How to Navigate an M&A While Still Retaining Talent and Keeping Your Workers Happy

How to Navigate an M&A While Still Retaining Talent and Keeping Your Workers Happy

Being involved in a merger or acquisition (M&A) is a big deal, literally and figuratively. For businesses, they represent the opportunity for huge, immediate gains in market share, revenue, technology, infrastructure, and more. For the individuals who work at those companies, these situations can present new personal and professional growth opportunities. 

That being said,  M&As can also be challenging and confusing. The changes can be quite significant as established routines are disrupted and new processes are introduced. Sometimes interpersonal difficulties arise as roles and responsibilities merge, other times people simply feel lost in the shuffle. It’s crucial that leaders whose organizations are involved in a merger or acquisition pay special attention to their human resources and make it a key focus to maintain culture and morale.

Why It’s Important to Pay Attention to People

A lot of change takes place during M&As, and, frankly, not everyone handles it well. The biggest fear that most people cite is that they’ll lose their jobs, followed by a lack of trust or faith in leadership and concerns about fitting into the new culture.

Creating and managing an experience for employees — much like the same way brands do for customers — is essential. It’s not some afterthought. Forbes reported that 70-90% of mergers fail; a major contribution to that was a decay in the culture of the organization.

Once that downward spiral sets in, it’s hard to correct. Morale tanks and people start thinking about greener grass somewhere else. This applies especially to those who are most talented; they know their worth and aren’t going to hang around where they feel there’s no future.

So what exactly can leaders do to ensure that their workers are happy and their best talent sticks around because they see value, opportunity, and a future within their role? Let’s take a look at a few of the essential strategies.

Be Transparent

The basis for any healthy and successful relationship is trust. The key to establishing that trust is to be transparent, honest, and forthright. This is true for personal relationships and for how employees view the company they work for. If they think management or leadership is holding back information, their confidence deteriorates quickly and severely.

Transparency and honest, clear dissemination of information is the most important action leaders can take to facilitate trust in and within their organization. Good news or bad, minor or major, share it. M&As have a lot of change, movement, and uncertainty. The only thing that quells the anxiety of unanswered questions is an answer. 

Good ‘Ol Fashioned Team Building

Anonymity is not a feature of agile, forward-moving organizations. Studies show that when people can assign a face to their coworkers, not only does productivity increase, but they’re also more courteous. In other words, people work better together when they know each other, and they also exhibit more respect. Two major characteristics of places where shit gets done.

Make sure that team building is happening from multiple perspectives at all levels. The organization as a whole needs to come together. Departments need to do the same, and, finally, individual teams. Lunch-n-learns, Zoom calls, sitting in the boardroom — there are a  hundred ways to get together. Do the ones that are right for you.

Make Good on Promises

M&As don’t only represent the potential to achieve new goals as a business, but they can bring about new opportunities for people at the individual level. New projects, products, responsibilities, and so forth are commonly part of the landscape. If you have star players who’ve been working for a promotion, now might be the time.

It’s no secret that promoting from within is a smart strategy. If there are new roles and opportunities for growth, reward the teams and up-and-coming leaders who are contributing to the organization's progress. Nothing solidifies the idea of future potential more than an increase in stature and standing (and pay, don’t forget what this is).

Make Sure the Communication Is Two-Way

A standard feature of healthy cultures is that people feel management listens to them. Conversely, a typical defect of toxic cultures is that people feel management doesn’t listen. While this isn’t exclusive of situations involving M&As, it’s an especially important time for the conversations to go both ways.

Provide the forums and means for team members to be involved in creating and shaping the culture moving forward. Buy-in can only be achieved through involvement, so get everyone involved. Don’t just come together on paper, take the steps to truly unite everyone's talents, abilities, and contributions. 

Bring It All Together

Yes, business is business, but the businesses that everyone wants to be involved with are the ones that remember people are people. The most successful leaders remember that we’re talking about our friends and coworkers. The ones we spend a lot of our time with, sometimes more than our biological families. They’re a part of all this, so make sure they know it.

Make action, communication, facilitation, and all of the other positive “-tion” words part of the strategy. Look at the M&A as an opportunity to take culture up a notch and introduce some new stuff that everyone has been wanting to do. Let your team know through your actions that the grass is green right where they’re at and is getting greener every day.

Ben Nettleton

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