Maintaining Employee Engagement During a Merger or Acquisition

Your company has just been acquired by a private equity firm.  There is initial excitement over the infusion of capital for growth.  The parent company is one you admire and you are looking forward to being a part of their team.  While you are focusing on these positive aspects, the executive team has checked out on communications and your employees are in a tailspin.  How you respond and lead when you are flanked on both sides by rumors and uncertainty is a testament to your leadership acumen.

Few things spark fear and spread rumors faster than a merger or acquisition.  It is a time of uncertainty for employees who seek the security of a job that pays their bills, supports their family, and helps them plan for the future.  As employers and leaders our role is to provide stability during a time when our own future may be at risk.  While it may be difficult to provide answers during the transition, be open and honest about the absolutes and supportive of the concerns of others.  This approach will provide you with the platform you need to ensure business continuity, while assessing the strengths of your team during adversity.  In business today, change and adaptability are core competencies required to maintain a competitive edge.  A merger or acquisition may be just the exercise needed to test the mettle of you and your team.

In the absence of information, people create their own reality.

During a merger or acquisition there is notably concern, led by uncertainty, unrest, anxiety, and fear.  Fear puts the company and the careers of the employees that represent it at risk. 90% of this is unwarranted worry that can be mitigated by transparent communication.  Keeping your team positive and focused is your most important responsibility at this juncture. It requires a steadfast approach to balancing the needs of the business while acting as a liaison between the new parent company and your team.

Ask yourself if you are up for the challenge ahead.  You may find the rigor and uncertainty are not your cup of tea.  Know yourself well enough to make the decision for yourself.  You don’t want to be asked to move on due to your own noticeable anxiety or unrest.  Make the decision quickly and if you have committed to successfully leading the team through change, immediately take the reins.

  1. Become the Point of Contact – Establish yourself as the hub for communication, future focus, and behavior coach. You have the ability to get the information from the top and relay it to the team in a manner that speaks to their individual needs.  Conduct conversations based on looking ahead and their role in meeting the mission, vision, and values of the company.  This may mean a candid conversation in assisting them move into a new role or one outside of the company. Helping people find their way benefits the individual and the organization.  Coaching for behavior is elevated during times of uncertainty.  Make your office a safe haven for emotions and private conversations, yet ensure positive behaviors are discussed and rewarded.  Having your employees emote in your office is appropriate when they understand their role while amongst the team.  Set these guidelines early and you increase trust while building rapport.
  2. Be a Creator – The acquiring firm does not yet know all of the rules. Take this opportunity to stand out and be an ambassador of the new organization.  A colleague of mine who recently went through a major acquisition came to this point after cuts were complete and work on the ‘new’ company was in full swing.  After a week offsite with the new executives to set up the strategic vision, growth plan, and market opportunities, his team at home was clamoring to know what was in store for their future.  While he was not yet in a position to share the final plan, he took the time to meet with them to share the concepts and ideas about how they were bringing the two cultures and organizations together.  He communicated it to them in the context that addressed the concerns they had shared with him during the initial acquisition.  By listening to his team up front, he was able to create and convey their new world in a way that resonated with what they cared about most.
  3. Set Consistent Expectations – Let’s be honest, some people survive a merger or acquisition simply because of who they know. If the CFO’s cousin is valued and contributes to the success of the team and company, you are grateful for the connection. However, if you have inherited an employee who is family to the previous COO and is used to different deliverables and expectations, then you may have an issue.  It is important to keep people accountable on the same level regardless of their role and affiliation on the team.  Conduct candid conversations about having a unified team and set this expectation as an absolute.  You’ll find it rewarding as a leader and steward of the company.  Your employees will appreciate consistency and your boss will respect your commitment to the organization.
  4. Set up Your Peers for Success – In the maneuvering of a new organizational structure, chances are some of your team now reports to a new leader. Even great leaders don’t lead the same way and you want to set both your team and your peers up for success in their new alignment. Encourage your employees to go to their new boss to communicate their concerns and needs as a member of the team.  You don’t want to be the translator stuck in the middle of these new relationships.  Help them carve out a path that allows everyone the space to grow and move forward.
  5. Take Care of Yourself – At some point you burn out and need to recharge your batteries. Ensuring the well-being of others during this process is necessary and the sign of a dedicated leader.  You need to also take care of yourself to sustain your own wellness.  If your fulfillment is rooted in helping others, you can’t do that when you are out of juice.  Taking time to ensure your own mojo is on track sets a positive example that others will follow when you make it a priority for yourself.

Honesty and transparency are the best bets.  Go based on fact and not the unknown.

Maintaining employee engagement during a merger or acquisition is not a simple task.

Constant uneasiness is prevalent within the team as the process unfolds.  Taking the time to communicate with honesty and transparency is the foundation of bringing your team through it as intact as possible.  Share facts to quell rumors and concerns while steering people away from time wasted on the unknown.  Through trust and empowerment to make positive decisions, you will stretch them beyond what they thought possible.  Together, you will emerge stronger and prepared to deliver success in your new environment.

Have you recently been through a merger or acquisition?  Share your experience with me at sarah@conciergeleadership.com, @conciegeleader, or www.conciergeleadership.com.

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