A recent report by Harvard Business Review found that between 70% and 90% of all business mergers and acquisitions fail. While there are many pieces of the M&A puzzle, culture can be a crucial determinant of your success. Indeed, failed integration of the two (or more) disparate company cultures and workflows can cause key talent to feel frustrated and unmotivated, and ultimately prompt them to look for roles elsewhere.
But mergers don’t have to be a culture-killer. While there’s always the possibility of disruption and friction, HR professionals can arm themselves with the knowledge, tools and insights needed to smooth over the process for employees — making the entire merger or acquisition process a better experience for all. Here are a few tips.
Make HR’s presence known from the beginning
When your organization announces a merger or acquisition, there are going to be a lot of questions. Fielding those questions, comments and concerns is one thing, but prioritizing the people behind those questions when it comes time to make important — and often tough — calls about staffing and resources is another.
That’s why HR must be involved in culture-related conversations from the start of the M&A process. Making sure that people-based insights are heard and integrated from the beginning is one of the most important elements of a successful merger or acquisition. If HR has an early seat at the table, it’s more likely those person-first considerations will be handled upfront, rather than viewed as an afterthought.
HR visibility also comes into play when it comes to key talent retention. To retain the key talent that will keep your new organization successful, HR professionals must make sure employees feel secure in the transition and in their place within the new structure. Knowing that there are HR leaders on their side, and knowing that there’s someone to turn to with questions from the get-go, is key.
Develop a culture task force
Putting together a “task force” specifically crafted to get the two work cultures to click should be prioritized immediately. Leading up to the merger, HR representatives from both sides of the table should come together on a weekly basis to discuss how they will integrate workflows, how management structures will be arranged, what benefits will stay or be taken away, and more — with the ultimate goal of maintaining a comfortable working environment for all employees.
Once the transition is underway, this task force should be a hands-on player, helping to onboard the acquired employees and clearly communicate any changes in their day-to-day schedules. What’s more, employees aren’t always forthcoming with feedback unless they feel they have a platform — meaning HR is responsible for creating an environment where employees can express concerns and constructive criticism. Holding open office hours or bi-weekly check-ins with individual employees during the first month or so can be a great idea to elicit concerns or questions. This proactive approach will pave the way for a smooth transition that identifies any issues or “culture clashes” early on, instead of letting them disrupt your organization down the road.
Depending on the size of your company and how quickly you’re growing, the exact makeup of this team or task force may look different. Still, regardless of the shape, it’s a wise decision to put together a team who will help new employees integrate seamlessly into your organization.
Don’t dismiss the incoming culture — learn from it
The key word here is “integration.” When you acquire a new company, you’re not only gaining new offerings, customers or competencies — you’re also gaining valuable information about how your new co-workers and clients work and operate. Get to know what perks your incoming employees enjoy, how they structured their organization, and how they communicate with other teams. Instead of asking the organization to blindly assimilate their culture into yours, try your best to learn from their way of doing things.
Conduct a thorough review of the incoming company’s culture, structure, and cadence and consider taking on the things that work while leaving behind the things that clearly don’t. Not only will this help incoming employees feel more “at home” in their new organization, but it can also help you learn and up-level your current HR practices.
HR professionals have a lot on their plate when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. It’s possible to maintain a successful M&A process by prioritizing company culture and ensuring that, no matter what shape or form the new organization takes, every employee feels heard, prioritized, and taken care of. Anticipating cultural challenges and getting out ahead of them isn’t always the easiest task, but by working with employees and HR professionals involved in the merger, you can come up with a system that consistently puts people first and helps your culture thrive.