Nearly 30 years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense underwent a complete reorganization, moving divisions, branches, and teams of key competencies under a new leadership structure. Since then, there’s been a great deal of debate as to the end result of the changes, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find people who will throw their full weight behind the outcome.

Then, back in 2010, the DOD was restructured once more, and again, the consequences came under question. Some assert that none of the existing issues were actually fixed, while others claim the solutions just gave rise to new, unforeseen problems.

In the end, DOD staff did exactly what they always do — report to new middle management and leadership with no understanding of the “whys” or to what end. They were left with confusion, frustration, and apathy toward the organization as a whole.

These reorganizations were set in motion with a number of goals — improving communication, reducing cost of operation, changing department culture, and more. Though the plan had no shortage of goals, it failed to achieve success due to the lack of a comprehensive strategy.

Getting on the Same Page

The DOD fell short of its reorganization goals because it didn’t align and leverage its existing leadership, culture, and operational strategy to create a functional plan for moving forward.

In any organization, these three elements — leadership, culture, and operations — overlap inseparably. You cannot change one without affecting the others, and if one doesn’t move forward, its counterparts won’t, either. Even the best-laid plans can go awry if they don’t align with your organization’s culture, or if the leadership isn’t properly equipped to take charge. The most important aspect of strategic planning is ensuring leadership can make better decisions with the direction and priorities outlined in the strategy.

When developing a reorganizing strategy, you have to address all three aspects at some point in the process.

A useful tool in bringing leadership and culture into alignment with strategy is a strategic plan. This will help define where you see your company heading. But before you can even create such a plan, you have to address a number of questions to determine where you are and where you’re trying to go.

These questions fall under different “themes”:

  • Customer: Who is your main customer, and what does your company do to provide him or her with the most value?
  • Value: What are your company’s core values, and is your staff actually committed to upholding them?
  • Performance tracking: Are you tracking the right critical performance variables, and how are you keeping your team accountable?
  • Controlling strategic risk: What kind of boundaries has your company set when it comes to acceptable vs. non-acceptable risks?
  • Innovation: What is your company doing to promote innovation?
  • Commitment: What are you doing to promote commitment and support between team members and across departments?
  • Adaptive change: What are the strategic uncertainties that worry you most?

These questions need to be addressed at the “assessment” stage of your strategy development process, before any sort of plan or implementation is put into place. It’s less about the strategy document itself and more about understanding what your organization stands for, where it’s headed, and how ready it is to navigate a path to that destination.

Thinking from Beginning to End — and Beyond

So what does the development process look like? The following four aspects take into account the entirety of your reorganization strategy:

  1. Organizational Assessment: This is where all of those questions come into play. It’s your chance to address the maturity of your organization, its readiness for change in its current state, and the requirements leadership must have to transition successfully.
  1. Strategy Development: This is a three-tiered step. First, define where you want to go and what values you want to hold. Next, you need a strategy map that provides a high-level visual summary of the strategy moving forward — think of this as a North Star for your team to follow. Finally, determine how you’re going to get there. This involves understanding project and initiative alignment, financing, and cross-departmental communication.
  1. Testing the Strategy: This is where you determine whether your plan is ready to be implemented. Test your strategy through what I call “scenario planning” or “real-world application” by questioning how the strategy will work when it’s faced with hypothetical, real-world situations. This is a critical step that most organizations leave off of the table.
  1. Managing the Strategy: Once you’ve confirmed your strategy, you have to ensure it reaches the launch point and doesn’t get stuck on the shelf. It’s time to make sure you have everything in place to move forward as smoothly as possible. This means being prepared to manage aspects like resources, communications, performance, projects, and quality so the reorganization can move forward without getting bogged down.

In the end, effective reorganization management simply means leaving no stone unturned. A strategy rarely goes entirely according to plan, but the more aspects of the transition you’ve considered — and the more eventualities you’ve prepared for — the more likely your endeavor will be successful.

Do your best to look at your company’s current state, how the reorganization will move forward, and where you want to be once every aspect of the change is completed.

The more perspective you can obtain, the better equipped you’ll be to recognize how things can go wrong and how they can go right.

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