Restructuring using Bridges – a case study

I recently worked with a large organisation that was going through considerable change. This was an organisation that had a long history of stable operations and many staff and leaders had been with the organisation for some time. The change was going to see one main division separate into two broad structures and some down sizing would occur. The first staff redundancies in some time. The organisation engaged my services to assist them in designing a change strategy that would achieve the results they were looking for in the time frames their broader board had mandated.

We started this change process off with a clear plan. I personally think major organisation redesign processes or mergers needs to be managed in accordance with good project management process. With a strong change management set of processes embedded into the process. This is my preferred way of delivering change, not as a simple action list, but as a clear planned process with clear roles and responsibles, a clear path, clear and measurable results and a solid business justification. Changing businesses take effort and financial backing. Change managed badly can impact on the productivity of an organisation due to the effect on morale and capability of employees.

The project plan created for the restructured followed a model of discovery, design and deployment. The discovery stage looked at the current state and the main scope of the change including what the operating model needed to achieve and what current business processes existed and which ones were targeted for change. The design stage of the new structure or operating model worked with senior leadership to design the functionality, process and staffing split across into the two small structures. This was depersonalised and the decision was to have a ‘spill and fill’ approach to filling the structure, given there would be less roles and some staff who would have to formally compete for the remaining positions. The leaders would be recruited first to assist with the recruitment of staff that would be reporting in their structures. At the same stage as the Design stage plans for deployment were being developed.

There are many excellent change processes and change models that exist. The change model selected as part of this process was William Bridge’s (1991) ‘Managing Transitions’, three stage model of steps:

  • Endings
  • Neutral Zone
  • New Beginning

Bridges in particular talks about the psychological transition where people over time become aware of the new situation and the changes that come to that and work to adapt to that new beginning. So therefore as part of the Discovery and Design stages the change and communication plan and strategy covered these elements from a communication and engagement perspective.

Endings the first step is about the concept of letting go. The process for some is quite hard, filled with resistance of a change to their personal or work circumstances that they may not have wished for. Acknowledgement of this is key. Some on the other hand are very happy with the way things are and some are less so. In a change process it’s a good idea to outline the change in as much detail as possible. Ideally endings come smoother with understandable change – with a rationale they can see. Involving people in endings is important as is involving them in the future, so in this case study key leaders and staff representatives were involved with the discovery, design and deploy parts of the process.

The second phase of Bridges model is about being in a neutral zone. This is where the change is actually happening the deployment. Bridges suggests that we do not ideally wants to be in the neutral zone for too long. This is where we may see an increased level of anxiety and a drop in productivity. Some of the old habits and practices might appear again. In light of possible uncertainty sometimes, shorter-term objectives or outcomes might be the best approach. In this part of the deployment activity of the new structure was when the recruitment processes were occurring, there was unsettlement so therefore I worked closely with leaders to ensure they are not overpromising and celebrate the wins even if they are small. A key strategy to assist staff here is resilience training, coaching and support through a psychological services provider or Employee Assistance provider. We announced confirmed roles as soon as we were able to and also provided support for those who were exiting from the business or being re-deployed to other roles in the business.

The final stages of Bridges model is New Beginnings – Bridges talks about the 4P’s Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part. Purpose is the why we are doing this, Picture is the shared vision of what it will look like, feel like or even hear like. Plan is the detailed plan for getting there to the embedding aspect of the new team into new cultures. Part is all about giving people a part to play in the change and through having a role that builds ownership and buy in. In the case study mentioned above. The recruitment strategy was a cascading model so therefore as leaders were appointed they were brought into a central management team to ensure they were all clear on the purpose, and then went about designing the picture of their future teams through team building and planning activities. As teams were formed they designed processes to get on with the new roles and new directions promptly with a clear line of site.

As part of the New Beginning there were post implementation reviews and additional staff satisfaction and engagement surveys and leader coaching to ensure that the new business as usual environment was right sized and no further minor refinements were required.

In summary in this examples key points for a smooth restructure:

  • Use leaders as key change advocates and agents
  • Involve people and give them a part to play
  • Make the neutral zone or the actual change as short as possible, being mindful of staff morale and staff support during times of recruitment or redundancy
  • Use a planned approach with a change model at its heart
  • Check and recheck post deployment to verify results are as expected.

I encourage you to have a look at the change theories that exist – there is a whole body of knowledge out there and the Change Management Institute have a fantastic CMBOK, Change Management Body of Knowledge and also more information is available on my site

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