The role of Human Resources during a merger
I have just come across your article “Making Mergers Work” on your website [www.joanlloyd.com]. I am wondering if you have any insight on HR’s role in a merger. We are about to combine two companies. My job will now mean that I will be flying out to the other two locations of our newly formed company.
They have not had an HR position there and I will have to establish myself and build up rapport and a comfort level with the other employees. What should the first steps be?
You must understand the strategic intent before you can take any steps at all.
Understand the goals of your senior management team and position yourself as the point person for the cultural and personnel issues for the merger. For instance, are they trying to create one large company with integrated benefits, policies, products and services? Do they expect to see financial gains from combining functions and eliminating duplicate positions? Perhaps the purpose of the acquisition is to move into a new region of the country or expand their products and services.
There may even be a restructuring at your own company, whereby a new corporate holding company is created, with legal, HR, financial and other staff functions overseeing all three companies.
Hopefully, you have been a partner with your senior team as they made the decision to acquire these companies. History has taught us that failing to do a due diligence assessment of cultural fit can bog down-- and even derail-- mergers when people issues are ignored. For example, if the cultures are very different, you will need to allow more time to build trust and introduce any changes.
Ask senior management to introduce you to the key decision makers at the two new companies. Ideally, you should sit on the integration team, which is usually a group of executives from a variety of departments, who meet periodically to plan and execute changes at the acquired company.
Although they have not had formal HR expertise, someone must have been doing some HR functions. The companies are probably rather small, since they don’t have an HR function, so the tasks may even be done by several people or even outsourced.
You will need to go through a discovery phase, where you visit just to listen and learn about their business and their people. The most important thing to remember is that these people are nervous and perhaps intimidated. They are worried about their jobs—even though they may have been told nothing will change. They are concerned that the Big Fish is going to devour them, so they will be cautious about what they tell you.
Your best strategy is to be open and friendly and completely honest. If you know, for example, that some jobs may be lost, don’t try to calm them with false hope. It will only come back to bite you. Or, if you know that all three companies are going to be combining benefits, be honest about it but assure them that the goal is to keep their benefits the same or better (assuming that is indeed the case).
Here is a list of don’ts:
- Don’t act like you are superior to them—be extra sensitive with your word choices. If you come across as pushy or know-it-all, they will resent and resist you.
- Don’t assume the way you do things at your company will work just as well at their company.
- Don’t try to change things too fast. Start with the easy wins first.
- Don’t change things top down—use a participative process and use their own internal champions to sell and implement change.
If the executives at your company aren’t planning to meet with employees of the other two companies—along with onsite executives—you need to encourage it. You can play a valuable role by coordinating these meetings with onsite managers, collecting employee questions in advance, helping to script the answers to sensitive questions and facilitating the sessions themselves.
You may also want to establish a confidential, phone “hot line” for employee questions. (An online version could also be used but emails aren’t confidential.)You could play a valuable role by collecting anonymous questions and publishing answers online. You will position yourself as the point person who is responsive and helpful and the senior executives will likely welcome your initiative on this.
Identify a well-respected champion at each site who can work with you to coordinate and communicate as your partner. You will have much better luck implementing changes if they are supported and introduced by someone they trust.
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