In the current economic environment, it seems to make more sense than ever for companies to merge with or acquire their competition. This has led to a number of instances where employees become entangled in the complications of a merger or acquisition, without any idea of what their job will look like, or an assurances they will have a job, when the dust settles. This can lead to low morale, reduced productivity, and ultimately to the best talent on your team leaving to go to other firms. And while there is a more negative sentiment among employees of a company being acquired, as there is a likely chance they will be dismissed or forced to change, even employees of the acquiring firm are going to have doubts, reservations, and new needs.
As a leader, it is imperative you quell the flames before they lead to a full-on panic amongst your team. This can be difficult, but if accounted for and if you go into it with your eyes open, you can maintain your staff, maintain productivity, and seamlessly transition to whatever is on the horizon.
The first step to successfully leading a company through a merger is to listen. Listen to your employees, listen to your HR representatives, listen to your client, just listen. Allowing employees and employee representatives to have a voice during the initial conversation and throughout the process will ease fears and tensions. Many of the anxieties employees will have will be groundless – but you won’t be able to clear them up if you aren’t listening to your staff.
You also need to set clear expectations and a process to get there. If a system needs to be replaced, set a reasonable timetable for replacement and put a process in place to cross-train the employees who will be utilizing it. If a team’s hours will change to accommodate a larger geographic region (instead of only covering the east coast, they will now support a national team, for instance), make that expectation clear, then set a process in place for transitioning schedules to account for the additional times.
When setting expectations and creating processes, try to be as quick as possible. Integrating systems, benefits, intranet sites, 401ks, etc. should be done as quickly as possible, and getting people all working under the same roof toward the same goal should, as well. The longer the employees of the acquired company remain under their old 401k, with their old benefits, and their old work tasks, the longer they will fear they will be let go – if you weren’t firing them, wouldn’t it stand to reason they would have been integrated into the new company?
Throughout the process, maintain a clear vision of what the end result will look like. Each time a major project is complete or a unit is integrated, share the successes with the team. This will help strengthen the culture at the company while building confidence in the end results. You want your team – your whole team – to live the culture of change. And that needs to come from the top.
Finally, be prepared for difficult decisions. While there may not have originally been a plan to let go of certain team members, when things are finalized that could change. If layoffs occur, if roles need to be reexamined, or if anything else comes up, be ready to clearly state what the new expectations are, why those expectations are in place, and continue to lead those who remain.