Over the years I have observed — up close and from afar — numerous company, business and agency mergers. None of them ever went as smoothly as promised. A few well-managed mergers produced minimal pain, while some others had their human victims in a perpetual state of anger and unhappiness for years after the event.
There are many compelling reasons to merge two or more organizations. Eliminating duplication, achieving economies of scale, leveraging complementary strengths, maintaining profitability, enhancing competitiveness, expanding market share, or improving customer service all come to mind. But mergers are hard work and the larger the organizations involved, the harder and longer the effort becomes.
Those in charge generally present the case for a merger in highly logical terms. Smiling executive faces explain with enthusiasm all the wonderful benefits the merger will produce. They make promises and reassure folks that although their lives will change somewhat, every effort will be made to make that transition as smooth as possible. In the end, according to top brass, all will be well.
But switch sides and the response of the workforces involved to news of a merger is highly emotional. Forget what a merger represents to top brass and the fact that many will disagree with the need or timing of the decision. To the workforces involved this is news of a BIG TIME CHANGE in their lives to which they will need to adapt. For a significant portion of the new workforce this change will mean abandoning their comfort zones and the familiar, accepting as new colleagues people previously thought of as the competition and sometimes the enemy, and they will most likely need to learn new processes, procedures and systems as well. Many people who felt professionally comfortable in the old, will now begin to wonder if they can survive and succeed in the new. Such concerns are not always rational or realistic but such are the realities of our emotions.
Moreover, it is almost certain that the notion of winners and losers will emerge. If one old organization’s name is kept, that may define who won for many. While who emerges as the top brass in the new organization or which major systems are kept may suggest which side won to others. And not infrequently, if you talk to all sides in an organizational merger, you will hear that many all around believe that their side lost no matter the facts. Rational? Not usually. But very human.
While mergers are never easy and depending on scale can take a long time to settle out, in my experience one step taken as rapidly as feasible can help speed and smooth the process. MERGE PEOPLE AND AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.
Whatever the reason for a merger of organizations, in the end the people involved will either make it work or it will fail. The daily work must get done; customers served, products produced, systems serviced and maintained, bills and employees paid, expected economies realized, overlaps and redundancies eliminated and profits or mission sustained. More importantly, a workforce no matter their individual views of the merger, will accomplish the above more effectively and expeditiously only if motivated and engaged.
Motivation and engagement accordingly, is one of the new management team’s biggest challenges. And nothing in my experience works more effectively than merging people from similar elements of the old organizations into new working partnerships targeted against the challenging work ahead.
Face to face in essential working teams, it is difficult for most humans to maintain old biases and prejudices. The pressure of immediate work tends to compel cooperation. And with cooperation comes new respect, appreciation for the talent and contribution of others, collegiality, and friendships. A sense of common cause creates the bonds necessary to overcome the uncertainty a merger always represents.
In addition, the emergence of new ideas and thinking that often evolves in merged working teams, stimulates the creative and innovative juices necessary to make the merged organization more than the sum of its parts. Keeping folks apart in units still tied to the old only tends to perpetuate negative and resentful feelings, and a world view tied to the “good old days” that will never return.
Merging people as quickly as possible — coupled with their participation in making those decisions that will most impact their daily working lives — encourages most humans to gradually let go of the past and begin the adaptive work necessary for the merger to succeed.