In a volatile business landscape, executives must leverage every resource at their disposal to achieve and maintain peak performance. For top companies, a strong culture is key to success, and the talent development function’s ability to positively affect culture and to help plan and execute change make it a critical player in driving the organizational agility, innovation, and growth that contribute to lasting market leadership.
Talent development leaders who participated in the ATD Research study, Culture and Change: Protecting and Shaping Culture During Transitions, shared some activities their L&D functions are applying in the aftermath of change, especially mergers and acquisitions.
#1. Focus on People First
A talent development leader in a global company with a history of growth through acquisitions noted that her organization makes it a point to sympathize with acquired employees as a means of helping to smooth their transition. “People—especially those who’ve been with a company for a long time—can feel sadness, anger, or other emotions when their employer is acquired by another organization. We try to keep that in mind, treat people with respect, and look for ways to make the change easier.”
A training program manager in a national nonprofit added: “Focus on people before process by providing the tools and training acquired employees need in order to know what’s expected of them. Make it possible for them to achieve things quickly.” To emphasize the people-first approach in learning content, said an L&D leader in healthcare, “we incorporate video snippets from leaders in training about culture to give faces to the messaging.”
#2. Communicating About Culture Is an Early Priority When Companies Merge
In high-performance organizations that emphasize perpetuation of their successful cultures following a structure change, talent development leaders are among those who help plan merger transitions that include first-day celebrations at which executives share stories about the organization’s culture. One family-owned company that participated in the research involved members of the founding family in those activities to provide a personal touch that reinforced continuity of their long-established culture.
#3. Talent Development Makes an Important First Impression on New Employees
Following an acquisition, the learning and development function is often among the first of an organization’s representatives to meet new employees and engage more deeply with them through onboarding and orientation. In those situations, explains a global talent development leader, it is important for L&D to focus on the learning content to be presented. But it is also wise to focus on how that learning is presented because that is what reflects and communicates the organizational culture.
#4. Managing Change and Culture in Tandem Is a Balancing Act
The training and development manager of a U.S. real estate organization says her team works to “communicate and support the positive while also helping to manage the less positive so that everyone in the organization can more forward productively.” Another talent development leader who participated in the research pointed out the challenge of continuing to pay attention to and meet the L&D needs of existing employees and business functions while also working to train and assimilate acquired employees.
#5. Try Something Unusual
A training manager in a U.S.-based pharmaceutical firm reported that her team formed a committee to help in the wake of major change by coordinating special learning activities designed to inject some much-needed fun into the workplace. An L&D leader in an information technology company said his team developed a “before and after preview” to help people visualize the post-change state of the organization, and at a national nonprofit, the director of collaborative learning said her staff leverages town halls, red flag meetings (called to discuss urgent concerns or events), boosters, mindful moments, and power plans to positively affect culture after a big change.
For more insight, check out the complete research study.