Career coach: Merging workforces

Q I am the managing director of an organisation with around 600 staff and have recently bought out a smaller company of around 50. While both companies are successful and results-driven, they have significantly different cultures. We have always been fairly corporate, but they are more informal and laid back. Although both can learn a lot from each other, I am aware that there can be friction when two sets of employees are thrown together. How can I ensure the transition is as seamless as possible, combining the best of both cultures, without losing talented employees or causing anyone to become alienated or de-motivated?

Adviser: Myles Downey, co-founder, The School of Coaching

A This is a very common concern when merging two organisations. You must bear in mind the changes required in infrastructure and management structure. A common mistake is to forget that people have a choice about where they work, and if changes are imposed on them, they may react negatively, leave, or become frustrated and disengaged. This can lead to a fall in performance but, more importantly, will cause bad feeling to spread.

It’s important to bear in mind why people join an organisation in the first place. They will have seen something attractive in what it does, its culture, and mission. When an organisation changes, there will be a concern that those elements may change or disappear altogether. To address this issue, the change should be acknowledged, and people should literally be re-invited to join the organisation. Find out what they value about their company, and then educate them about the new organisation.

Many people will also experience uncertainty and upset, so consider providing some counselling. This should be done one-on-one with the senior management and in small groups for more junior staff. As workers will look for answers and certainties, give your employees the space to work through the issues and take possession of their new role far more quickly.

As the change will undoubtedly have the greatest effect on the smaller organisation, the most attention should be paid to its staff throughout the process to make them feel at home. Identify and focus on what is great about the company, ensuring not to linger on weaknesses. Encourage people to play to their strengths, and focusing on the positives will generate a new spirit so that they feel integral to the new organisation, and less like they are being swallowed up.

Facilitate the formation of new teams by enabling better, more productive conversations. This can help groups of employees to establish new protocols, goals and purpose while overcoming obstacles.

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