Oct 31 2006

Tips for Re-organizing a University from an Experienced CIO

Ultimately, any reorganization initiative should focus on putting together a new framework to support the staff.

When a reorganization effort brings together a set of departments with their own separate identities, a key task for the leadership team is creating the new organization's identity and a place for each individual in it. Not only does this new identity establish the framework in which employees will work, it also provides an opportunity to establish a new set of expectations for the user community that the organization supports.

There are many outward symbols of identity that help to create a department's organizational framework. Its Web site is one of the most obvious, but there are more tangible elements of identity for both the staff members and the user community, including office signs, business cards, mailing list names, title conventions and forms.

As part of the transition, the leadership team must not only create the identity for the new organization, but also plan the retirement of the old symbols. Transitioning these outward symbols is a key step in creating the new organization – both in the minds of the internal staff and the community – and establishes that there is no going back.

For staff members, the transition is often a time of frustration and sadness. The frustration stems from being asked to keep doing what they have been doing for some time, but also to accept changes that they may not have been involved in determining. The sadness comes because an era is coming to an end. There is always a tendency to think about the “good old days.” It is important for leadership to acknowledge the value of the legacy organization and the good work that was done by the individuals, while giving them the opportunity to recognize that an ending has occurred.

Another challenge for a new organization is overcoming a negative reputation from the legacy departments. If the catalyst for the reorganization was dissatisfaction with one or more of the old departments, the leadership team must establish new expectations and trust in the organization's ability to deliver high-quality services. Many times, the user community will have worked around the impediments of a legacy department and identified those few individuals who have committed to offer service excellence. With reorganization, the community is being asked to transfer its trust from the individuals back to a larger organization.

These individuals may not have official titles of responsibility, but instead make up the informal yet powerful core of a personal network that can get things done in spite of an unwieldy bureaucracy. They often hold a significant amount of institutional knowledge that is not otherwise documented but is critical to ongoing operations.

For these individuals, the new identity can be both a blessing and a curse. They may finally be recognized for their good work. On the other hand, as the new organization comes into form, they may struggle with giving up their role as the “go-to” person and sharing their hard-earned knowledge with others.

Reorganization is ultimately about people. It involves putting together a new framework to support them to be more productive and deliver better value to their organization.

During this period, leadership must recognize and celebrate the value of the past, build a new set of goals for the future and deliver on those promises going forward.

Martyne Hallgren is CIO at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martyne Hallgren

Title: CIO, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Timeline: First campus CIO, appointed in 2003

Experience: Twenty years of experience in technology. Former CIO of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.


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