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Manager’s Notebook: Managing through Mergers and Acquisitions

Posted: 19 Sep 2016 05:30 AM PDT

Merging tracks: photo by Will SparklinSo…here we go again. Just recently, my company made an announcement that we will be acquiring assets from a company 3-4 times our current size. This will be my sixth merger since I joined (a version of) this company over 16 years ago. I like to think I'm getting somewhat good at dealing with these. But then something happens that makes me think maybe I'm not. One thing's for sure, though…through every merger, I've learned something. And now I'll share my top takeaways with you on how to manage through a merger.

Put People First

Mergers are a time of uncertainty and big change. We all know that most people are naturally resistant to change, especially if they can't see how the change impacts them positively. Therefore, your most vital task as a leader during what can be a difficult time is recognizing and supporting team members running through a range of emotions. From shock to doubt to fear to enthusiasm, people can feel any or all of these when getting merger news. Some people will be thrilled about the direction the company is headed. Some people will immediately assume they will be laid off.

Give people opportunities to voice their concerns, ask questions, and discuss the upcoming changes. When you don't have immediate answers, take those questions up the chain of command to ensure senior management sees the impact and provides guidance. Frequent and consistent communication from management plays an essential role in quelling rumors and keeping people engaged and focused on moving the combined company forward.

And if you are unable to retain some of your team members, be openly appreciative for their service and kind during their transition.

Communicate a Clear Vision

Giving people a picture of the future and why they should help create that future goes a long way during a merger. Clearly, the executives of the companies involved have a vision, or they wouldn't have started the deal to bring those organizations together. Communication from executives is sometimes less than we'd like, but it's our responsibility to seek out that information so we can communicate with our teams about what's happening to the best of our ability. Asking pointed questions about how the merger helps achieve the vision and how your group can contribute to the business's goals helps foster an understanding that garners more buy-in and enthusiasm for a changing environment.

But what about below the executive level? How does what you and your team are doing fit into that overall vision? That's the part you need to be talking with your teams about. That's what affects their day-to-day lives. Communicating the vision often and in different ways lights the path to your organization's future for your team members.

Focus on Collaboration, Not Control

Regardless of whether the joining of the companies is a merger, acquisition, reverse takeover, or any of those other fun terms, the best way to proceed with team members from the other organization is to focus on collaboration. It is highly unlikely that you're going to keep doing things 100% like you did before the merger. Equally unlikely is the idea that you're going to do things 100% differently from what you did before the merger. So that leaves somewhere in the middle—you'll take some processes, tools, and methods from each side and integrate them to move forward. Continue to focus on the rules and tools of collaboration to evolve this new team.

The strength of your relationships with your coworkers can make or break efforts to take teams forward in a new environment. Take initiative to get to know the new people on your team, and encourage your team members to do the same. Being proactive in approaching the new people (after upper management has given the okay) helps inoculate the group against a destructive "us vs. them" mentality. Expect your tact and diplomacy skills to get a full workout as integration progresses. That means constant awareness and avoidance of potentially adverse consequences of your actions on your coworkers. Building positive and cooperative relationships with your new coworkers will give you and your team a distinct advantage over those who let dissatisfaction with the merger and personal issues get in the way of the work.

Merging two organizations with different policies, cultures, systems, tools, and processes is stressful for everyone involved. Sensitivity to the human impacts, clear and frequent communication, and ongoing collaboration help reduce the stress, build trust, and develop a solid foundation for future success.

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