Case Study Three: Integration of Two Companies

Key Stakeholders and their Higher Level Interests:

  • MD of the newly-formed company
    • Was appointed from the larger business, yet is keen to maintain financial performance and keep morale high at a time of uncertainty
    • Has agreed to segregate the businesses on two floors to keep it simple, minimise disruption and to help them retain their sense of self
  • HR Director
    • Very concerned about the adverse comments she is getting about the floor plans
    • Recognises that the decision on keeping the businesses separate has been taken in the context of minimising disruption
    • Not really wanting to have to take up this issue with the MD as it will not be a big issue in his mind (yet).
  • Managers and staff of the larger company (Company A)
    • Historically somewhat old-fashioned and hierarchal  in culture
    • Feel that they are the senior partner in the merger and would prefer to stay separate
    • Recognise that there could be some longer term advantages in being combined due to cross-fertilisation of ideas, improved communication etc.
  • Managers and staff of the smaller company (Company B)
    • Culture historically more open, dynamic and people-driven
    • Concerned that the proposed floor plans will maintain the current differences in identity and will lead to future problems. They would therefore prefer to mix the teams.

In this case we were coaching the HR Director on her concerns about possible disruption and staff discontent. At the superficial level the current plan is logical and leads to a minimum amount of disruption. However, from a more systemic perspective (HR Director), it becomes clear that the strategy would lock in a whole series of potentially challenging problems for later.

The Outcome

The analysis of higher level interests indicated that Company B was likely to be more accepting of any decision as staff would take whatever action was necessary to improve interdepartmental communication and co-operation. The larger, more conservative operation (Company A) would need to feel that their sense of identity and self-worth was safe, as they believed their way of doing things was unlikely to be the preferred option for the future. At the time of intervention, the MD’s interests were much more at the behavioural level of financial performance and minimising disruption.

Exploration of the breakthrough point took some time as neither it, nor the route to it, were immediately apparent. The insight came through a recognition of the major mismatch of ‘Logical Levels’:

  • The MD at Behaviour – Maintaining financial performance and minimising potential disruption
  • Company B at Beliefs and Values – We can make this work, whatever happens
  • Company C at Identity – This whole thing is a threat to who we are.

This meant that the breakthrough point was at least at the level of Identity. From this, the HR Director recognised that she had an underlying (and previously unrecognised) fear about addressing this issue with the MD.  A number of reasons contributed to this concern: its perceived irrelevance in the greater scheme of things, the apparent logic of the current plan and the fact that she had not handled a business integration before. It was then possible to create a new outcome for her to own the issue based on being an experienced, respected member of the senior team with a previous history of success in dealing with a wide range of so-called ‘difficult issues’. She was then able to prepare her case (Well-formed Outcome) on the basis of the MD’s criteria for the risk to financial performance and the high likelihood of threat to future business effectiveness. This, combined with the organisation’s (genuine) wish to be seen as a good employer, enabled a rapid (and successful) consultation process to be initiated with all key stakeholders. The relocation was completed on time, within budget and with the staff of both companies happy with their new integrated workplace.

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