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Few mergers add value – Whitehall should learn from those that do

Brexit is the largest de-merger in history, May’s Whitehall mergers are unrivalled in recent memory. All departments will face challenges, but those that deploy the tools to manage change effectively will be those that ride the waves of the storm.

At Q5 we work constantly with organisations going through change and dealing with its impact on people and performance. Based on this experience, we have a few words of advice on steps leaders could be taking over the next months and years. 

1. Maintain your organisation's core purpose, but be ready to adapt

Establishing the mission for the two new “Brexit” departments is a clear priority, but just as important is clarifying purpose for all departments affected by these changes, especially where mergers, de-mergers and new team members are concerned. Clarity and conscious decision making will set the right course for future evolution. 

2. New organisations offer risk and opportunity for Whitehall

When creating a new structure, invest the thinking in getting it right. Without the right foundations, new structures lead to inefficiency, duplication and frustration. Avoid replicating existing approaches, take the opportunity to develop the right working practices and procedures that will be an exemplar for the Civil Service. 

3. Do an organisational review, and take action to plug the holes

Understand what has changed; what works and what doesn’t. ‘Lift and shift’ seems an easy answer but covers up potential future issues. Understanding how connections work and what skill sets and networks may be needed will help teams work better together. Who is responsible for identifying these issues, and who will take action to address them? Key skill sets will become scarce – invest time in finding the right people for your team now.

4. Define where accountabilities sit, and make sure your partners agree

No organisation is an island. All organisations will be adapting to the new world, and you won’t need to develop the full solution. Identifying which networks and relationships are important, and who holds responsibility for what will not be easy. You risk duplication, and gaps. You need to define the boundaries effectively, agree who will take the lead, and participate in the development of the solution.

5. Provide leadership, and support your leaders

This is a critical time for your leaders to be out in the organisation, giving a clear message on direction, and the requirements for action. Silence from your leaders risks an echo chamber of rumour. Be clear about what you know, and what you don’t. Naming what you can’t answer is positive. Support the resilience of your leaders. While they will be well placed to adapt to the changing circumstances, seismic shifts in the landscape will increase the pressure on them, and disrupt their usual support networks.