Change Management After a Merger: 6 Key Takeaways
By Patrick Haywood, Senior Manager, Content Technology and Operations at Poly, and Marshall Comden, Senior Specialist Content Technology and Operations at Poly
Plantronics was formed in 1961 by two airline pilots who wanted to create better headset technology. The company provided the headset Neil Armstrong was wearing when he stepped onto the surface of the moon and uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Within the last year, the 58-year-old company acquired Polycom, a brand providing secure video, voice, and content solutions. Together, we are now Poly, a global communications company that powers authentic human connection and collaboration.
As content technology and operations specialists we work with a 250+ person marketing team that’s still in the process of combining and reorganizing. For the first few months after the acquisition we operated as two separate brands. But before our rebranding in March, we had to come together and manage a unified endeavor that involved approximately 50 programs, 20 program managers, 338 projects, and over a thousand tasks. And we did it all in Workfront.
The rebranding work will continue for years to come, as we relaunch all the things you do think about, like packaging and collateral, along with all of those little things that are easy to overlook, like the invoices accounts payable uses and the signs on the building.
One of the biggest realizations we’ve had along the way is that change initiatives are more about managing behavior, people, and processes than they are about managing technology. In fact, the mantra we have used as we have tackled this massive integration is “people, then process, then technology.” This is true even though technology was one of the big pieces we needed to integrate.
Here are six key takeaways that help us as we continue to successfully integrate these two distinct brands, which were run by two entirely different teams, who were using two separate instances of Workfront.
1. Get Expert Help
As it turns out, both companies were already using the same work management solution, although not in exactly the same ways. So figuring out how to blend two different instances of the same software solution was among our early goals. We started by reaching out to a customer success manager at Workfront, because she had the background to understand the complexity of what we were dealing with, where and how we should start, and the expertise to help us think it through.
To start, we had to determine the value and the quantity of work we had in each instance of Workfront. And it turned out that one instance was much better established and had been live for a year and a half, while the other one was still in development. It became obvious that the one that was live was the one we needed to keep. We brought elements of the other system over, and we decided to do that manually so we didn’t have to go through statements of work, purchase orders, and other administrative hoops to get our system off the ground.
2. Get Executive Sponsorship
It may be a cliché to say it, but you really do need executive sponsorship and support. We knew it was important to help our new leadership team understand the value we were currently getting out of our operational system of record, so we could dedicate resources, time and effort toward it going forward.
Within Workfront, we were able to demonstrate and describe our entire process, from planning to final publication, in concrete steps with assigned accountability across the board. The response from leadership was unequivocally positive; they wanted to help us continue in this vein—which is exactly what we wanted, too.
3. Assess Your People
If you have ten different teams you need to onboard onto your instance of Workfront, but you only have the bandwidth to deal with two of them at a time, you’re going to have to assess whom to bring on first. We do this informally, trying to gauge the answers to such questions as:
- Do they have the resources and bandwidth to take this on?
- Do they have someone they’re willing to dedicate to this?
- Do they know who their decision makers are?
- Do they know what their work is and how to describe it?
- Do they know how things get done?
These may sound like simple questions. But not all teams—especially if the teams are newly formed or newly merged—can easily answer them in the affirmative. Start with the teams that can answer YES to most or all of the above. Choose those teams that are the most mature, the teams that will give you the quick wins. Because if you can get them in and get them working, then they’ll be your leaders and your champions as you bring other teams on. Let them be an example that can lead the rest of the organization along the path of adoption.
4. Engage in Constant Communication
We can’t stress how important this is. Constant and open communication was important in our initial implementation of Workfront at Plantronics, before the merger, and it continues to be important to this day. When we start working with an individual team, we take them through the same, consistent framework that Workfront used with us, including:
We also set up a regular cadence of status meetings with them—at least weekly at first. By creating a consistent place for a new team to communicate with you, it’s easy to stay in the loop about how things are going, what needs to be fixed, and what issues are popping up, so you can work through them together.
Likewise, we set up regular, recurring meetings with our Workfront customer success team, so whenever a problem arose that we couldn’t handle, we had a predictable place to take it. This has been a vital part of our success so far.
5. Listen and Learn
When we start to work with a team on their process, we sit down with them with an objective mindset and do a deep dive into what their process looks today. We ask questions like:
- What is the work being done?
- What processes have they used in the past?
- Where do they want to be?
- How is their process not working today?
- Where are the gaps and the pitfalls?
As we engage in this discovery process, we get familiar with the journey that they’re on, so we can understand how Workfront can help them achieve their desired improvement in process.
6. Demonstrate the Capabilities of the Tool
After we’ve listened to and learned from the team, we take the opportunity to sit down with them and show them the functionalities of our work management solution. During this initial demo of the tool, we will see them immediately start to identify some aspects of the tool that they’re excited to use—and some aspects they don’t want to use—based on what we previously discovered about how they work. This reaction is most common with established teams that already have a solid process.
It’s important to note that we never coerce anyone into using the tool in a capacity that they’re not excited about. We just demonstrate what has worked for others, and if it works for them as well, great. The main objective is solving problems and making sure work is getting done, all while acknowledging that there doesn’t have to be just one standard approach. We remain open to their ideas, so they truly feel like they’re part of designing and discovering the process that they’re going to use.
There are also those teams that don’t yet have their processes defined—especially shortly after a merger or reorganization. For these teams, we instead suggest some ways our work management solution can help them establish and define their new process. We show them how some of the teams within our instance have seen success, so they can organically decide if they’d like to follow in their footsteps.
Focus on Capability Over Commitment
When it comes right down to it, our job is not to increase people’s commitment to using our tool. We’re not here to convince or convert. We’re here to create greater capability—to help teams discover their processes, figure out how to organize their work and their people, and ultimately be more productive.
According to research from Gartner, for every 1% increase in a person’s commitment, you get a 5% increase in productivity. But for every 1% increase in capability, you get a 16% productivity increase. Commitment is all about understanding WHY we’re doing something, and it’s important—but it’s not exactly in our job description as content technology and operations specialists. Capability, on the other hand, is all about HOW a team accomplishes their goals, which does fall within our purview. We’ve found there’s nothing more rewarding than helping a team find the right solution for them, which makes them more empowered, more capable, and more productive. After all, it’s the seemingly small steps like these that lead to those giant leaps forward, like Neil Armstrong experienced—with our company’s help—50 years ago this year.