Merging road sign from Shutterstock
Tackling the corporate intranet when multiple organisations merge is one of the most challenging issues to confront.
Instead of trying to merge the existing intranets, this article presents a different approach, whereby the new corporate intranet grows in step with the progress of the merger itself. This approach reflects the reality of the environment and cultures within newly-merged organisations.
(This paper has been distilled from the ideas raised and discussed by participants at the Intranet Peers in Government workshop held in Sydney.)
There are many situations in which two (or more) organisations merge, whether through corporate acquisition, or via the consolidation of government agencies.
Nowadays, it is likely that each of these organisations already has an intranet, and the question arises: how to create a single intranet that covers the whole of the merged organisation?
There are many good reasons for endeavouring to create a single intranet platform, including:
- helping to create a single culture
- acting as a consistent communications medium across the whole organisation
- creating a sense of shared community
- reducing duplication of effort
- helping people to understand the new corporate vision and strategy
- breaking down organisational ‘silos’
The merged organisations will have very different cultures
At first, there would seem to be a daunting (and potentially insurmountable) array of challenges confronting any team looking to tackle intranet issues when organisations merge, including:
While the decision to merge organisations is made at a strategic level, it will almost certainly be the case that there are quite different cultures in the original organisations.
These were described by one workshop participant as ‘tribal’ issues, and this is certainly a powerful metaphor for the situation when multiple organisations first merge.
While the intranet can be used as a tool to facilitate bringing together these cultures, any attempt to create a single intranet will run head-on into these cultural differences.
Resistance to change
In any change of this magnitude there will always be resistance (either active or passive) from staff. This is particularly the case if the merger came as a surprise to the organisations involved.
There is often a considerable impetus to maintain the ‘status quo’ within the organisations being merged. This also comes from the desire to retain the identity of the organisations, in the face of the merger.
For all these reasons, there are many barriers to overcome in moving the organisations together, and preventing ‘silos’ from being established.
In some organisations where this has not been tackled successfully the identity, structures and processes of the original organisations have remained for decades.
Perception of a ‘takeover’
There is the very real danger that some of the organisations involved in the merge will feel as if they have been ‘taken over’ by a dominant group.
This can cause considerable problems, as it can lead to a ‘siege mentality’ that further enhances resistance to change.
Uncertainty surrounding the merger makes it difficult to plan
Merging organisations is a very uncertain process. Rumours and fear can abound, and conflicting messages often circulate through the organisations.
Initially, there may be no clear plan for the merger, and even if there is a plan, it takes time for the decisions made by senior management to filter down to all staff.
Without a certain future, it is very difficult to tackle larger or more complex projects, or to make longer-term strategic decisions.
There are many business stakeholders wanting a say in the direction of a single intranet, and this will be doubly so for any new corporate intranet.
Intranet activities cross many organisational lines, and for this reason, they can get caught up in the competing priorities of individual business units.
Without clear senior executive sponsorship and guidance, these priorities can be very difficult to balance or resolve.
Different designs and structures
The existing intranets will undoubtedly have very different designs, due to the history of the sites and the specific needs of the organisation that they serve.
These differences will include:
- overall corporate branding
- site structure (information architecture)
- page layout
- logos and colours
- terminology used
Beyond the issues outlined above, there are many other challenges which can only briefly mentioned due to space constraints within this article:
- constant state of change caused by merger
- widespread changes to business processes
- imbalances in budgets between the original organisations
- different (or even incompatible) technologies
- lack of an overall IT architecture or strategy
- limited budget and resources for either the merger or intranet activities
- unresolved issues with the existing sites, including poor structure, and out-of-date content
- organisational branding not completed at initial point of merger
Don’t attempt to merge the existing intranets
A great number of challenges have just been listed, enough to make any intranet manager reluctant to tackle the problem as a whole.
However, instead of attempting to directly confront these challenges, this article outlines an approach that works within the environment and issues to deliver a practical and useful solution.
The overall approach is as follows:
Don’t merge intranets
At the outset, don’t attempt to merge the existing intranets. This is a hugely difficult task in itself, but fundamentally it is trying to create a representation of something that doesn’t yet exist (a truly merged organisation, in more than just name).
Instead, this approach involves creating a new intranet that will grow and evolve as the merger proceeds.
Match the intranet to merger progress
The merging of organisations is a slow and complex process, often surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty and confusion.
At all times, the development of the intranet must be matched to the progress of the merger itself.
If the intranet is used to drive the creation of a perceived single organisation before the structural changes have been made, the intranet team is placed in a position of having to tackle a huge number of internal process and political issues head on.
By matching the merger progress, a ‘path of least resistance’ can be taken, where the intranet is simply used to reflect the outcomes of decisions made by senior management.
Focus on creating trust
The key focus must be on creating trust in the new intranet site as it grows and evolves. If it is to succeed, it must be seen as a ‘truthful’ communications medium that staff can rely on.
Internal communications activities are therefore a key part of this intranet strategy.
Take a phased approach to creating a new intranet
Take a phased approach
The following sections outline a phased approach to creating a single intranet. Note that these are not hard-and-fast stages, but instead points along a continuous process of evolution. In practice, you will need to keep a close eye on the progress of the merge, and schedule intranet activities accordingly.
The key to succeeding at this approach is to be flexible and adaptable, and to be able to ‘think on the run’.
At the outset, the merger is likely to be the sole topic of discussion within the organisations being brought together.
