Support your employees through change

Effectively managing the coming together of two groups of people and two distinct organisational cultures is critical to the success of your merged entity. The human dimension of mergers is sometimes overlooked and it can be one of the hardest things to do well.

When managed well, this stage has the opportunity to reinvigorate staff in the new organisation and create a dynamic new culture that aligns with your new mission and objectives and builds on the strengths of both partners. When managed poorly, this stage has the potential to derail a merger or prevent you from realising the long-term benefits of a merger – particularly when people in the new organisation do not feel like they are being adequately supported and engaged. 

I’m just going to say culture, culture, culture, because seriously it’s the culture of the place that makes change hard. And if you don’t get the culture right first off, then you’re always going to be on the back foot. One of the biggest things that I can say is you’ve got to get that culture in place first. Not come in and be the boss and say, “Oh well, now each person’s going to report to that one and we don’t know what we’re going to do here yet.”
— Not-for-profit organisation on the importance of culture to successful integration

The keys to success for this stage of integration are:

  • œ  Patience: Bringing two organisations together to create a vibrant new identity and culture takes time as new relationships, norms and expectations develop.
  • œ  Understanding: Take the time to understand the aspirations of your new partner and what they hold dear about their old organisation and what worked well and what did not work well.
  • œ  Respect: Treat your new partner as an equal, take them seriously, and remain humble and polite.
I think there needed to be a little bit more understanding and embracing of who we were in the sector and what we had achieved in the sector, in terms of our reputation around our practice framework. So, I think that may have helped a little bit.
— Not-for-profit organisation that has undergone a merger

The Change Management Framework in Figure 21 is designed to help guide you through four different phases of managing the cultural changes associated with bringing two organisations together. These phases are broadly sequential but can overlap at specific points of the change process. Each phase is described in more detail below.

Our guidance in this section will touch upon the following people aspects of post-merger integration: leadership, organisational culture, and employee engagement with the business case for merging.

It is worth noting that the activities in this stage also overlap with the guidance provided in Develop your new identity and brand and Communicate the change.

Figure 21: Change Management Framework

Phase 1: Set direction

The Set direction phase defines and plans what change needs to occur. It involves clearly articulating the case for change and the benefits expected by internal and external stakeholders. This frames all future change actions and builds the energy of people in the new organisation to start the change with sufficient momentum.

Phase 1 can be usefully categorised into two sub-steps:

  1. Define the case for change: This first step involves clearly articulating the rationale, goals and benefits of the merger and change process. A strong case for change will resonate with staff and provide a clear picture of why it is happening.
  2. Plan the change: The second step is to do the preliminary planning so the merged entity is set up for success. This involves identifying the scope of the change, the relevant stakeholders and the capacity of both organisations to undertake the change.

Phase 2: Prepare leaders

The prepare leaders phase equips and activates leaders to drive the change. Leaders impacted by change need to be actively involved in the process, and need to understand, champion, role model and persevere to sustain the change.

This stage also involves engaging critical external stakeholders to listen to, and understand their perspectives, forge relationships and come together to develop workable solutions.

Phase 2 can be usefully categorised into two sub-steps:

  1. Identify leaders: This step is about identifying the leaders that will be central to change implementation. This ensures that the merged entity has the right people (both formal leaders and change champions) on board, ready to help roll out the change.
  2. Equip leaders: The aim of this step is to make sure that the change leaders have the right skills and resources to be effective. This step involves identifying what role the change leaders will play in rolling out the change and what support is required for them to be effective change champions. 

Phase 3: Involve and engage

Change will be fully embraced when employees and the broader stakeholder community are included in actions to involve and engage people in it. This phase involves identifying and leveraging existing organisational channels to spread the change, using a series of change levers such as role modelling, training, coaching and incentives. Depending on the nature of the specific change, this may also involve engaging a broader range of external stakeholders so that they see the benefits of the change, help to shape it and understand the actions that will be taken to implement it. This is an important time to celebrate early successes and provide compelling evidence that the hard work is paying off.

Some staff in both partner organisations will inevitably have concerns about the merger. These concerns may stem from uncertainty about what the merger means for them, or a deep attachment to the way their organisation operated pre-merger. It is therefore important for managers to be sensitive to any concerns and to be patient as employees experiment with aligning their expectations and behaviours with the cultural norms of the new organisation.

This phase of change management can be categorised into two sub-steps:

  1. Communicate: This step is about ensuring the merged entity spreads frequent, timely and accurate information about the change. A good communications strategy involves thinking carefully about what the change will look like and how staff will need to contribute. See Communicate the change for more guidance.
  2. Engage people at scale: The second step is to build a ground swell for the change and momentum for the new way of doing things. This is because critical mass is required to achieve change and it will only succeed when it becomes embedded in day-to-day ways of working. This step involves learning and development, local action planning and delivering and celebrating quick wins.

Phase 4: Make it stick

The make it stick phase ensures that the change becomes embedded and is sustainable. This is about following up on change at the local level, aligning the organisation and holding people accountable for improvement.

This phase can be categorised into two sub-steps:

  1. Align and refine: Changes can only ‘stick’ if they fit easily with how the merged entity operates day-to-day. The change needs to be aligned to the new organisation’s processes, accountabilities and technologies to ensure that it is readily implemented and embedded. Therefore it is important to check that your change is aligned to the broader organisational infrastructure. 
  2. Hold people to account: Holding people accountable to deliver is one of the most important success factors for any change. This step provides guidance on how to monitor the implementation of a project, hold people accountable to deliver and to conduct a post-implementation review.  

Please feel free to leave questions or comments on this part of the merger toolkit.