Hacker Career Advice

Reorgs vs. Pivots

Ever been called into the office early, for an all-hands meeting, seemingly apropos of nothing?

Chances are, one of two things is going to happen:

Pivoting is when a company changes its product or target market

Pivots are motivated by profitability. Or more accurately, a lack of profitability. It means there’s not enough demand for your product to justify the expense of building it.

For example: Pager started as a consumer healthcare app, where users could tap a button and a doctor would show up at their home. Doctor on demand - pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, it didn’t scale well, so the team pivoted. They stopped targeting consumers and built a white label telemedicine platform, which insurance companies can integrate into their own mobile apps.

Are pivots easy? Quick?

That depends on the size and agility of your business.

It’s a lot easier for a software company to ship a new MVP than it is for a car manufacturer to develop a new engine.

And even if you can produce something quickly, it’ll take a while to see results in the market.

The most press-worthy pivots are about entire companies, but you can pivot a single division, team, or product line too.

Reorganizing is when a company changes its team structure

Reorgs are about shuffling people around. Firms reorg when they want to maximize the impact of existing and newly acquired talent.

The most immediate change is the org chart

You’ll notice boxes in different places, redrawn lines, and title changes everywhere. The result? Promotions, lateral moves, and new 1 on 1 calendar invites.

Interestingly, these changes tend to affect your responsibilities & ego a lot more than your paycheck. Don’t expect a raise just because you went from Engineer to Team Lead.

It’s not all upward mobility either. Most people will stay in the same place, and some will end up with less authority, effectively demoted. The latter often quit shortly thereafter.

Reorganizations are not pivots

Reorgs are about ensuring you are well structured to reach your strategic goals, while pivots are about changing those goals.

If your company made toasters yesterday, you’ll still be making toasters after the reorg. But, how you make them and who you make them with could be different.

Can you predict a reorg?

The cynic in me says yes. New management and reorgs go hand in hand. New guys always wants to shake things up and make their mark.

You can also bank on it if you have 2-3 bad quarters in a row.

Reorganizations are not permanent

It’s like Agile, iterative development. You try something, see if it works, and then improve upon it.

When I was at Caterpillar, my group did reorgs almost every year:

In other words, change is forever, but individual changes are not. Whatever management does with one reorg, it can undo with another.

How should you react, Fight or flight?

First, breathe. Pivots and reorgs aren’t necessarily bad news. Stewart Butterfield famously pivoted two failing video game companies into Flickr and Slack.

Next, think about the company’s new priorities and if they align with your work. Do you still have the resources and tools you need to be successful?

If you have a new manager, look for ways to highlight your work and accomplishments. You’re starting from scratch in terms of rapport, but your capabilities haven’t changed.

If you’re not well aligned or the company is pivoting away from something you’re passionate about, you’ve got a tough choice to make:

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Both pivots and reorgs give you an opportunity to try a new approach, learn, explore new career paths, and make a lasting impact on your company’s new direction.