The Corporate Reorganization: If You Shuffle the Boxes Will the Results Change?

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McKesson Corporation, where I worked as a senior exec for over a decade, had a habit of the yearly reorganization – usually in March right before the start of the fiscal year on April 1. Reporting relationships changed, some people got shifted, some people got whacked, and business continued along.

Rarely did things in terms of the running the business significantly change.

As Larry Page re-assumes the CEO role at Google, buzz (as opposed to Buzz) from places/people like John Packowski from Digital Daily is that a reorganization is afoot. Something that happens when reorganization is imminent – senior execs moving on – has already happened in the form of SVP Jonathan Rosenberg stepping down on Page’s first day as CEO. [Updated: Here’s the LA Times story of the reorganization announced Thursday, April 7th.]

If Page does what Packowski suggests – “Engineers, Not Managers, in Charge,” will anything really change?

No; it’s not likely.

Google is now at 20,200 employees worldwide, a size point well beyond the turn-a-switch (e.g. 15-30 people) and expect folks to change quickly. It has a roster of acquisitions that would make a swinging single for the early 1970’s blush, and a culture advertised as one “where everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and options” is what underpins the firm’s commitment to innovation.

That sort of culture and size requires systemic and laser-like organizational and behavioral change, not the change-a-reporting-box tactics that are too common, and seldom successful.  J & J, for example, is reorganizing the unit that gives us Tylenol as a “fix” to the quality problems that have plagued not just that unit, but a host of other groups in the company spanning some 50 products – including hips and Tylenonl.

Organizational change for populations of that size is heart and mind, strategy and execution stuff; as former GE CEO Jack Welch demonstrated, it’s working several levers at the same time. Culture change involves elements such as clear articulated picture of the business objectives and outcomes, the behaviors you want to see expressed in the firm, work at the top through to the bottom, and constant communication.

Tough stuff for any CEO; more so for someone like Larry Page who has spent his working life at Google and who is back for a second shot at running the firm. Tougher still for someone who must connect on a human level with people to be successful and who is described by columnists such as James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle as visionary, bright, and “awkward, aloof and dismissive of those who don’t see the world in the unique way that he does.” (Free exec coaching advice to Larry; you don’t have to love the press, but it helps to have a decent working relationship. Even Barack Obama spends time with David Brooks – find something to talk with journalists about so you have rapport.)

Google has significant challenges, the type of obstacles that Microsoft faced 10 years ago. Google has cash, and so did Microsoft.

But if Larry Page wants a different outcome than Microsoft achieved, moving some boxes around won’t get him there.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.