as a result of funding cuts and declining revenue. It does not address overall performance at a job level or culture issues.

Secondly, there are certain rules and processes that organisations need to comply with in addressing individual performance issues prior to taking such action. So if restructuring isn’t the solution to improving performance and culture, what is?

  1. There are many factors that contribute to poor job performance.  It’s important you understand the causes to ensure appropriate strategies are in place to address them at an individual and organisational level.
  2.  Take a whole-of-business perspective when implementing major reform such as a restructure. Look at the business systems (policies, procedures, and information technology), work practices, human resource strategies and programs, leadership, values and behaviours, the way jobs are designed and determine whether they are aiding or impeding the organisation from achieving its desired goals. These all need to be aligned so when you finally have the right people in the right places they are doing the right things in the right way, performing at the desired level with the necessary supporting systems in place.  It’s fruitless undertaking a restructure when the enablers of getting the job done are ineffective or not in place.
  3.  Create an environment to make the changes stick through targeted performance measures and accountability systems. Such approaches need to be fair and consistently applied including remedial action for when performance targets and behaviour are not conducive to the successful attainment of change efforts.  This sets the tone for what is and isn’t considered as acceptable behaviour and helps the organisation in realising the desired culture.
  4.  Invest in the training and development of your management team – they need to have the necessary capabilities to make this all happen and drive the desired messages through the organisation.  Leadership and behaviours at this level are critical in role modeling the new way of working.
  5.  Keep the momentum going by introducing recognition and reward programs that are meaningful to staff and don’t forget to celebrate successes along the way.

Ultimately organisations need to shift from ‘performance management’ to ‘managing for performance’.  High performing cultures ‘get it’ and ‘get on with it’.  High performing cultures (be it ‘customer centric’, ‘safety first’ etc) don’t just happen, it requires leadership at all levels with necessary support systems, programs and work practices in place. So when you next consider a restructure for your organisation or department, take a whole of business approach and address performance issues by communicating expectations clearly and acting consistently and decisively.

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