Successfully Merging Organizations - Uncovering the Knowledge Gaps

Mergers and acquisitions take place for various reasons. Corporate entities merge companies to increase their competitiveness in the market. Internal mergers, i.e., departments being consolidated into one organizational unit, are a different kind of consolidation. The cultural change may not be as great as bringing two companies together, but the need for uncovering knowledge gaps is just as important.

Internal audits often drive these efforts, uncovering inefficiencies and opportunities for cost savings. The real challenge, however, is not in identifying efficiency gaps, but getting disparate groups working together so real benefits are realized.

The big picture

A consolidation reveals the need for "big picture" understanding of roles and processes across groups. Departments that perform related tasks often know very little about what the other group is doing. For example, a purchasing department that oversees the rules around acquisition of goods and services has a strong connection to Accounts Payable, responsible for dispersing funds. Ask either group about the day- to-day operation of the other and you'll probably get a few blank stares. This goes for many functional departments expected to work together; IT, Finance, HR, and other centralized groups.

The cause for this lack of understanding starts with the definition of doing a job effectively. Being successful in a role often does not demand knowing "why" work is performed, as long as the task being performed is done correctly. We call this "work by rote", i.e., doing a series of steps by memory (often aided by yellow stickies plastered all over ones monitor).

Knowing why one performs a task starts to become important when the steps need to change. With business as usual, the objective is to get work off ones desk as quickly as possible and make it someone else's problem.

Wake up call

When a department consolidation is announced, people begin to wake up. With business processes and system changes looming, newly formed project teams make their way around both departments asking questions like "Why do you do this?" and "Can we do it this way instead?" Owners of the "to-be" changes quickly begin to recognize the need to understand more of the logic behind their work, something that is rarely explained or even necessary in the day-to-day performance of one's job.

The cause for this lack of knowledge doesn't just rest with the individual, but also the organization. Although employees need to take greater responsibility for what they don't know, organizations need to be more systematic around helping people learn and develop new skills.

What are three key things an organization can do to better facilitate departmental consolidation?

Plug the leadership gap

Inherent in these efforts is a need to identify someone who will lead both groups to a better place. Sometimes this is the manager of one of the existing departments, while other times it should come from outside either group. The key is to not postpone any longer than necessary making this decision, primarily because the direction of the new organization will be driven by new leadership. Leaving this gap in place too long creates tension among both groups, with people spending more time vying for power than focusing on how to collaborate.

Conduct facilitated dialogue sessions

Once a new leader is identified, the next step is to alleviate confusion and set proper expectations. Not everything will be changed overnight. A matter a fact, much will evolve over the next year. People need to be reassured that some of the changes will be gradual, while others need to be in place on day one.

Bringing both parties together through facilitated dialogue sessions can help alleviate tension, frustration and anxiety about the change. Most importantly, you want to get both groups working together in as positive a framework as possible. These sessions should be both an opportunity for people to get to know each other, along with discussing new business practices and vision for the new organization.

Designing learning maps

One final technique to demystify upcoming changes in work processes is to develop learning maps of the organization, combining visual flows of roles, processes, and handoffs across groups. For example, the steps to pay a vendor cut across roles and departments. Having a visual understanding in one place of who does what and why they do it is an important step to build competence for the consolidated environment.

To see an example of learning map, go to http://www.teibelinc.com/pdf/sample_process_map.pdf.

A smooth transition

With strong leadership setting the right context and expectation for the change, facilitated sessions where people can come together and voice concerns as well as get to know each other, and finally, visual representations of the "as-is" and "to- be" processes, you will be well along your way in creating a smoother transition for the new organization.

Facilitation Tip

When facilitating a discussion, a key skill is how you handle questions. Keep in mind two things: Listen carefully to the question. Secondly, answer as if the group asked the question. This has three benefits.

  1. When questions get asked, you won't get tunnel vision by focusing on individuals, ignoring the rest of the group.
  2. By answering for the group, you'll more likely remember to repeat or paraphrase the question, an important technique to keep everyone engaged in the dialogue.
  3. You'll minimize getting sucked into the void of "one-on-one" confrontations by directing your response to the group.