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June 2013 Issue
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Restructuring for Dummies

If you know how to swing the restructuring axe with flair then your future is assured. Places like this near Green Lake, Fiordland, on the other hand aren’t so lucky.

Our beloved leaders are sharpening up the secateurs and getting ready to give DOC a prune. But do they really know what they’re doing? Surely they do. But just in case, here’s a few words of advice for those politicians in charge to help them along the way

Congratulations on deciding to downsize the Department of Conservation! A downsize (you might like to call it a ‘restructure’, it sounds nicer) is a great way to shave a few bucks off the national budget, but there are a few things you should know before you begin.

No doubt this whole restructure thing was as big a surprise to you as it was to everyone else. At the last election, when the New Zealand public voted with an emphatic shrug of the shoulders to bring National back for another term, nobody thought the former foreign-exchange trader turned PM would choose cash over conservation.

But he did. And that decision has trickled down the chain of command like so much dairy farm runoff a chance to pass it on to the folk at DOC.

In private business it’s rare to get an opportunity like this; the massive public relations and employee relations fall-out of laying off staff means that when most companies want to adapt, they simply stop hiring in certain areas, retrain in others and let the process happen gradually.

The ‘turning the place upside down and shaking it’ technique you’re using on DOC is usually reserved for really short-sighted companies who don’t see a crisis coming until it’s too late – and organisations at the whim of elected officials who change every few years.

Sadly you probably won’t get the chance to fire as many people as you’d actually hoped. You see as soon as you make the announcement that you’re going to get rid of those useless ‘back office bureaucrats’, it’s pretty safe to say that any employees with in-demand skills will be updating their résumés, resigning and shuffling off to Australia ASAP.

Once that happens, the staff you’ll be left with are those who are either suffering from some sort of learned helplessness disorder (Think: Stockholm syndrome – “they’re doing it because he loves us”) or who are just hanging on for a few years until they retire.

But that’s okay, an organisation entirely devoid of movers and shakers is placid and subservient; it doesn’t complain about digging mines in Paparoa or tunnels to Milford and it politely acquiesces to intensive tourism – but it’s best not to talk too loudly about that – we’re officially doing this to “make the organisation more efficient”, shifting the balance of power away from the tree huggers is just a bonus.

The best bit about this is that Kiwis love their national parks, so after you’ve sacked those professionals, you can just recruit an army of volunteers to do a lot of the work. Yep, people will do the darndest things for free these days; they’ll pull up weeds, trap pests, maintain and staff huts; but sadly, it’s tough to get volunteers to do boring desk work, so you’ll need to make sure you have a good collection of middle managers and administrators to look after them.

What’s that? You just fired them? Oh well, never mind. You can just hire in consultants to do that stuff – that’ll give all those out of work bankers who didn’t make the jump in to politics before the financial crisis something to do.

So much fun to look forward to.

But it’s not just fun, it’s serious business that’ll look great on your resumé. You’re about to join the ranks of people like Al Dunlap and Roger B. Smith; two of the business world’s revered executives.

Roger Smith is a household name thanks to Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me. Smith’s leadership of General Motors through the worst decade of the company’s history, complete with a ham-fisted restructure is the stuff of legend. But Al Dunlap is really the master when it comes to downsizing.

Dunlap, who’s lovingly known as ‘Chainsaw Al’ spent his career hopping from company to company applying what Time magazine called ‘a myopic obsession with his companies’ financials at the expense of absolutely everything else’ before getting the chop himself in 1995 and walking away with a hundred-million-dollar golden handshake. Great men indeed – and sought after too; as you will be if you can pull this off smoothly.

If you can show the world that you look snazzy in a black hood and know how to swing an axe, you’ve set yourself up for life. Because chances are Teflon John and Co. aren’t going to be around for much longer and whoever replaces them inevitably have their own opinions on how things should be run, which means a fresh round of reorganisation – re-restructures!

If you can pull it off, your future is assured, unlike the future of our threatened species, wild places, and talented people… but they don’t have a value you can measure, so it’s best not to worry about them.

It takes more than just your average idiot to downsize an organisation as important as DOC, but we’re sure you’re the right idiots for the job. Good luck!