Successfully Navigating a Reorg

Whenever an org change happens I seem to get a bunch of requests from people for advice on how to approach it. Any change to a team can raise many questions. Why change? What exactly is changing? Are the things that were important before still important? What will the new roles and responsibilities across the team be? And the most personal question: what does this mean for me?  In that latter camp, the requests for advice that I hear seem tend to cluster into 3 categories:

  1. How can I use the org change to my advantage to move up a level?
  2. How can I be sure that my value to the org is visible so that I’m not passed over or missing out on any opportunities?
  3. I think someone else may get my job! How can I prevent that?

Basically the advice people are looking for maps roughly to their confidence that they are valuable to the org, and whether that value will be understood (in the case of a management change) by the new management.

General Advice

The first thing that I usually tell people is that whatever needed to be done to put them in the best position for the reorg, should have been done months ago. It’s not practical, nor usually very welcome, to go on a campaign to try to prove to the new management team that you are really valuable. If however you’ve been steadily showing your value to the organization over a past history of months and years, then it is probably already known. One thing that I’ve consistently seen over the years during management & org changes at Microsoft is that our senior managers are very savvy about figuring out who the strongest members of the existing team are. If you have been doing great work for the past year, your performance evaluations will show it, but more importantly your reputation will be great and you’re likely to be someone of interest to the new management. 

The takeaway is that your current perceived value to the org, and therefore likelihood to secure a great position in the new org, is based on your past performance and reputation. So nothing you can do during the reorg process can help you there. It’s like a ski jump – you cannot add to your distance while you’re in the air (flapping your arms doesn’t help.) The distance you get is all determined by the setup and run to the jump.

“Cool, so how can I move up?”

By the above logic, the way to move up (either a management level, or to a bigger scope or more strategic role) is to ensure that you’ve been operating at peak capacity and demonstrating consistent value. In other words, if you are eligible to move up in the new org it’s likely because you already were doing the right things in the prior org. If you were a Team Lead who was executing in such a way that you were on the radar as a potential Group Manager, then you’ll likely quickly be on the  list of potential candidates in the new org.

“Okay, but how do I make sure I don’t miss out on great opportunities?”

Again, if you have a great reputation you’ll likely be asked to take an interesting role. But what if you wanted something else? The first step is to make sure that your manager (either current or new, depending on where you are in the reorg) knows what your interests are. Some tips on how to do that:

  • Send them a mail saying that you like your current job but would be open to other things as well.
  • Be specific about what kind of work you’d be excited about and why that maps to how you want to grow your skills and experience.
  • Don’t leave it up to the manager to try to figure out what you want to do. I’ve seen many times where the employee says “I’m not sure what I want to do next, I just think I want a change.” There’s nothing actionable about that for your manager, and you’re basically just rolling the dice on whether they will find you something you like or not.
  • If you think your manager may not be the best advocate to help you find something else, reach out to other managers directly whose teams look interesting to you. Make sure the mail you send them is something that you wouldn’t mind your current manager reading though. Assume it will be shared!
  • Offer to sit down and talk in person, but don’t be too demanding. Be respectful of everyone’s time who is involved. Reorgs tend to be very busy times for managers as they learn about new teams, explain what a current team does, and work with people to land everyone in roles on the team.

“I think I may get replaced!”

There are times when your performance may be great and your reputation solid, and still find that the new management wants to put someone else in your role. It may be because they want to put a more senior person there (or less senior in some cases) or because another person has domain expertise or a unique perspective that is valued. If your performance has been good, in the vast majority of cases the manager will also have an option for new roles for you. Then it just comes down to whether you’re interested in that option or not. It can be a blow to the ego to have someone else take your spot, but remember that it is very healthy to get new experiences and try new things also. If you’ve been delivering value in your role then chances are you’ll have some options to choose from and people who will want you to join their team.

Did you notice?

Every career movement that I’ve talked about starts with delivering great work. I’ve known many people over the years who thought they had some way to shortcut to the top, and indeed sometimes they’ve jumped steps, but by far the most predictable way to advance and keep advancing is through steady and determined delivery of results in your current job. Almost every example I have of a person who shot up early on in their career by taking shortcuts or leveraging political connections ends with that person hitting the ceiling because they didn’t develop the skills they needed to operate at the next level. Some things just take time and experience to learn, so with career development – during or after a reorg – consistent delivery of good outcomes wins the race in the end.

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