Managing employee culture during change

Guest author Benjamin Black (a BrightHR partner) discusses the importance of clear communication with employees when your business undergoes a merger or structural change.

Benjamin Black: BrightHR partner and owner of Blacklarke HR Consulting

Most organisations will have spent a huge amount of time planning their merger or major structural change. Costs will be calculated, project plans drawn up and external messages will be carefully managed to explain why the changes have happened and what to expect next.

The organisation will likely look at the impact on its people. They’ll take employment law advice, and often make sure their staff receive the same messages as other audiences. They may also host Q&A and communications events, but in the majority of cases, it’s likely to be very much a top down exercise, telling staff what they need to know. However, decision makers need to think about the original purpose of the merger or restructure — is just ‘carrying on’ and merely telling everyone what is happening good enough?

Here is where the great places to work differ from the rest. These companies understand that change is an opportunity to revisit their culture and examine their relationship with their employees, getting rid of what hasn’t been working and introducing new initiatives to increase productivity through better engagement. Where appropriate, it’s also an opportunity for their employees to actively shape their own destiny by working with management on the development of the future culture of the company.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer as to how approach this. Every business is different. In some sectors, a high turnover, low employee engagement model may well make more commercial sense than investing heavily in culture and engagement. But unless the business considers its options and uses the change as a chance to reflect, it’s going to lose a great opportunity.

However, whatever the employment model, there will always be a need to examine working practices and make changes which affect those on the ground. These are not option, they are absolutely necessary to keep the business functioning.
This includes ensuring consistency in the systems and processes employees use to carry out their jobs. A merged company cannot function if the two legacy organisations operate on entirely different IT platforms, HR systems or levels of approval, to name but a few. If there is no clear overall ‘way of doing things’, misalignment of priorities, duplication of work and conflict are inevitable consequences.

Culture Change is Inevitable

They may seem like purely practical changes, but making them will automatically change the culture of a business, even if it means that Legacy Business A adopts all the practices of Legacy Business B. At the most basic level it involves ensuring employees understand the chances, how they will affect them and why they have been made, for example understanding that the company is going to use a certain IT platform and why and then receiving training on how to use it.

The question leading on from this is whether the organisation wants to capitalise on these ‘automatic’ changes and use them to push to the next level of culture change and engagement. Instead of sorting out only what is absolutely necessary to function, could this be an opportunity to take the business to the next level, not just basing decisions on functionality and cost, but looking at a more strategic approach and organisational ethos to which all employee related decisions should be aligned?  

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