Transformational Change in Practice

Thu 12 Mar 2015

Mary Fraser attended the CIPD Scotland Student Conference and heard a great session from Jo Werth, Head of Talent and Development at Lafarge Tarmac.

Jo Werth highlighted the need to reflect on changes as part of the toolkit of any HR professional. 

Her reflections on the changes following the merger of Lafarge and Tarmac demonstrated how complex such large scale transformations are. Her message, though, was deceptively simple – forget the people element at your peril.

In February 2011, Anglo American and Lafarge Group announced their intention to create a new joint venture company, combining the assets of Lafarge UK and Tarmac.

This was to be a significant undertaking given the size of the portfolio of assets of each company, their combined resources, and the separate legacy products/services that they both had to integrate into one new organization.

The deal was referred to the Competition Commission and then the waiting began. Effectively, the “hold” button had been pressed as very little in terms of integration could happen until the Commission had reported.  In May 2012, the Commission ruled that the joint venture could progress, subject to certain conditions.

This involved the two companies setting up a competing company (Hope Construction Materials) to ensure that the competitiveness of the market was maintained.  The deadline for compliance was six months.

The transitions were huge. People were transferred to the new company, the Head Office of Tarmac was moved from Wolverhampton to be more central in Birmingham with 700 people (10% of the workforce) leaving the business over that period.  

The HR interventions included 500+ workshops being run for employees across both companies, covering CV writing, interview skills and coping with change. In addition, there was an outplacement programme where larger sites had access to an external adviser five days a week, with smaller sites perhaps having an external advisor available for just one day a week.

There was also a “how to use LinkedIn” session to support transitions for those who were unsuccessful. These interventions led to a fantastic achievement, where 70% of those who left moved to a similar level position or had a positive employment or training outcome within three months.

In addition to the workshops to help with internal vacancies, managers were supported in developing coaching skills to help their members of staff who were successful in their new role. Many needed support to come to terms with the wave of change as well as the demands of their new role.

From the start, bringing together the strengths of two of the UK’s leading materials companies – Lafarge (with their strength in cement products, strong focus on research and development, and innovation) and Tarmac (with their nationwide presence and strength in aggregates, road contracting, and strong ethic of customer service) – was always going to be a Herculean task.

Reflecting back on it, Jo was firmly of the view that, whilst there were things that could have been done better, the integrity of the vision and values of the respective companies and the focus on keeping people at the centre of practice, meant that employees could adjust to the new situation and do so with dignity and hope.

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