A ‘Family’ Breakdown: How to Lose a Merger or Acquisition (M & A) in the First 6-Months

It always irked me when companies would position themselves as families.
“Come join the XYZ family.”
“We are just one big happy family here.”
It’s heart-warming concept at the beginning as it is human nature to want to belong and be part of a family…. but tell that to someone who just got laid off or moved on to another company. Within 24-hours they lose their position, their email account, work brothers and sisters, work-wives or work-husbands, and can feel shunned as they drift further and further away from the mother ship.
With all that said, working in the M & A (Merger & Acquisition) space with many companies, I can’t help but see a familial overlay to why so many firms fail and employees quietly quit.

The companies that merged are now making plans, merging systems, cultures, employees, reducing redundancies and the leaders (i.e. the parental figures here) are behind closed doors meeting… a lot.
It’s like having a new stepfather or mother who has their own kids and all move into the same house. The parents are on the 3rd floor, hopefully with good intentions, talking things through and the kids are a few levels down— often fearful and anxious.

“Will I lose my job”
“Why aren’t they friendly”
“I don’t think he likes me”
“Should I brush up my resume and look for something new?”
“Their health benefits are not as good as ours were”
“How am I going to manage a remote team, we used to get together in person but now we are spread all over the place”
… And the leaders keep talking and planning how they will best steer the ship. And underneath them, there are dozens, 100s if not thousands of confused employees that are feeling change-adverse with most wanting to part of the solution, others feeling fight, flight, freeze (or fawn) reptilian brain angst.
… and some leaders were gone before day one, perhaps as part of the gameplan or a cash incentive. Leaving a big gap and furthering confusion.
At this stage gossip starts running rampant and the US/THEM conversations begin. It’s a natural response to change and we could all brush up on the book Who Moved My Cheese on our own attitudes about handling change.
Understanding to be able to communicate about the modifications taking place helps the employees, especially those people managers that have teams reporting to them. Their teams are looking for solid direction, people to quell their anxiety and “I’m not sure yet,” will only last for so long. They want answers.
Mergers & Acquisitions happen so much these days in corporate America that some companies have permanent Unification Offices.
HR will often step in here with training to help onboard the new employees, and a lot will be focused on paperwork, systems, policies and of course the dog-and-pony show to feel proud of the company one is joining and to then be able to sell it well.
With one company, an HR leader with a big heart-for-the-people brought my team in to UNITE the new teams (‘siblings’ in this family analogy) quickly and fast track trust.
We used tried and true mentoring best practices but with an important twist. A little engineering went a long way…
Starting with people managers, we utilized the power of peer- to- peer to provide each person an onboarding-through-the-change ‘Mentor Buddy.’ In fact, we then scaled the opportunity for all people managers so that they could have connection, support, learning from people on the other side of the merger. It was an incredible win/win.
“They are just like us”
“She showed me how to use their CRM system”
“We are going to meet in person next week for lunch”
“He connected me to the right person to help me with XYZ issue”
“They really want to understand how we were able to grow so fast last year and what systems worked the best for us”
We utilized an 8-Step MIB (Mentoring-in-a-Box) process and had a lot of fun with speed mentoring to turbo-charge early connections. Matches in these initiatives are often for the first 6-months of the unification and last 4 – 6 months.
A month later, the parent leaders are hopefully ready to implement a more cohesive and winning team. Joining together on the ground floor with a game plan they will strive to build a successful and collaborative winning organization, together. For some companies they do the pre-work before the acquisition, others take years and unfortunately suffer loss of good people. Reduction of US/Them mentality is the way forward. United.