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5 Steps to Navigate A Department Reorganization

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once penned, "There is nothing permanent except change." Although large-scale reorganizations don't often happen in Academia, they do occur. When they do, suddenly, the structure of your academic program, the colleagues you work with daily, or even the building you are in may change, resulting in many unknowns. 

These and many other restructuring outcomes can leave you feeling like a feather in a dust storm.

Having been through reorganizations, I understand the anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. If you experience a department restructuring, here are my top 5 tips for maintaining sanity.

1. Develop and practice Professional Grace

If you didn't read our September blog on this critical attitude, stop and read it now (here's the link). It will help you stay calm amid unrest and give you a few tools to handle the conversations you have with colleagues surrounding reorganizations. 

2. Critically analyze what your job entails and how the reorganization will

affect you. 

This is a simple step but one that is often overlooked. Ask yourself, "Will the change(s) affect the requirements of my job?" Will you teach the same classes, have to do research, and be expected to be professionally involved? If the answer to these questions is all 'yes,' then focus on your job requirements and not the reorganization. 

Recently, I had about 25 colleagues whose division, curricula, and degree programs were moved out of one department into a different College due to a University reorganization. This was not a voluntary action. After the dust had settled, there were a few changes, but overall, most of the faculty's jobs had not changed. But the unknowns of drastic reorganization brought anxiety and fear to my colleagues. So, before losing sleep over the proposed changes, consider if the proposed reorganization will genuinely affect you. Focusing on the here and now, not the what-ifs, will reduce stress. 

3. If your job changes, how will those changes affect your day-to-day job duties? 

The converse of point 2 is what to do if the changes affect your daily job. Some significant aspects did change for the colleagues I mentioned above. At the same time, their job requirements stayed the same (i.e., teach excellently, do excellent research, participate in service). They were suddenly thrust into a new administrative structure and forced to develop departmental and policy guidelines quickly. They were also put in a different college in another portion of the University with a different culture and expectations. 

These types of changes, while perhaps seemingly insignificant from the outside, can influence a faculty member's daily job duties. Suddenly, you may have to figure out how to do everyday things again; for example, how do you requisition supplies? Do you have the same grant support you had before, or do you have to figure out a new and different way of handling those activities? How do you arrange for professional travel? Where do you get copy paper from?

The list of the things that might change with a reorganization can seem small and insignificant. Still, these small items can be significant in number and lead to a period of uncertainty and anxiety. When faced with these changes to your day-to-day functioning, step back and consider whether these are permanent changes or just a temporary reorientation. The following tip will best serve you if most of your changes are temporary. 

 4. Be Still. 

I once attended an all-faculty meeting where the Provost announced, without warning, that all Departments would be abolished. At the time, it was believed that a flat structure, where everyone answered directly to the Deans, would be best. However, no one told the Deans this would happen, and within two weeks, the plan had quietly been abandoned. But, within those two weeks, when everyone could have remained calm and still, focusing on final exams, graduation, and the holiday break, faculty wondered how they would do their jobs and whom they would answer to. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to be still and wait. You never know what waiting will do. 

 5. Is this a long-term situation for you? 

After a reorganization, assess how your job will change and what changes you'll have to make (if any). If there are significant permanent changes to your position see Step 3.  In that case, it's time to consider whether your situation is viable for you long-term. If, after a time of adaptation and reflection, you find that restructuring has made it challenging to continue in your job, you'll need to look for a situation that better suits your needs and work style. If this is the case, start looking. People change jobs in Academia on a routine basis. Working in a situation you do not feel is in your best interest is not worth the mental struggle. Hopefully, any reorganization you face will have positive outcomes (often, they do!)

In the end, sometimes changes are forced on us, and sometimes these changes occur due to advances outside the University. Either way, in every situation, acting professionally and carefully analyzing how your job will be altered will help you figure out how to best deal with the changes you are facing. Change is inevitable and often out of your control; how you deal with that change is within your control and will determine whether you'll succeed in the long term. 

Keep Moving Forward




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