The phrase ‘that was because of a restructure’ is becoming one of the most uttered phrases in our chats with clients and candidates within the public sector.
Given recent changes within Queensland’s public sector, the simple fact is restructuring has become part and parcel when it comes to management these days.
It is for this reason we decided to speak to Queensland Health’s Corporate Services Director Deputy General Susan Middleditch who has managed four restructures and believes there will always be restructures as long as there are changes to government.
“Restructures are generally due to changes through MOG (Machinery of Government),” Susan said. “Public Service restructures happen often and they can be disruptive, but they can also be beneficial.”
No matter what the reason, restructures seem to generate a certain amount of angst or stress. There are many steps management and employees can take to ensure that a restructure has positive outcomes for the team and division.
Susan has shared her thoughts on how to manage the process from a personal and management perspective.
Engage a Project Team to manage the process
If possible and budget allows, set up a project team to work on the restructure as they won’t be caught up in their day job and will be solely focused on the task at hand.
Throughout my career, I have worked in organisations where external consultants were used. One of the key phrases a consultant used was ‘observe from the balcony, not the dance floor.’
If you are on the dance floor you can only see what the person next to you is doing. If you observe from the balcony, you can see the whole dance floor.
Having a project team ensures that there are clear objectives in place and that the organisation is being considered holistically.
“With the recent Hunter Review, we developed a coordination role who made it clear who was responsible for what,” Susan said. “We then had an implementation team. This worked really well. It is beneficial if the person in the coordination role is an executive or at a high level.”
Communicate the reason for the restructure
Managers should have a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve with the restructure. They should also know how they are going to achieve the objectives set.
It is important to get ‘buy in’ from as many stakeholders as possible to ensure everyone is working towards a common purpose.
Communication is key. Communicate as much about the restructure as soon as you are able to.
Obviously there will be some things that need to be kept confidential, but anything that can be communicated to employees should be done in a timely matter.
“I don’t think you can communicate enough when it comes to restructures,” Susan said. “When you are going through the process, it takes 19 forms of communication before it sinks in. People have different timeframes when they are dealing with change and you have to continue to take that into account.
“Make sure you make yourself available, not just to your direct reports but anyone from A03 to Executives,” Susan said.
Celebrate the wins
Communicating project successes of the restructure is a good way to make sure everyone stays focused.
If you celebrate achievements along the way it will help everyone stay focused and see the benefits, rather than the negatives, from the restructure.
Susan suggests putting together weekly updates about the restructure, which keep everyone informed but also mark off key milestones and achievements.
“Find some good news and share it,” Susan said. “One thing we did well with the Hunter Review was to have a Frequently Asked Questions section on the website and regularly update it with our progress.”
Benefits of restructuring
If done well, the new structure can bring cost savings and efficiencies without affecting the organisational culture.
“When I worked at DEEDI (Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation), we went through a restructure of the Corporate Service division,” Susan said. “We drove efficiencies that saw us reducing our team from 21 per cent to seven per cent of the overall budget.
“When I first joined Health in 2012, we integrated corporate services such as Finance, HR and Infrastructure and they have all been communicating well across the department.
“In 2012, we measured our employee engagement after the restructure. While it wasn’t great during the restructure, we have seen a huge lift in employee engagement since the process.”
Deal with the uncertainty
In every restructure there is a level of uncertainty. One of the key steps is to learn to get comfortable with change and go about your day-to-day business as usual.
“You need a lot of personal resilience when going through restructures,” Susan said. “I try not to take it home with me and surround myself with good people. It is good to have someone who you can ring and download to at the end of the day.
“I would suggest a career coach – preferably not someone from the organisation or your partner. I also find keeping up with your routine and things that make you happy – for example I like to go to the gym in the morning before work and I keep up this routine – makes a world of difference.”
Seize the opportunity
Whether you are in management or an employee, you will need to accept that you might not know everything that is going on. Don’t let yourself get anxious about what is going to happen, instead seize any opportunities that might come about as a result of the restructure.
“Going through restructures is hard,” Susan said. “You are dealing with people and the unknown. I actually love change. I enjoy the opportunity to identify positive changes and see it as an opportunity to do things a little bit better going forward.”
Enjoyed Skye’s article? Here are some other similar articles on managing staff within the public sector: