PART II: Merger Integration SecretsOctober 28, 2015 . .
How do you get your new employees to work really hard for you, live your core values, and be great ambassadors for your company as quickly as possible?
You can’t underestimate the stress employees experience during mergers and acquisitions: job insecurity, new bosses & colleagues, changing roles, extra work, survivor guilt…and a myriad of other changes and challenges. This shake-up has a significant impact on the bottom line.
My last blog listed risks and costs of poor merger integration management and mapped out major merger integration practices.
In this blog, I will share a few concrete tactics for smoothing and speeding up the integration.
On-boarding like you mean it:
When orienting your new employees, assume they are experienced, knowledgeable, and bring value to the table. This is a great way to show respect, build trust, and earn their loyalty. And you might even learn something. Even if you acquired a distressed company, they might be doing a few things really well—even better than you.
Here are a few questions you can ask during your cultural due-diligence, employee interviews, and on-boarding:
- What do you like most about working for your company?
- What does your company do best; what’s most worth preserving?
- What do you most want and need from us [i.e., as your new employer]?
- What resources do we have that can help your business unit grow and flourish?
- How do you think we can leverage our new combined strengths?
Ask these questions in a way that helps you achieve all of these great outcomes:
- Make them feel welcome, at home, and important to your team
- Show respect for their experience and knowledge
- Engage them in thinking about the future of the business
- Gather intelligence & ideas for your organization
- Assess talent: who knows what; who has great ideas; who is ready to contribute more
Engaging people in thinking about the future is a core change management tactic, and it literally makes them part of the solution. When people feel like they are part of the solution, they will work harder and better for you.
Paying attention to the quality of people’s ideas gives you a head start on thinking about their development needs and ideal deployment.
Tapping into the wisdom of your new employees builds trust and loyalty between your two tribes and provides you with ideas for improving your organization.
Integrate talent to bind your tribes together:
Classic wisdom says that gutting the management team of an acquired company can cause a lot of damage. Only do this when there is really no alternative. If a management team is productive, and teamwork is strong, you will get better results by leaving it mostly intact.
Here is a little add-on to that theme. Promote a couple of high profile and highly respected leaders from the acquired company into your organization. This can go a long way. It’s a vote of confidence in the talent you are acquiring. It builds trust between the two tribes. And it binds the two organizations together. All of a sudden, employees in the acquired company have a couple of very important relationships within the acquiring company.
Second add-on tactic: If these promotions open a few vacant positions in the acquired business unit, find a balance between installing your own managers (who can represent your culture well) and promoting from within the business unit itself. A few internal promotions can build loyalty to the new organization and to the leaders who promoted them.
A lot of team building is a waste of time—but only because it is done so poorly. Likewise, leadership development is often seen as an imposition because people have been to so many crappy workshops. (It is still the Wild West out there in terms of learning and development).
Nevertheless, if you do it well (as we do here at Incrementa), team building and leadership development can have an enormously positive impact on both motivation and productivity (business results).
As soon as possible after a merger, bring leaders together from the two firms (the two tribes) for some joint leadership development.
Proactively design the program & process to emphasize and achieve all of these important outcomes:
- Building communication, teamwork, and relationships (“one team”)
- Building a strategic competency or capability (a useful skill)
- Engaging them in discussion about how to totally rock the integration
- Collaborating on a real life business challenge or opportunity
- Working together on a key / relevant core value
Some of these experiences may overlap, e.g., everything you do can involve some kind teambuilding aspect. And some may be minor layers rather than major agenda items, e.g., you can dive into a core value directly (“How can we breathe new life into this core value; how can we do it better; how are we going to do this together?”) or treat a core value as an important sub-theme that you reference all day long (clear line of sight).
By “strategic competency” I mean learning to do something new or better; something that is genuinely important, meaningful, and relevant to the organization; something that will have a visible and positive benefit for the organization; and something that will be seen as beneficial to the participants themselves—skills they value and that will help be more successful.
The collaborative work should leave a strong impression that “We are now part of the same team and already working well together on issues that concern us all.”
Add-on tactic: If you have just completed a big leadership development program, make it available to the managers of your new business unit as quickly as possible. Load it for success. Have a few of your alumni attend.
Second add-on tactic: If a few key senior leaders will face unique challenges growing their business in a new context, offer them high-end executive coaching support. This can be a good business decision anyway. But post-merger, it also has great symbolic value: “We want to give you all the support you need to face your new challenges and be extremely successful here.”
Third add-on tactic: Find a way for front-line employees in the new business unit to connect with some of their counterparts in the acquiring company. This can be valuable for building bridges, breaking down walls, smoothing transitions, getting closure…and generally bringing humanity into the workplace.
Keep the right people:
Lay-offs are often inevitable in a merger or acquisition. Work hard and fast to make sure you retain the best employees from the acquired company. Rely on the management team of the acquired company to help you make good selections, and also bring your best HR people to the table for this tough task. (I think everyone does this already.)
Here is a nice twist: also bring your most talent-savvy executives to the table to help with this talent assessment work. If you assume they are too busy with operational issues, or that they are too valuable to bother with HR issues then you have misunderstood the value of people to your organization. And besides, talent management / talent development is a crucial leadership practice—a core part of the work of leadership—and this can be a good opportunity for them to sharpen their skills and have a say in these important talent decisions—decisions they will have to live with!
You will never get it all right, but every retention mistake is extremely costly. Remember that it is easiest for the best players to leave you and get new jobs because they are the most employable. If you let the best players leave, you will be stuck with the worst performers because they are least employable, least able to move.
A wise person once told me: If your talent bucket is leaking, don’t try to fill it faster than it is leaking. Fix the leak.
It took years to create the culture you have. It’s going to take a lot of work to get your new employees to live your core values and become fully engaged in your mission. It’s worth the effort. Let Incrementa help you.
Copyright © 2015 Joel Shapiro, Ph.D., all rights reserved.
Joel Shapiro a consultant and leadership educator with Incrementa Consulting. Joel is passionate about making employees part of the solution, and finding the perfect blend of humanity and business performance. You can read more of Joel’s thoughts on the Incrementa website, at his former blog, and on twitter.