Anne Elliott

Managing Director at EMA Business and Management Consultancy Ltd …

It is widely acknowledged that mergers often fail because of the people and cultural issues. But are employers giving this enough thought soon enough?

A deeper analysis of the picture suggests that it is not generally the regulation, technical or financial issues that go wrong, it is the ‘people’ aspects. This can lead to poor staff morale and significantly affect working relationships.

Not getting the ‘people’ aspect right means that staff may not buy in to the change, possibly leading to the merger failing or the newly merged organisation having to battle in its early years against a background of residual staffing issues.

Mergers are often complicated and can fail for a variety of reasons but, drawing on my experience I have outlined a number of steps employers can take to ensure successful change:

  • Remember that a successful merger depends on factors such as culture and size, and can take years to achieve the expected results – so be realistic in your expectations.
  • Senior staff need to focus as much on the people issues of merger proposals as on the technical and financial aspects. Forgetting the people angle, at any stage, is to invite disaster.
  • Senior staff need to be aware that they may adjust to changes quicker than other staff as they have a higher level of information. This may lead to them having a different view of progress and may result in complacency over the concerns of frontline staff.

You can’t ‘wing’ this. You will need a communication plan that will:

  • Set out all of the information , including the why, how and when you are merging and what impact it will have on staff.
  • Be clear about the information that you convey, who and how it will be given and how often.
  • Be open and honest. Whether good or bad news, it needs to be said. If there is nothing to say then say so, but do not leave a communication vacuum for detractors to affect views.
  • Make sure that staff are not left feeling uncertain for long periods – make decisions and communicate them quickly.
  • Leaders need to remain visible in this change process and need to answer questions or concerns as honestly as possible, ideally on a one-to-one basis.
  • After the merger, remember that conflicts still arise – be clear about respective roles and responsibilities.
  • Staff will be expecting further changes post-merger and it is important that good communication practices still apply.