While today “The Brady Bunch” might seem like a quaint reminder of a simpler time, it was actually quite controversial when it first hit the airwaves on September 26, 1969. Instead of telling stories about a traditional family, it highlighted the challenges of blending two already-established family units into a single, cohesive family.
Even if the challenges are different, healthcare organizations going through a merger or acquisition can learn a lot from the Brady’s core message: the greatest success in turning two separate entities into a blended organization will be achieved when they work together, leverage strong leadership, proactive communication, defined governance and transparency.
It is particularly when we need to blend workforces into one cohesive, aligned and high-performing unit. After all, technology either fits, or it doesn’t. It is not so easy with people.
Start With Leadership to Blend Workforces
When Mike and Carol got married, their six combined children had to learn how to share a single bathroom (that famously didn’t have a toilet), divide their chores and generally learn how to get along. It required scheduling and negotiating and a fair share of compromise – no doubt driven by leadership (i.e., their parents telling them they needed to make it work).
Healthcare organizations are no different. It is essential for leaders to help their teams understand the new reality and create alignment if the merger or acquisition is to succeed.
Effecting change starts with having solid executive sponsorship on both sides who instill a spirit of collaboration from the beginning, define a plan for what the organization will look like and establish well-defined governance moving forward. How the two c-suites work together and positively inspire their teams will significantly influence how decisions and actions are received and supported by the team.
Communication Is Key
Do not forget those ever-important operational business leaders. They should be the first line of clear communication, with open minds to help determine the organization’s standards moving forward. All messages should link back to executive leadership, as well as be clear and translatable by every organization level. It is essential to explain why the merger or acquisition is taking place, why it is good for the community, the organization and the employees.
Executives and business leaders need to do what Mike and Carol did when they explained to their children why they were getting married in the pilot episode. They explained that the two families’ merger would be a fun adventure. Ultimately, bringing everyone on board so they could all move forward together.
If your staff sees the value and buys into the reasoning, they’ll likely accept the changes and move ahead. The more transparency, the less space will be left to fill with rumor and fear.
Make People Feel Heard
Of course, the most significant concern anyone has during a merger or acquisition is what will happen to their jobs. Since the Brady children were all close in age, they probably wondered how their family roles would change. Let’s face it: we know they were really focused on which room was going to be “theirs.” Like Jan, some employees are apt to worry that they will become invisible when the “bunch” gets larger. The parents worked diligently to ensure the kids knew they would be heard and no one would be left out.
The c-suite must be sensitive to these concerns and address them with as much transparency as possible.
Take the example of two systems directors, each of whom has been overseeing the information systems within their organizations. The plan is for one to be elevated to a leadership position and the other to continue managing systems. In that case, leadership should clearly state the intention.
This approach should not just happen at the manager or executive level, however. Suppose the manual work of scanning faxes into the EHR will be replaced by automation. The executive team should explain this with a plan to re-train those workers—if that’s a viable solution. Create guiding principles at the outset to blend the two organizations quickly and position the new entity for success.
Final Thoughts on How to Blend Workforces
To blend workforces into a cohesive, aligned unit is rarely easy. But it is definitely worth the effort because without it, the internecine battles that inevitably occur can delay the realization of the original goals behind the M&A activity, costing time and money. It also can damage the smooth operation of the new organization for months or even years. Start with the “why” and cascade that message, being transparent with the plan. In doing so, you create a new organization that is stronger and more efficient.
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