Whenever we decide to expand our network and open a branch in a new town, we have time to use a values-based process to recruit and train staff in the relevant cultural and procedural aspects of the society. But when two businesses merge, the challenges are much greater. One day, staff are working to the strategy of one employer and the next, it is a different employer with different values products and systems calling the shots.Two of the building blocks underpinning Britannia’s strategy, are “being excellent at communications” and being “a great place to grow, work and develop”. It was these two values that helped drive the integration programme. We believe that it is the people which truly make a difference to an organisation and when Britannia took the decision to buy the Bristol & West savings business and branch network, we focused on engaging the people and the skills, not the buildings and the balances. Communication in its truest form was the key to overcoming the many challenges we faced during the initial stages of the merger. So much so that words such as acquisition, merger and takeover were discouraged from being used within Britannia. It was decided from the onset that we would refer to the process as integration. Words such as merger and takeover are not particularly engaging for staff. It can make them feel like they are having something done to them rather than being part of the change. We have taken the integration approach to engage staff from the start and take a “best of both” approach to ensure the most successful and effective ideas and procedures were not swallowed up and lost during the process. I suppose the greatest challenge we face is that of full cultural integration. We determined this to be important enough to establish a bespoke team to address this challenge. Hearts and minds are the most difficult to integrate into a new organisation. Computer systems and products are easier but communicating your company’s strategy, purpose and values in a way that engages staff is another matter. There were many questions posed that the HR team could not answer so early on in the programme. Despite the reassurance that there would be no compulsory redundancies, staff wanted to know details about the future of their roles, activities and locations that the HR team simply did not know the answers to. These types of uncertainties can be significantly destructive during early discussions if they are not managed appropriately. We have received positive feedback in this area by trying to establish a trust-based environment where effective engagement can take place between the two businesses despite the threat of these unknowns. We continue to do this by using the Britannia values as our framework in all aspects of our design, planning and implementation. This enables us to approach all communication in a consistent manner and outwardly demonstrate that Britannia’s corporate strategy is not just a commercial document but a very real and hugely important set of principles that sit at the heart of everything we do. We have taken a hands-on approach to integration by ensuring that we include the Britannia Bristol (former Bristol & West) staff right from the start. In fact, on day one, every Britannia senior manager visited all the Bristol & West branches, call centre and support offices with champagne, orange juice and chocolates to welcome the 750 staff to Britannia Building Society. Britannia’s culture demonstrates a desire to involve staff in order to enhance what we do. A great example of this is the establishing of BIG – Britannia Integration Group – a team of volunteers who are asked to give their opinions and thoughts on a wide range of activities planned for the integration programme. The BIG team have been used as a sounding board about matters such as staff surveys, the proposed designs for branch refurbish-ments, training plans and much more. The key to effective and successful day one training was working closely with the Bristol & West training team prior to the start of the integration. It was logical to use the skills and contacts of the in-house teams to deliver and devise a programme to the tight timescales. The Bristol & West training team was also able to provide us with an insight into how Britannia’s training related to the approach taken by the Bank of Ireland – their employers at that time. When big change programmes are happening, business as usual activity can easily be forgotten. But training is vital to the continued success of any business and to guarantee that the everyday training courses were scheduled and delivered, Britannia Building Society brought in a team of external trainers to undertake this key activity. As a result of this integrated approach to training, we were able to deliver a day one programme that ensured the Britannia Bristol staff felt in control and comfortable about working with their customers on day one as well as having understood the changes that had taken and will be taking place. Programmes of this magnitude are not completed overnight. We are still working on full integration in terms of product harmonisation and employee roles, responsibilities and contracts. But we are delighted with the achievements we have made so far and if you asked me for a single reason as to why this programme has been a resounding success to date, it would be that we saw the “people” as the investment that would provide the long- term return for the business. If you do not put your people first, then any business change will not reach its full potential.