It’s been over one year since Notting Hill “merged” with Genesis, and it feels like the right time to share some personal insights as the integration programme lead. Disregarding the significant time investment that is put in prior to merger, it’s fair to say the ‘real work’ begins on day one of the new organisation.
Here are five top tips for successful integration:
1. Have a strong vision and values and communicate
In the first few weeks of integration it would be very easy to let vision and values take a back seat, with the endless demands on leadership time. New organisations must be built on a solid vision and clear values, this step cannot be rushed or be ill-thought through. A good vision will become the bedrock on which to build the integration programme, and ultimately the future. The values of a new company are fundamental as an anchor point to drive new behaviours and culture. A strong values base and vision will provide opportunities to recruit develop and redeploy employees, many of whom will be unsettled by the integration activities.
2. Learn as you grow
You won’t get everything right, not matter how much preparation you put in, but you can learn as you develop. Successful integration takes time, and can be wearing on even the most resilient employee, it is therefore important to recognise early successes and celebrate milestones (no matter how insignificant they feel).
The leadership team will not have all of the answers for successful integration; this can feel unnerving. Acknowledgement of doubt and delegating complicated problem-solving can be difficult for experienced leaders. However, real change requires diversity of thought and the involvement of a broad range of different thinkers. Co-creation of a new organisation, with staff and residents, creates learning, develops the new culture and shares the workload (there is a lot to do!)
3. Pace is important
Integration activities demand a unique combination of reflection and action, balanced by pace; the phrase “as fast as possible and as slow as necessary” is the foundation for a controlled yet deliverable integration programme.
One of the complexities of our merger was integrating structures, systems and processes whilst rolling out digital transformation; my husband (who is an aircraft engineer) likened this to re-wiring an aircraft in flight. We made a commitment to our residents to improve service as well as maintain a good service whilst we merged. Identifying where dedicated integration resources are required as opposed to what can be rolled into BAU, allows you maximum resource deployment whilst maintaining a high quality service to residents.
4. There is no such thing as too much communication
. . . however it’s important that a range of different channels are used, and that the same messages are repeated in different ways. Storytelling can be useful to explain why a merger is happening and the use of real-life stories can help employees and residents to understand their role in the big picture.
Truth and honesty is everything. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”, “this is new to me too”. Even when you don’t have all the answers, a response about when you will know more will help to reduce confusion and certainty. It’s OK to admit when you get things wrong. In my experience, even with the best intentions, there are always some mistakes made in large-scale change programmes (no matter how hard you plan).
5. Remember your passion – don’t lose sight of why
Its well-researched that mergers can lead to feelings of loss. During integration, employees feel the loss of their former organisation, team or process (I have witnessed some heated discussions on the removal of a treasured IT system!). Day-to-day successes can be fleeting in times of change, and can feel lost in the big picture.
The success of a merger is sustained through a focus on both business and personal passions. It is useful to remind employees that a new organisation, although different, is a hive of opportunity, and that their contribution, however small, will create the future vision for our residents.