Thursday, October 24, 2013

Have I Been Restructured? I Could Write the Book!

I've been through so many organisational restructures throughout my working life, I could write the book.

Restructuring is almost as old as humanity and is most aptly explained by Ogburn:
"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginningto form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."
- Charlton Ogburn, often misquoted as being by Petronius Arbiter
Ogburn hit the nail on the head.

Although the private sector does restructure periodically, it's probably more common to hear of public sector organisations being restructured to "increase efficiency and lower costs", a misnomer if ever there was one. Much of this is brought about by changes in government at the Federal and State levels.

Case Study
I worked for a small Australian Government agency called ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) that was de-commissioned. All of its 1200 odd staff, mainly experts in indigenous affairs, was distributed to other Australian Government agencies. I finished up with the Department of Family and Community Services along with numbers of other ex-ATSIC staff. As they didn't really want ATSIC staff, we were offered voluntary redundancies. I accepted, picked up a truck load of cash and went overseas. Most of my colleagues also accepted redundancies.

The key difference between me and my colleagues is that I was a human resources practitioner and they had expertise in a wide range of skills associated with managing government funding of Aboriginal affairs. So, I was of limited use to an agency managing indigenous affairs, but most of my colleagues were invaluable.

While I was overseas I read in a newspaper that the Australian Government had changed and the new government was now transferring indigenous affairs from the the Department of Immigration, Citizenship and Indigenous Affairs to the department I had just left.

The Department of Family and Community Services was rebadged as the Department of Family, Community and Indigenous Services. Now, can you guess what kind of staff they needed to run their programs? Of course, the same type of staff they had just offloaded.

Within months of having offloaded maybe 30 staff at vast expense to the taxpayers, now they had to advertise for staff with exactly the skills and experience of those who had been made redundant. Quite a few of my colleagues, who needed employment, returned to the agency on the same pay levels at which they had been and continued their service as if nothing had changed. The only difference is that they had taken a two or three month break and were now much wealthier for the experience.

Needless to say, I fell over laughing when I heard this. Increased efficiency and lower costs my ass.


Done properly, a restructure can be a benefit to any organisation. Unfortunately, few do it well. If you are going to restructure your organisation, don't do it simply to reduce salary costs. Think about what your firm needs and how many people with what skills it needs to perform at peak.


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