Anyone who’s been involved in a major business transformation process will probably be familiar with stories of tears along the way. But for James Trusler, who took HR responsibility for a recent major global takeover deal, sometimes it’s all about the ‘tiers’.
In any business takeover or merger, getting the people piece right is paramount.
Different cultures, different languages and different processes all conspire to making HR management during a time of major change a real can of worms.
But perhaps even more difficult than managing the employees is the process dealing with the ‘people who look after the people’. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that HR staff are probably the hardest to lead through any significant business change.
But they are also absolutely key to success. And that’s why, when trying to integrate two businesses across 35 countries in under 18 months, we adopted a two-tier approach to HR transformation.
We identified our first tier as those countries with between 50 and 1,000 employees. These tended to be the ones that were, for all intents and purposes, fully functioning companies, with their own HR business partners, L&D and talent management etc in place.
In these countries our biggest challenge was getting the communications and change management process right. Some countries bought into the takeover message because they were under cost control and they saw it as an opportunity to do things differently and reposition themselves within a larger entity. Others, who were performing well, viewed it as a corporate process that didn’t really impact on their day-to day activities, so were less engaged.
We knew from the outset that the HR leaders were key to developing consistency of approach and cuture. We walked our HR leaders through the changes that needed to take place and although they were supportive of the overall need, a number didn’t fully buy in to what we were trying to do on the ground.
So we adopted a bottom up, top down approach involving direct engagement of the HR teams at the same time as core massaging from the individual country business leaders. It was a carrot and stick approach that worked well for our tier one targets –
but it was heavy lifting and not something we would have wanted to repeat across all 35 countries.
So in the remaining, smaller, tier 2 coutries we adopted a different model. We ended up designing an operating model for HR that could be adopted almost ‘off the shelf’. We then went as far as creating a virtual office environment, complete with all the processes that might need to be followed, so that the smaller organisations could road test how the model worked for them.
The final stage for the tier twos was creating an international network of ‘point people’ that they could go to for advice and guidance in the event of issues arising that were not covered in the operating model.
It was a challenging, but ultimately rewarding transformation, the success of which is probably best judged by the fact that I’m still in post, leading the HR function two years after the completion of the merger.