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  • Writer's pictureShannon Lantzy

Thriving Through Organizational Disruption

Organizations change (if they don't they're dying). In the wake of a major reorg, here's how to thrive.

FDA just announced that the Office of Strategic Partnerships and Technology Innovation has been made into a Super Office. For anyone following along, this change started in 2019 and is only now becoming "finalized" (organizational changes at that level require an act of OMB and sometimes Congress). For most people in FDA, this change is probably not disruptive because they've been acting in the now-official roles for quite a while. For many FDAers, the change may feel like just a checkbox for what's already been known for ages. (For some FDAers, it may be a huge relief that the change is finally official since it is psychologically exhausting to lead something that isn't your named job).

In commercial worlds, change can happen much faster, for better or worse. At my former employer, the 100+ year old consulting firm Booz Allen, change was so vital to business growth that reorgs were institutionalized as a normal part of growth. (Annually and triannually there was a purposeful reassignment of executive leaders and associated reorganization of their teams.)

For younger companies going through normal growth cycles, organizational change is more disruptive, especially to individuals. The change happens faster, often with insufficient communication to staff (and first-level leadership), and will probably be mismanaged in some way (no shade intended here; change is hard which is why there are whole professions devoted to change management).

First-level leaders who are both affected by the reorg and also managing the reorg have a lot on their shoulders. Thriving through this tumult requires three principles:

  1. Purpose

  2. Individual efficacy

  3. Private empathy, public optimism

Purpose: When there's chaos or discontent, it's usually good to go up a level and reconnect to a common value. In organizations, that's the company's essential purpose or mission. "We're here (or 'This company exists') to serve our customers and give them the best xyz that is humanly possible. That doesn't change with an org chart shuffle."

Individual efficacy: Keep producing. Don't let others distract you from your core function. "I am amazing at xyz, and I can keep being extremely good at that no matter what changes surround me. There may be chaos, but I can still do good work."

Private empathy: Give the people you manage time to grieve and gripe. Hold space for it, because if you don't, you may lose great people. (I have, ask me to tell you the story.) But, I'm not in favor of team gripe sessions.

Vocal optimism: Give your teams a positive outlook, lead by example looking ahead rather than team rumination. "This is a change, it may give us some scrapes, but it's an opportunity for us all, individually and as teams, to hone in on our strongest traits and work even better as a team."

~Shannon, the Optimistic Optimizer


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