How Havas used the office to dismantle silos

European boss Chris Hirst brought 24 of the media giant's brands into one building in an effort to create a cohesive culture.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 22 May 2019

The coming together of diverse businesses through mergers and acquisitions can create vital scale advantages, but it can also bring problems, especially around cultural integration. This isn’t just a nice to have: no company thrives for long without cohesion and common purpose.

Integrating different cultures is not easy though, as Chris Hirst found when he joined marcomms giant Havas as European and UK CEO in 2015. His solution was to relocate 24 separate agencies and 1,700 people into a single office, which required a careful balancing act.


"We had different business all across London, with their own brand and culture, so we tried to integrate them at one central location in Kings Cross. We hoped to be able to deploy our agencies more effectively around the needs of our clients and not let our internal P&L get in the way.

"It presented a classic cultural challenge of creating a business model that allowed each agency to stand on its own two feet, but still enabled them to work together, without the client being able to see the joint.

"In the end we used the environment to get across the idea that we were going to focus on the whole business, rather than the individual pieces.

"Each agency was kept together with the same leadership structures, but no one brought their own branding in. We split some of the bigger businesses between floors so that employees had to walk between them, and each business now sits on a floor with a different agency that they may not have known previously.

"No one has a specific office - including myself - so there is no hierarchy within the building and we have lots of shared spaces. We also redesigned our P&L under a single structure.

"The biggest challenge was making the individual businesses understand what they were getting from the move. Everyone had to compromise a little bit. It's alright saying to broken businesses why they have to change, but for a successful business the same principle applies. You have to be clear why it is worth their while.

"Every company in this building now believes that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Because they can see the reputation, top-line and ultimately bottom line benefit of being 'together'.

"Of course you don't change culture by simply getting rid of offices - you have to say these are the behaviours that matter to us and then use your behaviour as proof. The culture of a business is ultimately the behaviour of the management."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Every business could benefit from greater agility, for examples of how not to do it read this piece. To understand why creativity is more important than efficiency read here, and to find out why Britain's creative industry has a very positive future, read this piece by McCann Worldgroup boss Mark Lund.


Image credits: rpeters86/GettyImages

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