WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, stephen.bubb@haynet.com, is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

I am considering a proposal to merge with a similar third sector body, but many members of staff are uneasy. How do I tackle this?

Mergers seem to be fashionable at present, and rightly so. In driving our third sector agenda forward we should always be on the lookout for ways to improve our services.

There have been some high-profile mergers in the sector, but there has not been a lot of analysis about what makes a merger work, though ACEVO is working on a guide to mergers. A survey by the HayGroup of private sector mergers said that 70 per cent failed due to inadequate integration planning.

No doubt in your early discussions you conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the merger. Clearly, there are always costs in a merger - offices, computer systems, potential redundancies and so on. Of course they may well be outweighed by the economies of scale and more effective service delivery.

But the bottom line is the 'people factor'. There is no point in spending a lot of time reviewing administrative systems and legal structures if you ignore the people who can make the merger work. If there is staff unease you definitely need to tackle this.

You must balance the need for proper planning and preparation with the need to inform people about the new staff structure. Be as quick as you can in determining the merged organisation's staffing, and ensure you get the right people into the right jobs.

Mergers raise obvious issues around people's job security. Who will get what job? Will there be lots of redundancies? There may well be a clash of organisational culture between the two organisations.

So the message here is communication, communication, and communication.

Leadership will be a vital ingredient. You must ensure that key managers are kept fully in the picture and are empowered to tackle issues with staff. You need to set up regular team and staff meetings and emails.

Develop a newsletter if you don't have one and look for ways in which meetings and events can be held involving staff from both organisations.

You should involve staff at all levels in determining how the new organisational culture will emerge.

Mergers can be wonderful opportunities to revitalise an organisation.

Look at what is good and bad in your organisational culture and see what can be changed. Remember the wonderful advice of Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking the landscape but in having new eyes."

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