Last month I attended one of my childhood friend’s wedding, Paul. Imagine this, a British man moves away from home and meets his soul mate. They have many things in common and some different interests, like most couples! Sarit comes from an Ethiopian culture and as we know, Paul doesn’t! Watching the coming together of these starkly different cultures made me think how organisations merge, acquire or expand globally. As process and infrastructure within a large-scale change often takes priority, we look at some key aspects of people engagement:
1. Communicating to Engage
Paul and Sarit’s way of communicating this change was a fantastic way to engage their guests with the wedding and remove any uncertainty within the two cultures. The months leading up to the ‘merger’, they shared their wedding website with all the guests as a way of explaining what was forthcoming. Here they outlined the story of how they met, uploaded cultural videos for everyone to learn from and invited questions and comments on what people would like to see at the wedding itself. During the party, a screen with a show reel of their favourite pictures acted as a powerful anchor of ‘why’ this life changing event was taking place. Lane4's research on managing change cites clear and courageous change communication as one way to minimise the threat of uncertainty that employers may be feeling within an organisation. Both quality and quantity of communication can enhance levels of trust.
2. Merging the two to create something ‘better’
In corporate marriages, just like this one, it’s important to merge both cultures effectively, avoiding a ‘that’s not how it’s done here’ mindset. I loved seeing the traditional British elements of a wedding interwoven with some amazing scenes that I’ve never experienced. But there was enough familiarity so the guests didn’t feel completely alienated from their norms. The merging of the two cultures was something so new and powerful, that it brought everyone together engaging them in the unique unifying experience. Lane4 defines culture as “the values, behaviours, beliefs, and environments that shape people’s experience within a company” and our research suggests that culture has 3 levels; ‘Culture as Articulated’ - what is openly said by employees and formally stated by leaders, ‘Culture as Experienced’ - what is experienced day-to-day and ‘Deep Culture’ - the taken-for-granted assumptions. The question for business leaders is not whether you have a good or bad culture, but more so, how aligned is your culture across these three levels?
3. Understand how people react to change
David Rock’s SCARF model describes how we as humans react to change and the various neurological threats to our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness1. I was watching Pauls mother as she fluttered between sheer joy and realisation that he now had another woman in his life. For Sarit’s new mother in law, it appeared she felt her status was now being challenged. One way of reducing this threat is through performance conversations, reminding people of their value and unique part to play in the organisations journey. So, when Paul gave his speech, he thanked his parents for the childhood he experienced and for their unwavering love and support. This reaffirmed their value and importance.
Understanding and looking out for signs as to what threats your employees might experience during large scale change, can help you lead them effectively. These are just a few tips to consider when going through change. What further elements should you consider to enable a successful change within your organisation?
1Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal, 1, 78–87.