Tuesday, July 15, 2014

caution: lessons of reorganizations past

An Impending (Potential) Reorganization at a Large Software Company We All Know and the inevitable RIF-related misery it will cause among the rank and file has drawn my thoughts back, back to a simpler time and another reorganization I remember.  Perhaps you will let me tell you a story about it.

"I hope you had this sitting in draft for a while, mister, because you've got better things to do than tell stories."

What's with the cynicism?


Once upon a time. . .

A new CEO set out to reorganize a company to make it easier for it to deliver products that users would react to with the word "wow".

In a blog post (which I am impressed to see is still a live page), this new CEO described a management manifesto using folksy language like "People here have impressed the hell out of me" and "Look for this company's brand to kick ass again."

I! thought! that! was! great!

But I was a bit disappointed by the following:
We're also leaning on this team to make sure we're all hearing the voice of our customers (consumers and advertisers). I'm singularly focused on providing you with awesome products. Period. The kind that get you so excited, you have to tell someone about them. Whether on your desktop, your mobile device, or even your TV.
Umm. What were they doing before?

Then I read this. . .
And that takes a real understanding of what you want/need/love/hate, how you’re using our products, and what you find simple, intuitive, easy and fun. Who wants innovation for innovation’s sake if it doesn’t make your life easier, more efficient, more productive? So expect us to hear you better and take better care of you.
And was even more disappointed. Because really, what were they doing before?

I knew they must have been listening to customers prior to her arrival because they had product managers there. These were good (and some even great) product managers I had worked with In The Distant Past, and I was 100% convinced they understood how to build good (and even great) products that solved current, real-world problems in a delightful, wow-y way.

So, I was confused.  And so we arrive at the moral of the story.

Was it just that the product managers weren't able, prior to this reorganization, to blaze past the crufty institutional barriers that had accreted over the years, barriers that made it difficult to actually take action on transformational market feedback through transformational products?


Was it that their superiors, being fearful of risk or short-sighted or unable to get their voices heard or perhaps fearful, either suppressed or ignored market-focused innovation?


Were they unable to abandon dead-end products and services in their current portfolio so they could refocus their assets on Something Wonderful that would blaze a trail of profit and delight into the future?

I'm guessing some of all three.  And so we change leaders, who change the players, who try to make sense of what is possible and what is no longer possible.

Ultimately, change is hard, because it hurts like hell, and it goes on hurting long before it starts making things better.  Great leaders can bring organizations through this pain but it's not easy, it's not guaranteed, and it's certainly not without cost.  But sometimes, it's the only game in town.

Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis. 

(PS - This post is definitely my opinion and does not in any way reflect the policies of my wonderful employer.  Just thinking out loud here, folks.)

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