When planning a merger, or any significant organisational change, it’s easy to assume that once completed, all the initial objectives will be realised from day one (one team, cost saved, quality improved, financial security secured, etc), when in fact this is only really the end of the beginning.  In the case of mergers, once completed, there are effectively still two separate colleges but now operating as one legal entity. The so-called ‘post-merger stage’ is in reality a continuation of the merger process, but with a new focus on integrating processes, technology, and most importantly, people.

Hilary Clifford, Interim Managing Director at AoC Create and Craig Bentley, AoC Create Consultant, hosted a workshop on Post-Merger Integration at the AoC Annual Conference in November. The session focused on the assumptions and expectations underpinning the merger decision and a proven methodology for integrating college operations post-merger.  Workshop participants had a chance to reflect on their merger experience in groups, share ideas, as well as discuss lessons learned from a recent London college case study.

One of the main challenges identified was the merging of different cultures within the new organisation. The challenges range from adopting a new organisational language to ensuring each college recognises the value and unique benefits the other college brings.  Whether it’s the coming together of equals or where one college is the lead, both will have good elements the new college will want to keep. Workshop participants were invited to discuss and debate the benefits of a cross college project based approach that brings together cross-functional teams under a single integration / improvement initiative tailored to the priorities of the new college.

Another pitfall discussed, in both the ‘pre-merger planning’ and ‘post-merger’ stages, is the desire to synchronise everything from ‘Day One’ or as soon as possible following merger, resulting in unrealistic objectives, demotivated teams, and ultimately sub-optimal results.  Participants agreed that this ‘do everything’ approach makes the merger process seem even more overwhelming, has a negative effect on the cultural integration, and results in lower productivity and ultimately longer to achieve the initial merger objectives.

Our session concluded with presentation of a recent case study involving a London college where six projects were scoped out to tackle their high priority areas, from HR processes to improving the learner journey. Delegates took away some practical examples of how the methodology, based on 6 Sigma and lean principles, could help them scope similar improvement activities at their college.