Communicating with staff in a way that is compassionate but also honest is key to promoting a positive culture in a newly merged organisation.

That is the view of Sunsuper executive general manager, people, projects and performance, Jason Sommer.

Over the last four years, the fund has completed five successor fund transfers and is in the midst of integrating its biggest tie-up yet – a merger with $3 billion Melbourne-based industry fund Kinetic Super that will make the Brisbane-based Sunsuper’s funds under management swell to at least $45 billion.

Sommer spoke to Investment Magazine about what he has learnt regarding managing people and merging cultures.

The human resources department’s job is made much easier when the merging organisations have a good alignment of values and culture, he says.

Once a merger has been decided, his advice is: “Communicate early and communicate often and get really hands on with engagement with employee groups on both sides.”

During mergers, uncertainty can be “troublesome” so being clear with employees from both sides is important, Sommer says. “Be realistic about the scope of the changes and don’t be overly optimistic. Don’t underestimate the scale of the task or the time it will take to implement.”

His top tip for avoiding the ‘us and them’ culture that sometimes festers in newly merged organisations is to begin by fostering a shared sense of purpose and then outlining a “deliberate and systemic plan” for the integration.

“Be clear about the vision so people can have a sense of pride in the plan and what the new organisation will look like,” Sommer says. “Both parties bring value and it is important to recognise that.”

Sommer says Sunsuper has tried to minimise job losses resulting from mergers but that when these are necessary it is critical to communicate with those potentially affected in a fair and honest manner.

“It is important to treat people with care, respect and fairness – whether they are going to be part of the ongoing organisation or not,” he says. “So it is important to have executive management role-modelling that and calling it out when it doesn’t happen.”

Sommer will discuss these issues and more during a panel on the topic “Managing people and merging cultures” at the 2018 Investment Magazine Investment Operations Conference, to be held in Sydney on February 20. The panel, to be chaired by JANA manager, operational consulting, Jo Leaper, will also include Equip Super executive officer commercial Brett Grant.

For more information about the 2018 Investment Magazine Investment Operations Conference, please see the event website or contact Emma Brodie: +61 2 9227 5708.

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