The first phase therefore focuses on creating a merger site. This exists for the sole purpose of informing staff about the decisions made, and the overall progress of the merger.
This site is branded strictly as a merger site, and not as any form of new ‘corporate intranet’.
When the merger is first announced, the overall decision may be clear, but it is likely that many of the details will still be uncertain.
Many questions will be on the minds of staff, including:
- what will the new organisational structure be?
- what changes are happening, and when?
- will I still have a job?
- will I get a pay cut, pay rise or neither?
This new site must be used to answer these questions honestly and openly. If staff perceive that the message is being ‘spin doctored’ then the purpose of establishing the site has been lost. Worse yet, it may reinforce negative attitudes and strengthen resistance to change.
In many cases, the key questions that staff will be asked can be predicted in advance, and answers prepared for later use.
Linking to existing resources
Beyond information on the merger, this new site should link to the existing intranets and other online resources.
This will assist staff who are looking to gain an understanding of the activities or structure of the other organisations they are being merged with.
Start by creating a single-purpose ‘merger site’
Any attempt to define the ownership of a single corporate intranet may be very difficult initially. Creating new intranet governance strategies will be even harder.
The advantage of starting with a ‘merger site’ is that it is small enough to hopefully bypass some of this internal politics.
The site should be setup by the coordinated actions of the existing intranet teams. This could be done informally, if a formal decision has yet to be made about the structure of any merged intranet team.
Ideally, the first groups to be merged are the internal communications teams within each of the original organisations.
The combined team can then ensure that a consistent message is delivered throughout the whole organisation.
They are also ideally placed to coordinate the activities surrounding the initial merger site.
For example, one approach that has been taken by organisations is to create a ‘rumour mill’ that identifies gossip that is circulating through the organisation, and provides a definitive answer from management. A similar approach is an ‘ask the CEO’ forum.
Keeping it simple
The advantage of starting small is that little (if any) technology is required. While the existing organisations may already have one (or more) content management systems, it may be difficult to chose which one to use in the short-term.
Because of the small number of pages, there is no reason why this site can’t be published and managed using Dreamweaver or Frontpage.
Any news sections can then be done by hand, or preferably using a light-weight weblog tool such as Movable Type. This is a low (or zero) cost tool that provides a simple authoring interface while still being very easy to install and run.
Grow the new site as the merger proceeds
Beyond the initial merger site, the next phase involves adding some additional tools and information to the site.
At first, this might include:
- single corporate staff directory (when one is created)
- key forms (particular HR forms, such as the leave form)
- core policies and procedures
- expanded news system
- improved search engine
These new items are only added when they are ready. For example, a policy review process might have been initiated as part of the merger project, and when this starts to consolidate a single set of corporate policies, these can be added to the site.
When these tools or information are added to the site the old versions are then removed from the existing intranets, and replaced with links to the central site.
In this way the central site, while still being branded as the ‘merger site’, starts to grow into a valuable information resource for staff.
Eventually the merger is no longer a major issue
Phase 3 and beyond
The gradual addition of corporate information and tools onto the new site continues, in step with the organisational merger and restructure.
When the time is right, some addition steps can be taken:
- The site can be re-branded or redesigned to reflect the new organisational colours, logos, etc.
- A more comprehensive information architecture (site structure) can be developed and migrated to.
- A new name can be determined for the site, either decided by management, or via staff competition.
- A content management system can be deployed, once the overall corporate IT platform has been finalised.
At some point, the merger itself will cease to be such a major issue, and is therefore downgraded on the homepage. In due time, merger information can be moved off the homepage altogether, and eventually even removed from the site as whole.
At this point, through a gradual step-by-step process, a new corporate intranet has been created that reflects the merged organisation.
What is left of the original sites can then be left as is (if appropriate), migrated into the new corporate site, or left to quietly whither away.
If it doesn’t come together
Not all mergers are successful, and the intranet cannot expect to succeed if the overall organisational restructure doesn’t work.
In this situation, the phased creation of a new site again provides advantages. By starting small, the site can be put on hold if the merger stalls, or abandoned if the organisations decide to operate as ‘silos’ or if they de-merge.
By leaving the existing sites intact to a large degree, the original organisations retain their current information resources for as long as they are needed and relevant.
Merging intranets within a single organisation
The approach in this article has been specifically designed to meet the need for a corporate intranet when multiple organisations merge. Unfortunately, it is not applicable when existing intranets (or ‘sub sites’) are being merged within a single organisation.
When existing intranets are merged within a single organisation, there is typically no overall organisational restructure or change in culture, and it is these cultural changes that are used as the basis for driving the activities outlined in this article.
The topic of merging existing intranets within a single intranet will therefore be explored in a later article.
This article presents a phased approach to creating a new corporate intranet when organisations merge.
The initial starting point is to create a ‘merger site’ that is used as the key communications channel for information on the merger itself. As the merger proceeds, additional information and tools are added to this central site, as they are finalised.
The site is then continuously grown and evolved, to the point where the merger is no longer the primary issue.
At this point, the site can be gradually re-branded and restructured, eventually becoming the new corporate intranet.
In this way, the new site is a direct reflection at all times of the organisation it serves. By meeting the needs of staff at each point in the merger, trust is built in the new site.
This greatly simplifies the challenges confronting the intranet team, while creating a site that is of both immediate and lasting value to staff.
(For an overall methodology for developing or redeveloping an intranet, see the Intranet Roadmap.)