Understanding restructures


Let's just break it up and put it back together again

I think it is possible that I have now been around more local government restructures than I have spent years working in Local Government. Often, this has been as a bystander rather than as an active participant but having seen so many restructures I can’t help but wonder why they happen with such regularity.

Here are four thoughts about why there seem to be so many:

1)      The curse of the one year budget

Local Government decides on its budget for the next year in February or March and then implements it in April of that same year. This is not exactly a recipe for long term planning and can lead to the sort of instability that leads to regular changes to structures over a short period; hence the need for a formal restructure. Longer term planning can allow these things to happen gradually and not require whole sale restructures. However, this short term planning is not wholly negative. It can also lead to political flexibility which allows for new initiatives and ideas to be tried out on short notice. See below:

2)      Performance management (or the lack of)

It’s a bit of a shame to say this but often the reason councils introduce a restructure is so they can remove those members of staff who are, how to put this, best off in alterative employment. If councils were better at performance managing those members of staff who don’t fully pull their weight and if the Trade Unions didn’t make it so difficult to properly manage these staff members then restructures probably wouldn’t be as necessary. Sadly, we often know who will be the focus of the restructures; instead of putting everyone at risk it would be better if these people were properly managed, given the opportunity to improve, and if not let go and someone else given the opportunity.

3)      Initiative-itis

Local Government is probably like many businesses, in that new managers tend to come it with new ideas and therefore want to change the way their teams operate. However, the effect in local government is doubled as we get both new managers and new councillors to provide guidance. Add in new central government initiatives and you have a recipe for new teams, new policies and therefore new restructures with increasing regularity. This combination wouldn’t necessarily lead to multiple restructures if it wasn’t for number 4.

4)      Flexibility of staff

The ability of staff to move seamlessly from one job to another similar one seems to be missing in Local Government. This is not entirely because of the staff and their lack of flexibility, although this has to be a factor. Too often, people are unwilling to take the risk of doing something slightly different because they fear that it will undermine them in a future restructure or will require new skills and take them out of their comfort zone. Equally it is because many managers are reluctant to allow their staff to make these sideways steps rather than hold a formal restructure or support those who lack the confidence but have the skills to do so. This is a shame.

Is there anything I’ve missed?

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4 Comments on “Understanding restructures”

  1. Mark Stanley Says:

    Great article …but you aren’t alone.

    I have spent the last 3 years in the private sector for a large insurance company, and they are also addicted to restructuring.

    The drivers have been different each time:
    1 – Global HO decides that it wants all its companies to be structured in a certain way.
    2 – New General Manager restructures his business.
    3 – Same guy, but a year to reflect on his last restructure, and with a smaller budget.

    I think it is the last point that is worth noting. When new directors jump in the pool they are expected to make a bit of a splash. We are disappointed if they just quietly get on with their work with seemingly little change. Often they make a couple of changes early on in their tenure. Then having spent time understanding their directorate and tussling with their peers they have a proper go at restructuring.

    So if directors change seats every 3 years you can expect 2 restructures – a small one followed by a bigger one …and then the CEO might feel he or she needs to act and there’ll be an organisation-wide one too! Deep joy.

    In these and in the local authorities close to my heart the reason given is always about efficiency and/or better meeting the needs of our customers.
    Hard to argue with these reasons, but you have to sympathise with the poor sods trying to do a job.


  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Duncan Hodgson and WeLoveLocalGov, PublicSectorBloggers. PublicSectorBloggers said: Understanding restructures: Let's just break it up and put it back together again I think it is possible that I … http://bit.ly/hi8rvM [...]

  3. Localgov Says:

    Great article. I too have seen far too many, giving a sense of inevitability when the rumours start floating that change is in the wind.

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that often these are also sparked by other restructures around the organisation. These are usually done in isolation, and like dominos result in additional work moving to another service, hence a need for them to change to cope with it.

    There’s also the career paths of middle managers to throw into the equation. Those with a sense of ambition want to continuously grow their power base and influence, so bring successful pieces of work with them as they move around. Restructures therefore sort out not just their new team taking on this new work, but their old teams picking up those less glamourous

  4. Penny Says:

    One of the reasons I left the civil service was the experience of watching the same initiatives starting to come coming round again and again. I didn’t want to be the person sitting in the meeting sucking my teeth saying “we’ve already tried that – it didn’t work then either”. Problem is all new managers feel they have to make their mark – as Mark says, no-one gets hired to maintain the status quo.


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