Talent Alignment Is the Key to a Successful Merger

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Jan 10, 2017

In the business world, there’s nothing quite like the uncertainty born of a merger. Trying to blend two company cultures into one is a bit like mixing unknown chemicals in a beaker: The result could be a more potent chemical, a more diluted chemical — or an explosion!

As any chemist will tell you, it’s a bad idea to go in blind when mixing volatile substances. So, for business leaders and HR professionals tasked with helping to make a merger successful, the critical first step involves understanding what you are mixing. It’s not just products, books of business, and financial assets that are being merged, it’s people.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Trying to blend two company cultures into one is a bit like mixing unknown chemicals in a beaker.” quote=”You have teams full of personalities and relationships, with people bringing different strengths, knowledge, and work styles.”] It is essential for business leaders to determine the new organizational state they want to achieve and then look at what they already have in terms of skills, expertise, and motivations in their people. From there, building a talent-alignment strategy and then matching it to the business strategy should provide a roadmap for a successful merger.

The people challenges

The people aspect of a merger is often the most challenging because cultures can clash and employees tend to be (understandably) protective of their existing responsibilities. It’s important to go in knowing that there will be individual and collective differences and to be prepared for the inevitable conflicts. Organizational changes that are pushed through too aggressively are unlikely to be effective, human nature being what it is. A little empathy for employees’ experiences and anxieties goes a long way toward preventing resentment and disengagement, so putting the right people in place for the transition is a smart bet.

(For a perspective on aggressive organizational change, see Ron Thomas’ column “The Tone Deaf Decisions Companies Make.”)

Leaders and high performers from both companies must buy into and be engaged in the merger and transition program. Thus, identifying the most engaged leaders, influential connectors, and respected top performers at every level and getting them to both serve as information resources and as an example for others can help motivate all staff members to embrace the challenge. Like employees on any successful team, these transition leaders must be equipped — with knowledge, tools, and support — to execute their specific missions and be personally committed to making change happen.

Steps in aligning talent in M&A

In terms of overall process, the steps to executing a merger-focused talent-alignment strategy might include:

  • Envisioning, based on the formal business strategy, what the desired organizational state will look like after the merger.
  • Determining what tools, resources, goals, and skills will be needed to achieve that state.
  • Exploring the skills, expertise, and relationships across both organizations to find out who can fill what roll and then identify where the gaps are.
  • Building a team of committed leaders and influencers who can help facilitate the merger in an empathetic manner, develop whatever training programs are needed to fill gaps, and keep people engaged along the way.

Of course, just because the major, primary phase of a merger may have been successful, it does not mean that there is no more need for transition leaders or that senior management’s responsibilities have been dispatched. Fostering meaningful, two-way communication, on a continuing basis, is an essential element in keeping staff members committed, as is encouraging an environment of trust.

Even in the most seamless of mergers, clashes will occur. Tools and services are available that can help new teams identify individual roles and responsibilities and, just as importantly, enable new and veteran workers to understand each other and to respect differences in personalities and work styles.

Which brings us back to what we said at the beginning: It’s always about knowing the most valuable asset you have: People.