TransAccel is often asked to help organizations figure out where they should be three to five years from now, and we immediately set about assessing where they are, thinking about strategies, and devising transition plans. But here’s the thing: Very often the client wants to start with a structural reorganization.

Now the truth is if you start with a structural reorganization, it’s like going on a crash diet. Everybody knows the naughty non-foods you can cut out, just like everybody knows which low-performers could be eliminated or how work could be shuffled around to immediate effect. So you lose a few pounds by cutting out “empty calories” and get rid of some of the obvious encumbrances at work—a quick fix that’s very gratifying. But what happens after that? Usually all the weight comes right back (and then some) and the reorganization doesn’t really change a thing—everything reverts to the way it was. Why? Because the underlying behaviors are still the same.

A diet that relies on simply cutting calories is bound to plateau or fail because there’s considerably more to maintaining a healthy weight and body that includes exercise, eating complex carbohydrates, drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of rest. It is a lifestyle change. Likewise, restructuring an organization is much more complex than focusing solely on getting rid of problematic players or reshuffling the team. The key to sustainable organizational change is to look at the organization holistically and to define the operating model and its various components: roles, processes, governance, sourcing, services, and then structure, and how these are interconnected and measured. Are the right people in the right roles? Are there processes that could be simplified, platforms that could be shared? What does the Business want from you in terms of capabilities and services? What are your differentiating (core) activities that would be at risk if anyone else performed them? What core activities do you monitor and measure?

Whenever we have a client who wants to start with a structural reorganization, we encourage them first to map their capabilities to their services and then to identify those services that are differentiating (core) that would be at risk if someone else (i.e., a contractor or vendor) performed them. Once you know what is core and what is non-core, then you can begin to understand where staff spends most of their time. What we often see is that the majority of the organization is bogged down supporting non-core activities, e.g., enhancement, maintenance, and support. They are held hostage to these activities because they are the only ones who know how the processes work and their managers have come to rely on them. Usually people inherit processes and, as a consequence, documentation is scant or non-existent. This lack of documentation is another reason resources remain where they are rather than shift to new core activities/services.

Changing structure won’t change the fact that the most of the organization is performing non-core work instead of focusing on perfecting the services that are core to IT and your company. Evaluating what’s core and non-core is often the best way to demonstrate why changing the structure or moving the parts isn’t the answer.

Has your organization ever attempted a reorg before understanding the underlying issues? How did it turn out?