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Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 9:28 am
by Peter R.
I work at a governmental lab. It undergoes restructuring every 20 years or so. It is that time now. They hired a new CEO for that. He is actually good. He reduced the number of Divisions, and shuffled the Directors of Divisions around. He announced the plan that the number of departments in each division will be reduced, and each head of department will have to apply for the newly created position in any of the Divisions.

Our head went through several periods of deep concern, then elation, then grumpiness over several months. It appears that the heads of departments united, and put forward a counter-offer to CEO where majority of them would keep their positions in the new structure. Only those whose departments are transferred into another Division would have to re-apply for the newly created positions. The CEO seemed to have buckled in.

Few months forward, and he announces the plan that all of the departmental heads still have to apply for the newly-created positions citing the reason that otherwise it would be unfair for the few affected heads. That's where we are now. The departmental heads are unhappy because of uncertainty and concern. Our boss is grumpy, because he knows he is likely to go (many of his underlings want him to go, for he is a major hindrance to progress).

But he puts up a brave face on saying that he survived the previous restructures, and he will survive this one.

This made me thinking. Will the CEO be able to pull off this one? What he is doing now I believe is that he tries to shuffle all departmental heads, and cut off their connections. The middle managers, like the departmental heads, are the real managers of the organisation. They stay in their positions for a long time, and they formed the cliques and networks. Their connections are their "social capital". They are capable of resisting the change because they own the processes. The top management may issue the orders, but if they do not have "buy-ins" from the middle management, nothing will be done. Thus, if the CEO wants to change the stale organisation, he has to break up those connections. Essentially, he has to move every departmental head.

Many of my colleagues would welcome such a development. I want to know more about the mechanism of restructuring, and how successful restructures have dealt with the middle managers. The search on the Internet gave nothing, but maybe someone can recommend me something ?


Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 11:19 am
by E. Johnson
I think you should consider yourself fortunate that restructuring only happens infrequently at your place of work. All you can really do is do your job and if you have a bad feeling, keep doors open elsewhere.

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:07 pm
by Dick Woodward

The previous response is right on. The first company that I worked for restructured every couple of years, which is probably too frequently. However, every 20 years is probably much too long to wait. An important facet of the restructuring process is that it forces a re-examination of all processes and procedures. This is often a good thing, since it exposes ways in which things can be done differently. People tend to get in a rut, and fall back on "that's the way we've always done it", which is much easier than asking the question "is this the best way to do it?" Restructuring pushes people out of their comfort zones, and that is generally a good thing, although it causes discomfort.

During this process, be alert for opportunities - they often exist. I got my start in the business of science when my employer was purchased by a much larger company, and I had the opportunity to move from the lab to the marketing department. Keep your ears open, and you may find that there is opportunity for you. During the restructuring, be certain to be doing your job well, as this gets noticed; don't fall prey to the negativism that often pervades an organization. If there are things that you have always felt could be done better, now is the time to diplomatically suggest them.

As far as the suggestion about keeping doors open elsewhere, you should do this regardless of the restructuring. This does not mean that you should be actively job-hunting, but that you should cultivate a network outside of your group so that you hear of other opportunities.

Hope this is useful.


Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 6:54 am
by Peter R.
E. Johnson wrote: All you can really do is do your job and if you have a bad feeling, keep doors open elsewhere.

Thank you, E. (and Dick) for your replies. I heard about the AAAS' science careers forum that no questions would be left unanswered. I did not ask the question what to do, and I did not expect a reply to that question. The situation does not have a clearly-cut solution, and it is not possible to describe the situation in one post -- this was why I never asked the question "what to do ?" in the first place.

I will explain the situation in more detail. For example, some colleagues have elected to keep their noses to the grindstone, and only that kind of people is left in our department (except me and couple of others). The others could not live with the management and left. Secondly, the area of my work is highly specialised, and there are virtually no other potential employers in this area (heck, this was why I received this job after finishing a PhD and few years of knocking around -- the vacancies in this department were not highly sought by the prospective employees).

The departmental head intends to sail comfortably into near retirement, therefore he does not want to do any research, and he supresses the research proposals of the staff like me. He progressed through ranks until he ended up at the top... and he constantly makes sure that no staff can obtain the experience which would make them qualified to replace him. That's poisonous environment, otherwise the working conditions are acceptable. Other people have left, but I stuck here.

The last straw which broke the camel's back was that I wrote an invited article on a breakthrough technology for a popular science journal, and the departmental head did not give his approval on the pretence that "the department is not doing much work in this area, therefore he does not think the article represents the departmental work, and thus should not be published". That's ridiculous, but I do not laugh anymore. It happened for the second time, and now it made me physically sick.

Now, the rot got so deep into the whole lab that the board of the directors hired a CEO to do the restructuring. The CEO is after to spill some blood, and it appears to me that the departmental head is the kind of person the CEO want to purge (or, move sideways into non-job, as he promised he was not going to fire anyone).

The departmental head has a manager under him whom he asks to do all the dirty work for him. They both are slated for reapplying for the newly-created positions. I wanted to obtain more understanding about the process, so that I could deduce whether both of them go, or the junior one will stay. And what would they be afraid to let know to the CEO, as this would drastically affect their chances at being re-elected.

