The Politics of Change Management -2

Is your Organization designed to Fuel Politics?

An employee in Sourcing Function based in Singapore, Emily, resigned. Making it a point to speak with an outgoing employee, I set up a lunch meeting the same day and learn that Emily is not going for a better job but resigned without a job, out of frustration.

Her manager Laura sits in the USA, this is mid-night for her. I deep dive and speak to the local Sourcing Manager Peter. Peter is equally frustrated. He claims that he has no role to play in managing the local team because all Sourcing specialists report to the respective category leaders in the USA and they want to control the time of THEIR Sourcing Specialists. I can’t even manage load and distribute work amongst Sourcing Specialists. I am just a Coordinator not a Manager in this structure, Peter said.

Evening time Singapore, I get a call from Laura, the USA based manager of Emily. She is furious because she spoke to Emily just 2 days back, asked how she was doing and she said everything was fine. “Now Emily has resigned, surprising everyone and before I came to know, the entire world knows about her resignation”, Laura said. She seemed more concerned that everyone knew before her. In the process, she also started justifying that this may not be a big loss.

In most cultures, an answer to “How are you?” will most likely be “Fine”. But it does not mean anything beyond a mere “Hello”. Culture orientation is a must for people taking on global roles.

I asked Laura how many times she had met Emily in person. Answer: Nil. How frequently they speak: Every week. How long: 30 minutes. When: Singapore time 9.30 pm. Sometimes 7.00 am Singapore time if they miss speaking on scheduled time. What are the discussion topics: Pending POs, Cost reduction targets, Update from Sourcing weekly meeting in the USA and any additional topic. How many times she speaks to the Asia Sourcing Manager Peter: No scheduled meeting but we are on weekly calls together with GM of Sourcing.

I was new in the role myself but my alarm bells were ringing loudly by now. I did a further deep dive and decided to speak with more people in Singapore and APAC region. Two years back, after an acquisition, it was decided to align the organization globally because Regional Structure was creating many issues. There was no uniformity of process. Each region was doing their own thing including IT, HR Processes and the organization was supposedly out of control.

No one size fits all. The need for standardization in large companies has caused more problems than solving them.

The new corporate team decided to take control and aligned the organization globally, resulting in making regional roles almost redundant. Many regional leaders who came with acquisition moved on and now even junior roles in the region were reporting to someone in the USA. Both were not at a level where they would get to take an 18 hours flight to meet with each other. Because of the time zone difference, the frequency of touch points was low. In those days, Video conference required the folks to sit in the office and do video calls, so most of the calls were on mobile.

In many cases change of organization design from Regional, Functional or Global are driven by power game and control needs of individuals in the board room or management team. Worst, not driven by needs to serve customers better, they are for internal issues.

For Emily, the biggest frustration was that she was overloaded, spending long hours at work while other Sourcing specialists had it easy. They were out for long lunch, multiple breaks and no pressure. It has gone bad to worse over the last several months and no one bothered. She did not see it getting better because in her eyes, no one was accountable for her.

The pendulum of High Control at HQ or Empowerment blitz to the regions is not new. They are mostly triggered by a few anecdotes and power struggle of senior leaders. I consistently find that organizations have not learned the lessons from past mistakes and continue to make the same mistakes time and again.

Whatever the Organization Design, ACCOUNTABILITY cannot be compromised. Whether it is for People or the Process.

I will share what happened next in another post. But few takeaways for me were immediate.

  • I felt that Emily was stuck in an awkward situation where Laura had no clue of ground reality, Peter wanted to make a point and senior leadership could not visualize or mitigate these risks making the organization toxic.
  • During the Organization Structure Change when the company aligned a Regional Organization to Global, the team forgot to take care of basic readiness issues.
  • Only reporting lines were changed without educating employees or managers on how to work seamlessly in a globally spread Matrix organization.
  • In most cultures, an answer to “How are you?” will always be “Fine”. Without any training or culture orientation, we expect managers to manage global roles.
  • Sometimes these managers are not experienced enough. Many times, not even competent. They are sitting in those global roles because they happen to live in the city where HQ is located.
  • Organizations create functions for expertise, but People end up creating Silos which go deep, causing immense stress to employees. For leaders, “To Walk the Talk” is a pre-requisite in such situations.

Sometimes these managers are not experienced enough. Many times, not even competent. They are sitting in those global roles because they happen to live in the city where HQ is located.

  • Deeper the silo, more deep-rooted your problem in the organization becomes.
  • Whatever organization design, ACCOUNTABILITY cannot be compromised. Whether it is for people or the process.

More next week. This article is Part-2 of a Series where I am writing real examples and stories from my experiences on Change Management.

The first Part “The Politics of Change Management – The most traveled path in Change Management” can be accessed here.

I also encourage you to read Five Signs You Must Simplify Your Organization – NOW


Karunesh is Founder and Director of Change Et Al. Karunesh works with companies across the world helping transform businesses, driving change initiatives, M&A and HR transformation. Karunesh is also a trainer, facilitator, coach, and speaker. Change Et Al. team consists of HR, Lean Six Sigma, Technology, Communication, Learning, and M&A experts and the firm is headquartered in Singapore.