P49 Social Tina Edwards2
Tina Edwards Director of Learning & Culture

Culture forms the bedrock of any organisation, influencing its values, behaviours and identity. When two organisations merge, the clash of cultures can lead to inefficiencies, conflicts and even failure. Therefore, navigating cultural integration is paramount to realising the full potential of a merged entity.

At Southern Housing, we’ve been on a journey over the last year to understand the existing cultures of Southern Housing Group and Optivo, define a shared vision and set of values, and start putting that in to practice using a range of different techniques so we can unlock the full potential of the merger.

This is our story so far…

How we’re building and embedding our culture

Developing our culture was a priority pre-merger. Why? Because we know having a strong culture helps us deliver great customer service to our residents, partners, and each other as we move through integration and meet the challenges we’re experiencing in our sector. Not only that, it feels great for everyone when you get culture right!

Sounds easy, but how do we actually make it happen in reality?

We started with true co-creation. This is a great word and it’s often banded about as a current buzz word. But, for Southern Housing, we genuinely do this well and it’s been key to building the foundations of our culture.

What does this look like in practice?

It starts from the top. It’s our Leaders and Executive Team demonstrating by their actions that we really want to co-create our culture with our people - not just our colleagues, but with our residents and customers as well.

We started our co-creation programme before merger, with our Executive Team engaging with our colleagues and residents by getting out and on the road, and running live and in person ‘Stronger Together’ roadshows across all areas of our business.

In these roadshows, our Executive Team talked directly to our colleagues and residents to explain why we were merging, what the benefits were to our residents, our colleagues and for the sustainability of our business.

What we’ve found is when people understand the ‘why’ and understand the benefits, they’re much more likely to get onboard and give their best every day.

It sounds easy, but it’s not. To ensure the initial energy and enthusiasm remain, culture needs feeding often to ensure it stays alive. In our roadshows we responded to questions and were able to bring to life a sense of what our new organisation would look and feel like for each of our colleagues.

We asked our colleagues what was important to them in the way we work together, what types of service they want to deliver to our residents and what we want to be known for externally.

We had an amazingly consistent response across all our regions and legacy organisations. From this direct feedback we created our Vision, Mission, and HEART Values. This also provided us with a deep understanding of what mattered most to our residents and colleagues for us to further build our culture.

It’s essential when creating the visual representations of our culture that colleagues can see and hear their own words and ideas reflected - this is something we also did collaboratively. This approach demonstrates very clearly to our colleagues that their feedback is valued and used, which in turn helps build trust and shows respect, two of our values.

These roadshows also gave us insight into other things that were important to our colleagues, for example, wellbeing, inclusion & diversity, amazing customer service and sustainability and a genuine desire to give back and make a difference for homeless people.

One key thing to note is that there is a difference between communication and engagement. When co-creating a culture, we need to engage and not just communicate. There is a difference and colleagues feel it. Both play their part, but in bringing two organisations together, it is the right level of engagement that really makes the difference.

Our journey has begun, the next step for us is to integrate our HEART values and the other cultural elements into all we do. This part is essential if you wish to embed your culture. For it to live and breathe across the organisation, it needs to be seen, felt, and heard everywhere.


Cultural integration is a complex yet rewarding journey that holds the key to unlocking the full potential of merged organisations. By embracing diversity, fostering inclusion, and nurturing a shared sense of purpose that is led from the top, Southern Housing can forge a unified identity that transcends the boundaries of the previous organisations and propels us towards success – which for us is all wrapped around a positive resident experience.

We’ll share more of how we do this in practice in one of our future blogs!

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