The only example which I found was that the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin eliminated the middle leaders from the Army in the 1930s, because they were the real threat on his way to obtain an absolute power, as they were running day-to-day duties, and have accumulated a wealth of connections over their long stay. The way to dispower them was to shift them aside, however Stalin chose a simpler method -- just to shoot every third middle leader. It was s struggle who would do it first -- either Stalin to the middle leaders, or the middle leaders to Stalin. I guess the same struggle is occurring in my lab. I would like to obtain more insight.

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2014 11:53 am
by Dick Woodward

It sounds to me as though this is a totally toxic environment. If I read your last post correctly, you have 2 choices - keep your head down and be stifled (and apparently miserable) or get out. You said that others left - can you contact them and find out what they are doing? If they managed to leave for other positions, is it possible that the work, while specialized, can be translated into other areas?

You need to find a new place to work as soon as possible. If the stress is making you physically ill, this is not good.


Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Wed Apr 23, 2014 8:01 am
by Peter R.
Peter R. wrote:The departmental head has a manager under him whom he asks to do all the dirty work for him. They both are slated for reapplying for the newly-created positions. I wanted to obtain more understanding about the process, so that I could deduce whether both of them go, or the junior one will stay.

Here is an update. About 60% of the departmental managers (at the level of dean) were appointed to the newly-created positions. The rest was let go. Our departmental manager is among those who was let go. What a huge relief for me and for my colleagues.

We were appointed another manager. He is as bad, only in a different "department".

The results for the lower-level managers (at the Professor's equivalency level) will be announced in a couple of weeks. Judging by how the CEO treated the departmental managers, my colleagues and I came to the firm conclusion that our manager will get position in another department. What a joy we will experience.

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2014 4:45 am
by PG
Restructuring every 20 years is probably not frequent enough and doing this at least a bit more frequent would probably be a good thing. Maybe additional changes will follow especially if the "new" management doesnt provide good results.

I attended a training at a well known US business school a few weeks ago and they claimed that Fortune 500 companies used to restructure every 3-5 years during the 80s but that the frequency had now gone up to once every 9-12 months.

While 9-12 months seems like overdoing it, every 20 years is a very long time and the world today is very different compared to 20 years ago.

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2014 7:53 am
by Peter R.
Further update. The appointments of the lower-level managers were announced. Almost everyone kept their jobs. I am disappointed, as are my colleagues. However, I thought that the lab director did not want to antagonise over a hundred people. Thus, he might have done it smarter; he pushed the duty down, to the divisional directors. I am yet to see how this plays out. At the moment I am depressed: our manager is happy now, and started to plan the new structure of our department as was asked by the divisional director.

Oh, and I recalled the adage of how these things happen: "First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, and then we win".

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:28 am
by Peter R.
I thought I'd update you on what is going on.

To be honest, nothing has happened for the workers "on shopfloor" in the year since the last update. However, I believe the important changes has happened for the middle management. The Division director was able to send to the retirement the second, last "troublemaker" manager who directly reported to him.

Recently the director has organized the meeting exclusively with the low-level employees as he likes to do every year. He told us that the management team finally got "on his board", and had a unified vision. I complained to the director that the departmental head still continued his old practice of pulling people back.

The director recognised that there was such a problem, and that he offered the departmental head a 1-year posting somewhere else, although the ongoing change meant the posting position was abolished. The director told us to hold on, as he had the evidence that the departmental head finally jumped off the fence he was sitting on, and got on-board with the director. This explains why the department head turned friendly to me, and asked me to take a charge of a nano-project. However, I was sceptical.

I am now observing something strange and mind-wrecking. One day the departmental head is collaborative and attentive to me, and the other day he is ignoring. I got the following theory. The divisional director told us that all the middle managers got specific requirements to exhibit the traits of developing the staff, be accountable and so on. I think that our departmental head has a checkbox list of the behaviors he has to exhibit. For example, he has to have, say, 3 impromptu meetings everyday with the staff members where he gives the developing advices. After he had 3 such encounters, he checks the box, and do not talk to the people that day anymore. As a matter of fact, the departmental head still apparently clings to his old ideas of building his own empire. It occurs to me that he hopes to follow the trend, and is waiting until the restructuring "fad" subsides in few years.

His unexplained change from attentive to ignorant and back actually hurt me strongly. I first opened up thinking the departmental head changed his old ways, but then was slammed by him pulling me back. Then he warmed up, and the he slammed me back. First I thought that it was his new technique to "break" me, and he would be successful at that. I stood his negative approach for decade, but I cannot stand this. Later I realised what was going on, and I started to ignore his attempts to be collaborative with me. I still do what he tells me to do, only I do not expect anything to come out of it for me, and I do only minimum.

So, guys, do you think it is possible that the manager has a list of checkboxes of the behaviors he has to exhibit in relation to his staff, and ticks them off as he goes ?

Re: Restructure and middle management

PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:12 am
by PG
I think that a list of checkboxes is highely unlikely. Instead my guess would be that there are other things going on that doesnt necessarily have anything to do with you.

Look at it as something similar to a family situation ( I dont know if you have kids). If you had a good day in the office, things are going well, the weather is nice etc your response to your kids doing something will probably be balanced and positive. On the other hand if you overslept, got yelled at by your boss, your experiment failed, its raining outside and then your car broke on your way home the response to your kids doing something is likely to be less balanced.

If the things going on are work related or personal doesnt really matter. Ideally everyone should always be able to act professionally in all situations just as you should always be balanced when dealing with your kids. In reallity most people dont work like this regardless if they are managers or not.