Training During Transition

Dealing with change along the way can ease sales force mergers.
Jul 01, 2004

John Kuchna (kuchna@ yamanouchi-america. com) is director of sales training and development for Yamanouchi Pharma America.
Say the word "merger" and most people cringe. To me, it's simply business as usual as I have been a training director during three mergers in the past five years: first, Pharmacia and Searle, then Pfizer and Pharmacia, and now I am preparing to integrate training operations at Yamanouchi Pharma America and Fujisawa. With this article, I hope to share some insights that I have gained over the years which may help training departments maintain continuity of sales force performance during the tumult of mergers, acquisitions, and other challenging transitional periods.

When companies first announce a merger, training departments go through different phases, beginning with an "uncertainty phase" that paralyzes many individuals who look for clarity about future decisions which have not yet been made. As rumors prevail, it is time for trainers to focus on current priorities and set key milestones to stay focused on corporate objectives. Next, the "change phase" occurs when both companies begin to outline their plans to analyze the needs, gaps, and synergies between them. Finally, the "execution phase" occurs, and the integrated company implements newly defined processes.

State of Uncertainty A number of strategic plans should be fine-tuned in preparation for future discussions with the other company's training department. At this point, policies, procedures, and standards are crit-ical to ensure a smooth transition. It makes sense to conduct a departmental audit to categorize different kinds of in-house and university offerings, including initial and advanced, management and account management, corporate training, succession planning, selection and retention, and performance management training.

Next, create a policy and standards checklist for high-impact areas such as testing procedures, approved vendor lists, categorization of employees who completed mandatory requirements, current trainers' development plans and ratings, and department structure with titles, role descriptions, salaries, and bonus structures.

Focus Group
During the uncertainty phase, it is helpful to keep the strategic plan flexible and categorize work-department objectives, budget analyses, action plans, critical issues and business risks, and contingency planning in 30-day increments to help employees receive the clarity they desire. Another way to take some of the ambiguity out of trainers' work is to assign each task to someone that is either R=responsible, A=accountable, C=consulted before, or I=informed after. By assigning each task in the department a RACI chart, individuals will understand how to track their projects more efficiently. Someone who is accountable (A) for the project is where the final buck stops. There can only be one A per task. Those responsible (R) for the task are the doers. There can be multiple doers on a task. Those individuals that need to give input into the design of the task are consulted (C), while those informed (I) are shown the final product.

Managing Change The change phase begins as new appointments are announced in the new organization. As employees begin to see culture shifts, it is critical to stay focused on 30-, 60-, and 90-day objectives. In this phase, employees-who get "stopped in their tracks"-watch as colleagues leave the company and see clarification of human resources policies in terms of severance where applicable. They are looking for new direction from the newly formed company.

It is wise at this point to benchmark best-in-class methodology for the merged training department, because the merger allows a fresh analysis of actual versus required performance. The resulting gap analysis along with a benchmark of current industry practices should provide a road map into training curricula and structure for the new training department. Analyzing the inventory and action plans in the uncertainty phase can be an extremely worthwhile endeavor that may result in better execution of training than either company offered before they merged. To help achieve targets, it is useful to institute metrics.

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