Alstom and Bombardier Transportation: making the most of employees’ collective intelligence to build a shared culture

Merging two companies, two entities or even two business units is both an exciting and delicate moment. Beyond the business aspects, it often requires us to anticipate the meeting of two cultures, two ways of thinking and working. At this strategic time, collective intelligence is crucial.

In 2020, we accompanied the merger between INRA and IRSTEA to create INRAE. In the following business case, we will look back at the story of Alstom and Bombardier Transportation and what we learned.

Following the acquisition of the Canadian company Bombardier Transportation in early 2021, Alstom Transport launched a project to define a new cultural roadmap. The merger of these two companies, both specializing in the rail transport sector (train, tram and metro design), represented the meeting of two different company cultures.

 

Cultural merger, instructions for use

To begin, Alstom carried out an internal diagnosis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each cultural heritage and define the road ahead to meet Alstom’s three core values: Agility, Inclusion and Responsibility.

Bluenove and PwC then supported Alstom in developing a tailored collective intelligence approach. The objective? Co-construct the group’s cultural strategy with as many employees as possible, so that it would be shared and embodied by the greatest number.

The encounter between two cultures creates profound but intangible change. Through this collective intelligence approach, it is important to capture these changes as quickly as possible and transform them into constructive, concrete actions that make the most of each culture.

 

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Our methodology

Three key objectives to drive success:

  • Following the diagnosis, identify global cultural priorities to work towards collectively within the integrated company, Alstom
  • Discuss and co-design concrete actions to bring the identified cultural priorities and values of Alstom to everyday life
  • Enable as many employees as possible to express their views, regardless of  geographical location, position, and history within the group (Alstom and Bombardier) via an online platform

Against this backdrop, the collective intelligence approach was launched in several phases – see diagram below.

Three complementary formats were put in place during the different phases: digital workshops with 500 people, a collective intelligence platform (reaching several thousand employees) and face-to-face workshops designed to address populations with limited or no internet access (around 500 people).

All these formats were based on the following key success factors:

  • Bring together Alstom and Bombardier Transportation employees, so they can express themselves as part of a system where the new common culture is already a reality
  • Start with a collection of global (macro) ideas and then move towards increasingly precise (local) granularity over successive phases
  • Offer different ways to participate (individual and collective, synchronous and asynchronous, face-to-face and digital)
  • Provide tools and methodologies adapted to an international culture including a quadrilingual platform

 

Share information and co-construct with as many people as possible

One of the main strengths of this approach was the hybrid dimension: synchronous remote workshops, coupled with an online questionnaire (consultation phase), followed by a discussion thread to deepen the ideas from the consultation phase (co-construction phase).

Using Assembl Flash’s semantic analysis algorithm, the answers to the questionnaire were collected and compared with contributions from the workshops, and then presented to the project team in the form of cultural topics to be addressed as a priority.

Almost 200 different project ideas were hatched, ranging from micro-projects to large-scale schemes, from team rituals to new organizational processes. These ideas were then analyzed from different perspectives, such as popularity, implementation difficulty and the number of cultural priorities addressed.

Key ideas for implementation are currently being selected as part of the co-construction process for this cultural roadmap.

Main platform benefits

  • Enable participants to save time (writing contributions is less time-consuming than taking part in a workshop)
  • Simplify contribution compilation using the algorithm and analysis interface
  • Stay informed with access to selected content (cultural diagnosis, key contributions from the workshops, etc.)
  • Contribute via the same platform with a simple, accessible user path

 

One methodology with many applications

With Alstom, we adopted a primarily cultural approach. However, merging two entities also has strategic repercussions. In 2020, we accompanied INRAE (resulting from the merger of INRA and IRSTEA) in co-constructing the strategic roadmap for the new institute. Discussions focused on the major strategic development areas identified for INRAE and how to achieve them, including exemplary sustainable development and changes to the organization’s internal operations. In the months leading up to the official creation of INRAE, this mechanism already gave life to the new institute and enabled researchers to imagine and plan for the first strategic stages of the new organization.

To sum up, mobilizing collective collaborator intelligence during a merger makes it easier for the group to imagine new horizons and contributes, through dialogue, to the creation of a common culture.

 

Article co-written with Hajar Chokairi