Posted by Paul Powell ● June 22, 2017

Preparing the Learning Organization for Major Company Change

Organizational Change.jpgMajor changes to a company's operations, such as mergers and acquisitions, are by their nature disruptive to organizations and their people. The learning function has a critical role to play during these periods of significant change, which is why learning leaders need to be ready to move forward on short notice with a strategy to support a workforce that's about to be rocked by upheaval.

M&As are invariably complex, and no two transaction scenarios are alike—there’s no way to fully prepare, particularly if the news comes out of the blue. Still, there are some things learning leaders should do to put their teams in position to react quickly and position workers—and the learning & development organization itself—for success within the new corporate paradigm.

Here are four ways to ready the learning function for mergers, acquisitions, and other substantial organizational changes.

1. Speak to the L&D Organization’s Value

It’s all too common for key business stakeholders to perceive L&D as an assembly line for learning solutions, rather than as collaborative equals who identify, develop, and deliver performance solutions. Do not be shy about broadcasting L&D’s value. Let your business partners and leaders know—by presentation, email, meeting, or other means, and with measurable evidence—that the learning function is more than an order-taker for eLearning and classroom training. Demonstrate the L&D team’s thought leadership and perspective of the challenges and opportunities that exist within the company’s operations, sales, customers, and market. Share metrics for how the learning organization has impacted quarterly and annual strategic goals, key initiatives, and long-term direction of the enterprise.

Watch the Webinar: The One-Page Plan: A Learning Leader’s Best FriendLearning organizations are routinely called to provide solutions to performance issues, yet business stakeholders may not be aware of its strategic approach to achieving successful performance outcomes. Apply this same strategic approach in major company change scenarios, considering how L&D can lead the charge in process, systems, and role analysis; knowledge transfer and skills maintenance; communications planning; onboarding and role transitions; and change management initiatives. Then communicate the strategy, identifying key players, leveraging existing relationships, and actively preparing to be a part of the decision-making process.

2. Prepare to Provide Performance Consulting

One of the ideal outcomes of a merger or acquisition is the emergence of an organizational culture that is better prepared to achieve business goals. This can be mapped back to performance of individuals and the corresponding support environment. Be proactive in taking a consultative approach that helps stakeholders avoid kneejerk decisions, such as poorly considered staff reductions. Short-term wins can be alluring to business leaders in times of organizational instability, but ultimately prove counterproductive if they damage the company’s culture.

Assist decision makers by developing strategies to optimize worker performance during the transition, resisting the common notion that employee performance be addressed at a later time, when things “settle down.” Provide performance improvement support options for all factors impacting business performance, in both the current and future-state environment. Deliver recommendations for action, and offer to lead implementation of the recommendations, if appropriate.

3. Help Others Navigate Changes

Individual business teams will require help navigating the changes, so the L&D team needs to stay ahead of the curve. Think through which business areas have ongoing learning initiatives that may position them to perform better within the end-state organization. Help them socialize to their colleagues and managers how they are capitalizing on opportunities to improve and align within the new company structure. Provide business teams with tips on what to expect during the change process and how to prepare. Remind department leads of the various services the learning function can provide, and invite them to reach out for support.

Once again, be proactive, not reactive, and encourage business unit leaders to take the same approach. For a period of time, major company changes are likely to create risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity within all facets of a business, including its processes, people, technology, and culture.

4. Visualize the Future State of the Learning Function

A major shakeup throughout the enterprise could prove to be an opportunity to make strides toward that optimal state for the L&D organization, but only if the learning leader is able to present a cohesive learning strategy and articulate a corresponding business case. Visualize what the learning function would look like in an optimal future state, fully staffed and funded. What changes to the L&D org structure would you make? Which learning technologies would you add, and which would you scrap? What are the training delivery modalities that you would emphasize or deemphasize? Are there areas or programs that would benefit from specialized expertise via learning outsourcing arrangements?

Be as thorough as possible in your recommendations, assessing the financial impact, skills, technologies, and client projects, if applicable. Be prepared to provide an evidence-based case for what you think will work and what will not, and why. Continue to map the evidence for your recommendations back to performance and how performance enablement impacts key business goals.


Paul Powell is a learning project manager with Caveo Learning. A Project Management Institute-certified project manager with extensive experience in L&D, Powell uses project management best practices to achieve targeted performance and business goals in global outsourcing, call center operations, learning consulting, and financial operations. Powell holds a master of fine arts degree from The Art Institute of Chicago. Based in Atlanta, he was a session presenter at the 2016 ATD Atlanta Conference & Exposition.

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Topics: Change Management