Mergers and acquisitions have a bad reputation when it comes to culture and talent management. Pamela Trinh, HR Manager at MLA Canada, shares her experience managing culture after a rebrand following the merger of two real estate powerhouses: MAC Marketing Solutions and BLVD Marketing Group.
Pamela fell organically into the world of Human Resources. She began her career working in case management for a non-profit organization that focused on helping newly settled immigrants overcome barriers to finding employment to working with individuals with various barriers for employment within the Downtown Eastside. Her career eventually evolved into the world of professional services and tech helping organizations optimize their human capital before landing into her current role within the real estate industry.
Why is managing culture after a re-brand so important?
For most employees, their company’s brand and culture are something they identify with on a personal level. A new culture means people have to associate with a new identity and this can create a lot of challenges. It’s the same idea as if you were to move to a new neighborhood. There are still houses and parks and structural similarities to your old house, but the character is different. Managing culture during change is a lot different than bringing on one new person and having them adapt. Current employees are more likely to feel uncertainty and you need to find ways to ensure there is trust in the organization and to help them feel safe and secure. It is important to have everyone understand why the change happened and how it will impact them.
MLA Canada didn’t just re-brand, they also merged. How did you navigate all of this change while also building culture?
The merger allowed us to combine two amazing companies and cultures, and take the best aspects from each to create something incredible. We recognized that change requires time, and regular communications allowed employees to obtain updates and understand the goals and upcoming priorities. Through the merger, there were many lessons learnt but the biggest takeaways are to communicate regularly and to ensure active listening.
How did the merger & re-brand impact your workforce at MLA Canada?
We had people who were tenured with both organizations and there was a strong association and connection to the identity that an initial soft roll out helped them to transition to the new brand. We were very conscious of the fact that you have to get early adopters and leverage them to be ambassadors. Senior team members were asked to identify key aspects they enjoyed about the past and incorporate those valuable elements into our strategy to get them excited about the future. People come from all different needs, wants and backgrounds and you have to come to the decision that the change is for the greater good.
What kind of resources help to make change management initiatives successful?
One recommendation is to work with a change management agency. The agency and its facilitator can help with some of the facilitation of workshops and creating dialogue around the situation. This person comes in as a neutral mediator, giving everyone the chance to be heard without bias.
You are clearly talented at managing culture during times of intense change. Can you share a success story with us?
Early in my career I worked for a not-for-profit that operated independently. We were then moved, along with 8 other independent not-for-profits, under one roof called Work BC. All 8 of us were operating together under this new brand and brand new system, but were still our own entities. Aligning culture and getting everyone on board was a huge undertaking. We consulted a third-party group to help us facilitate conversations and change.
We used the early adopters to champion the movement, and encouraged a positive attitude throughout the process. The biggest takeaway from this was to communicate and generate buy-in in a way that specifically addresses how the change will impact each individual. Once everyone was able to see how the change affected them on a personal level, they were able to put that aside and work together for the good of the organization.
The Speed Round
1. What is the most important thing to keep in mind when going through a rebrand?
Don’t rush, know that a rebrand takes time to put all the right pieces together. Surround yourself with the right partners, agencies or consultants to help you determine your new identity, brand strategy and voice. Be thoughtful of how and when you launch and implement the rebrand.
2. Where should you start when it comes to managing culture?
Start with the people. It is the people who create the culture. You have to have the right people to take it and run with it. Understand the pillars of what makes the company culture engaging and fun, and get feedback on what the group likes and dislikes whether social activities, company meetings, team luncheons to the holiday parties so you can tailor programs to the employees.
3. When is the best time to present ideas in order to optimize buy in?
As early as possible! The more buy in you have the easier it will be in the long run. Remain transparent throughout the process and if you don’t have an answer, communicate this to employees and that it’s either in the works or where it sits on the priority list. People will see that vulnerability and with that comes appreciation.
4. How can you present your ideas to effectively target a range of stakeholder groups?
As the company grows, what works for 10 people doesn’t work for 100 people, so you have to be strategic. Get the senior leaders on the same page first and make sure they know exactly what is going to be communicated and work down from there. Deploy a strategy and a timeline of how the change will be rolled out, and do this simultaneously throughout all departments. It’s also helpful for the leadership group to anticipate potential questions and employee’s emotional responses, being prepared will help manage unforeseen reactions and guide the meeting successfully.
5. Any final words?
When it comes to change management and culture development – as long as the greater good is the intent, there isn’t a right or wrong path to doing things. Even if you map out a plan, issues may arise that require reassessment or further critical thinking. If your intent is, to put people first and build the best place possible to work, that’s what counts.
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