There is nothing more exciting in the world then working for months, sometimes years, to put together a merger and to finally watch it come to fruition.
In the months leading up to the merger, you undoubtedly gave a lot of thought to the logistics. Bringing two companies together often means merging office space, restructuring management, consolidating technology, realigning 401K plans and on and on it goes.
However, while you have been viewing the merger with great anticipation, employees on both sides may not have a clue what is coming.
When mergers are being negotiated, the parties usually keep everything under wraps until the deal is finalized. That means you don’t have the luxury of bringing everyone up to speed slowly over time. And while the finalization of the process is likely to be a happy occasion for you, you may find some employees are dismayed at what they view as a disruption at best and a threat to job security at worst.
The human element in a merger is probably one of the most difficult aspects to manage. Emotions run high in stressful situations, and it is important to get out in front of the uncertainty to minimize anxiety and keep everyone focused on the goal ahead.
The truth is, you need the talent, wisdom and dedication of your staff to make it work and getting them on board from day one is hugely important. The best way to do that is to approach them the way you approach any customer, listening to their needs and concerns, and working together to determine the best path forward.
Tell Them Why
Taking a page from Kent Burns book What’s Your Why?, begin by telling them what motivated you to pursue the merger. Share your hopes and dreams for the company and for them. Share it as a narrative – a story with a vision for how this new combined experience can enhance their work experience and broaden their potential. Start with the key remaining leaders, officers and managers—whether they’re at the C-level or on the front line. You’ll need their buy-in and eventually, their assistance, to drive enthusiasm for the new direction.
At this first stage, spreadsheets are not going to be convincing. Change is emotional, so you want to reach them on an emotional level. Share your concern for them as they face the changes ahead.
Pay Close Attention to Feedback
Whether in large groups or small teams, as you navigate the merger process pay close attention to the feedback you are getting. Ask lots of questions about what concerns each person has for their particular responsibilities going forward.
Avoid being a Pollyanna! There are going to be challenges. Acknowledging everyone’s legitimate concerns can be validating and reassuring. Let them know they are heard and that you are willing to work with them to minimize disruption. In addition, be specific about why you need their input, expertise and dedication to ensure a successful transition.
Don’t Go It Alone
Don’t think for a minute that you have all the answers. Your staff has to continue to manage the daily flow of the business and they may know best how to navigate moving to new office space or adopting a new technology. Engage them in the process. Create teams to work on specific items so that they are taking ownership of the piece of the puzzle that most impacts their work.
Celebrate small successes. As each phase of the transition is completed, publicly honor your teams’ efforts, acknowledging their hard work and dedication. And of course, start planning now for the big blow-out celebration when all the pieces finally fall into place!