Global 100 HR lister tells how HR strategy for merger took unexpected turn

'I've often wondered how the cultural integration would have gone if we hadn't had Covid'

Global 100 HR lister tells how HR strategy for merger took unexpected turn

Seeing an organisation through a merger during lockdowns had its challenges but also presented some unexpected advantages, according to Vanessa Hicks, group executive people experience at TPG Telecom, who was recently named in the Global 100 HR list of the best and brightest people practitioners of 2023.

“You can imagine how challenging it was trying to bring two businesses together and build and create the culture,” says Hicks, who started in her current role six years ago. “And so we did a lot of amazing work during that period to bring our employees in Australia and Manila on a culture journey which was all done remotely because no one could physically come together.

“However, I've often wondered how the cultural integration would have gone if we hadn’t had Covid because we have a very dispersed workforce, and it's really hard when you’ve got some people in person and some who are remote, but in this case everyone had a consistent experience.”

With all staff engaging through Teams, including sessions to meet their leader, it created a level playing field, she says.

Cultural integration would make or break merger

“Obviously, we wouldn't have done it by design but I think it did work well, in the fact that everyone felt that they had the same treatment, the same opportunities to engage, and they weren't at all disadvantaged because they were either out of Sydney or in our Manila office.”

Additional pressures at such an unprecedented time came from those in the public domain who were vocal about how the culture integration would either make or break the merger, which had high profile in the media.   

“For us I think the challenges created opportunity,” says Hicks, who, having joined Vodafone back in 2006 as GM business customer operations, had also previously been involved in the merger in 2009 of Vodafone and Hutchison. “I went into the merger thinking at least I’d got some experience in mergers but this one was completely different. And I'm pleased in a way that it was so different, because you think about everything uniquely and about what's right for the business at this point in time.”

Hicks’ current role also involved bringing together a new Board because at the same time the organisation had listed publicly. For a couple of years even they only got to meet each other on a screen.

CEO focused on people agenda

She notes the difference it’s made to her role that CEO Iñaki Berroeta is focused on the people agenda. “That’s really given me the empowerment to drive our initiatives and means we're very engaged in everything that's happening in the business and thinking about that from a people point of view,” she says.

“He’s always recognised the impact the people will have on the success of the business so whoever is in the people experience or HR role will have a seat at the table, and contribute to a variety of topics outside what you’d traditionally think of from an HR point of view. That’s meant in terms of the approach I take and my team takes, we’re very involved with helping drive business performance through people.”

The strategy adopted by Hicks and her team in terms of creating a new culture, was to embrace it as the ‘Spirit of TPG’.

“We created a new language in terms of how we talked about culture and values, and had incredible results. We have a culture survey as part of our overall engagement survey, and it has had great uplift year on year since the merger.”

Employer of Choice recognition

Hicks is also proud of the organisation’s Employer of Choice recognition, which it’s achieved two years in a row, as well as a number of diversity awards.

“That was something we thought would take a much longer period to achieve but that's really recognition of the very strong focus we've had on people over that period, in particular around diversity and inclusion. That’s been a really critical point for us in terms of how we've brought the culture to life, how employees have really felt that it's a safe workplace, a place that embraces everyone.”

Walking the talk as far as embracing change is concerned, one pivotal point that’s led to the success of the role and the function, says Hicks, has been the change of name of the team.

“In both organisations before, the teams were known as HR and it was a really conscious choice to think about what it really is that we do, and what we want to be known for.

Rebrand to People Experience team

“We wanted to rebrand the team for employees so we changed the name to People Experience. A lot of people have actually commented, particularly new starters to the business, on how it does feel different, with a genuine focus on people rather than a more traditional focus on HR.”

“That and the spirit of TPG have been really powerful for branding and how we talk about things in a human way - that’s really resonated with employees.”

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