$30 Million Reorg Gets Back on Track

The Problem

A billion dollar services firm had just hired a new CFO to lead its troubled financial unit. The reason?

The unit’s employee engagement scores were low. Very low. In fact, its scores had dropped for three years in a row. These low marks corresponded to a host of employee behavioral problems, including irresponsibility, information-hoarding, jockeying-for-position, passive-aggressive posturing, and gossiping.

Troubles like those would be bad enough during ordinary times, but the unit was in the middle of a big reorg project. $30M had been spent on building a system to create operational efficiencies companywide. The financial unit was supposed to be spearheading the system rollout, but its employees were missing delivery dates repeatedly.

Something had to be done, otherwise the entire reorg project – including the $30M in initial costs, as well as the tens of millions of dollars that were expected to be saved over the next few years -- could be put into jeopardy.

The CFO us brought to look at the situation. Could the rollout be put back on track sooner rather than later?

The Solution

Instead of guesswork, we begin our work by studying the organization as objectively as possible.

We conducted our organizational trust assessment with the unit’s roughly 650 employees. (An eye-opening 93% of those employees took the assessment, which demonstrated to the CFO how deeply the problems were felt by those he had to lead.) We also had one-on-one interviews with the senior leadership team, and small group meetings with representative members of teams throughout the division.

From the data collected, we discovered a number of phenomena that could help the financial unit rebound, including specifics about where the unit’s trust behaviors were weak and where they were strong.

Assessment data also pinpointed the behaviors and paradoxes that were causing the employees to miss their project delivery dates. (An example of one such paradox: The leadership had tremendous respect for the employees, yet the employees felt micro-managed and therefore waited for leadership to tell them what to do.)

Using the data, we worked with leaders to customize a trust building process, which included team trust plans, individual trust plans, and all the tools necessary to turn things around.

One particularly important part of the process was preparing the unit’s leaders to serve as role models. The leaders didn’t need to pretend they were trust experts. Instead, their approach was based on camaraderie, on the feeling of “We’re in this together and we’re learning along with you.”

The leaders were taught how to understand the assessment data, share what it meant, and talk about the trust building steps the unit would be taking.

Leaders also learned how to act as facilitators during "Trust WorkOuts,” working sessions where employees could role-play and practice specific behaviors that built trust (for example: rather than hiding one’s mistakes, admit and work through them).

The Results

Throughout the unit, there was a profound shift. At the sixth-month checkpoint, employees had reduced their trust-breaking behaviors by 80%, and increased their trust-building behaviors by 63%. For the first time in years, engagement scores rose: by 25%.

What did this transformation mean pragmatically? Instead of doing things like hoarding information and criticizing others unfairly, employees shared information and gave feedback that was constructive and actionable. They knew what was expected of one another, and acted upon this knowledge with speed and in good faith.

Most importantly, the $30M reorg rollout – along with its tens of millions of dollars in potential long-term benefits -- was back on schedule. Deliverables were produced. Deadlines were met.

The firm went through its major restructuring, and were able to embrace the necessary changes in a way that would have been difficult without having committed to the trust work. Said the CFO: "If we had not had this [trust building process] in place, our restructuring would not have been as positive as it was. We learned a new way of being as a group.”