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How to keep employees motivated during mergers, acquisitions and times of great change
March, 19th 2018

A company’s culture defines its people. People, in turn, define and shape a brand.

A company’s culture defines its people. People, in turn, define and shape a brand. To build a great brand, your culture must drive the right behaviour and foster collaboration with innovation. This will set your people up for success, strengthening your brand. It is for this reason that most organisations value their culture, ethos, way of life and doing business, as much as they value their bottom lines.

But what happens when culture comes up against transformation? Transformation here could come by way of a merger or an acquisition. Two companies coming together to realise synergies are two cultures coming face to face. Fundamental differences in working styles, approaches or ethos can lead to an inevitable clash. Not only is the new organisation, its business and bottom line affected, but this impacts the people who feel the pulse of organisational change. The organisation’s greatest strengths could easily turn into its greatest weakness at a time of transformation.

A merger or an acquisition is often one of the most challenging situations an HR professional can go up against. The exercise involves a fair bit of understanding of the human psyche, a great deal of dedication to your people, more than a pinch of the correct attitude and, last, a sharp eye on the ultimate aim of delivering the best possible experience to your employees, so that morale and results, necessarily in that order, are always on the rise.

If I had to narrow it down, there are a few essentials that are key while integrating cultures. With these in place, you can ensure your employees do not feel like bystanders, but are involved in the process of change, which is the only constant.

Right communication

While most decisions and discussions regarding a corporate move will take place behind closed doors, it is the right of every employee to know what the future holds in store for them. Don’t let them feel they have been kept in the dark. This sentiment could trigger high levels of dissatisfaction among your people, leading to a spike in attrition. A great way of handling such a situation is to let co-workers know that change is in the offing. Emphasise that while it cannot be discussed in detail, the reason they are being kept in the loop is because the organisation cares for them. Communicating inclusiveness is as important as incorporating it.

Cultural differences

When organisations come together, there is often no common ground to stand on. This exacerbates the feeling of uncertainty among the staff. It is relatively easier to audit, identify and resolve business differences and commonalities. When disparate cultures are involved, identifying, understanding and resolving differences among people, units, regions and functions is not as easy. Gap management in this space is time-consuming, yet important—a miscalculation will be detrimental to the future of the organisation.

Some ways of doing this include management interviews revealing the different managerial styles of the company, employee surveys focused on behaviours, expectations, priorities and attitude, and process charts indicating the flow of the work being done. These initiatives will go a long way in minimising the impact of change. They will reassure employees of their importance to the company and the value you place in them as an employer.

Culture integration

Rome was not built in a day and if that’s how a company intends to build, allow this poor turn of phrase—failing to plan is planning to fail. Bringing two cultures together requires a plan to achieve the desired results. Considers aspects ranging from what will go right, to what has a huge chance of going wrong.

Build Murphy’s law into the plan and you will realise that even if everything that can go wrong does go wrong, you will still be able to navigate the headwinds with your employees by your side. What is most essential to this planning? A detailed understanding of the organisational strategy to build the brand arising out of the merger or acquisition. Dive deeper and other aspects come to light—a comprehension of behavioural norms of employees, capabilities and decisions based on organisational strategy and the mechanisms of how both organisations operate.

Allow for the plan to encapsulate how people would like the organisational transformation to pan out for them. Junior management may not have much of a say in a merger or acquisition. However, how they are involved during this critical period will influence whether they move on in tough times, or stay on to become the next wave of decision makers. Blending the best of both worlds to showcase perfect synergy is not an accident, but more a well-planned incident.

Celebrate the new change

Change can be an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. New dynamics are introduced, there are new people in the system and new cultural nuances that need to be adopted. What is there to celebrate? Who does an employee celebrate it with, in this new environment where nothing is like it used to be?

The fact is, employees of both the organisations are probably feeling the same way. So this is the best time to bring them together. Let them know it’s not just unsettling for them, but even the organisation. It’s a time everyone can stand with and for each other. Organisations who initiate team building and engagement initiatives in this period are on the right path to building a strong culture. Create a team of cultural ambassadors from both organisations who can celebrate the integrated cultures and create immersive and fun experiences. In the end, host an awesome party so that everyone can enjoy themselves and become part of what has become, the newly formed brand.

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