More from the HR Director’s Business Summit, Birmingham.

The seminars continued with some more lessons learned, particularly when it comes to change. Guy Healey, Director, DBM, in his talk about Managing change and retaining key talent gave some top tips, and Paul Kennedy delivered the New Balance story of complete engagement and how changes brought about by HR can turn around a business. He says change is the only constant. As Jon Ingham rightly pointed out in his comments on my previous blog, Vodaphone HRD Matthew Brearley, however did warn against the addiction to change later in the panel discussion, saying there would have to be very good reasons to change. There’s something to be said for ‘if it ain’t broke’ but the idea that things are generally ‘ok’ might lead to complacency. Change can be good. Change is hard. But as Paul Kennedy added, companies that do not innovate, die. Innovation and change can go hand in hand.

Paul Kennedy loves to challenge the audience, who were required this time to score themselves out of 10 on engagement drivers and innovation drivers. He claims New Balance has some way to go but they are getting there on both scores. It will require continual evaluation and probably more change to acheive this, but somehow I think Paul will always find room for improvement and innovation.

Guy Healey and Tim Taylor, who presented a merger case study from his own experience with TUI Travel, provided a lot of insight for managing change. I’ve broken it down into some top tips:

Managing change top tips from Guy Healey

1. The manager should be sympathetic but they should communicate the message and it should be accepted – not necessarily agreed with

2. Keep message clear, consise and tell everyone the same message

3. Manager should be a catalyst in rebalancing after change.

4. Acknowlege loss but reiterate need for change

5. Celebrate success, recognise managers

6. Rebuild remaining teams, reenergise, re-focus and remember managers are critical to the success.
7. When people leave: Maintain self-esteen of leavers to maintain morale of the survivors and protect the reputation of the organisation.


The case study from TUI Travel, presented by Tim Taylor, head of reward and recognition was fascinating as it was so complex. It gave them a real HR headache when it came to retention. The effect on employees cannot be underestimated as the continual change brought about in a merger leads to a variety of behaviours, including leaders who just stop leading.He pointed out that some leaders are not suitable for leading through M&A – then again some will surprise you. But if leaders stop leading, talent leaves, business suffers. Leaders and employees focus on own interests.

This means there is a negative knock-on effect with customers and suppliers.

The take aways from this are below:
How individuals react to change from a leadership perspective

1. Often leaders only find out about change late on or at the same time as employees. Feeling out of control, they start to behave like employees

2. They can be drawn into ‘crooked thinking’ – whereas they need to keep calm and carry on

3. Employees can lose focus and be disruptive. Not good for business: employees make plans to leave and leaders panic and try to retain with cash

4. Need to focus on high performance and set high standards and expectations.
Focus on short term issues – immediate priorities to lead people through. As a leader you need to raise feedback to the line. Continue to role model positive mental attitude

5. Put something holistic in place and create longer term plan based on performance of the business

6. Get key talent involved with plans. Secure people capability, identify where you can reduce turnover and continue to focus on high performance.

How to deal with employees in a merger
Get the board to sign up to these principles.

Firstly, insist on fairness and respect to all employees – ‘treat people elegantly and sensitively’.

Try to reduce uncertainty
Communicate when you can
Tell people when there is nothing to communicate
Select people on merit
Retain talent wherever possible
Try to redeploy people within the business or group

Essentially, managing in uncertainty is a different management skill, but mental toughness, with self belief and motivation can help you get through. Success is as much about how people are feeling as how they are performing.

The outcome for the merged business is that they are on step two of their plan, which revolves around embedding new ways of working. Only two people were lost from the ‘talent pool’ and they are on track to acheive full year target. Current enagement score is 80% and 78% for communication and information – which many would be proud to see even before a merger.

Food for thought – and with mergers and change still afoot in the industry, these are lessons which could well be put into practice.

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