Negative ‘Office Politics’ is a frequent side-effect from a merger or acquisition. The combination of different individuals, functions, department and cultures with ‘competing’ for jobs, attention, resources and recognition creates the perfect conditions for a cultural melt down. I explore this more in a recent LinkedIn article.
So. What can you do to minimise the chances of negative ‘Office Politics’ taking hold of your new organisation? How can you stop the business losing productivity and value at this time? Your goal is to keep people calm and reassured, so they can focus on their work rather than on worrying about the future.
These are the six stages I cover with people in a M&A situation so they can keep morale and productivity high and realise the benefits of the merger or acquisition:
This means thinking several steps ahead and anticipating individuals’ and teams’ questions and concerns. Figure out what the common threads and concerns are, then address these first. Ensure you have answers to all the identified concerns – even if the answer is, "We don’t know yet but will on XYZ date".
When considering all the aspects that might come up, we often start with this list to get things going:
Which functions/departments will merge?
Will there be redundancies and/or interviewing for existing or new roles?
Which company/brand names will be used with clients/customers/to the market?
Assuming there will be an office return, what will be the physical location(s) of the firm?
As we work through these questions, I encourage people to think about this from a practical/human perspective as frequently this is where the concerns will be. They are less likely to lie in which systems will be used, except by people who are very focused on that aspect!
Put someone in charge of planning, developing, signing off and circulating clear companywide communications about future plans.
People feel reassured when they can see regular, accurate, consistent communications coming out – they can see there is a plan and everything is thought through. It gives them a sense of calm and control in an uncertain time.
If you don’t give communications this importance then the communications will happen anyway – via the gossip network.
Decide what the key aspects to communicate are and draft an approximate timeline. This can always be adjusted later but it needs thinking about so all the interdependencies are considered and the prioritisation of who needs to know what and when considered.
If you’re having consultants help you, they should lead you through this but if not, it might be worth talking to a trusted colleague in another organisation or an objective advisor like me who can give you input and feedback on what you have drafted.
Train your key managers in how to deliver timely comms
Train key managers to keep all individuals up-to-date simultaneously. This needs to run as part of the companywide communication plan. No-one should ‘hear’ about things ahead of others – it leads to suspicion, mistrust and fear, which create unnecessary distress and distractions.
As well as the practical what and when to communicate, the how is essential. It can make an enormous difference to how even bad news is received and decrease the potential negative repercussions.
Consider carefully who should be selected to deliver difficult messages and if necessary, provide some training to help them. My clients often use me as a ‘test’ for them to practice delivering ‘bad’ news in a safe place where I can give objective feedback on delivery, the impact they had, and how to improve it.
If they communicate unwelcome news in a less than appropriate way and /or feel uncomfortable about it then the outcome won’t be optimal. The words used, as well as the body languages and voice are absolutely key.
Demonstrate you value people
Ensure all the managers are demonstrating that they value their team members. It can take weeks, months, years even for a merger and acquisition to be completed and in that time people have to carry on working productively and positively if the company isn’t to go backwards.
Making sure team members know they are valued is crucial here – people carry on giving their best when they know it is appreciated.
When I work with leaders and managers to help ensure they show how much they value their people, a key factor is giving regular feedback. This should be happening anyway - too many organisations leave it to the annual review which is risky as the employee can have a shock or as a leader you miss out on hearing where they are at before it is potentially too late to prevent further repercussions.
At this time more than ever, your managers should be having regular dialogues regarding feedback and performance, both formal and informal. This is particularly important during periods of uncertainty.
Ensure that your managers know how to give honest and realistic feedback. If team members feel you are genuine in terms of the feedback offered and relevant support, as well as praise for valuable work, you are more likely to keep them motivated, even in uncertainty.
Avoid actions that encourage competitiveness
While this may seem like an easy and attractive way to increase performance and productivity, it is short term and short lived.
Whether deliberately or not, if you encourage individuals and departments to ‘compete’ with others, they will be more focused on ‘winning and beating the competition’ than on delivering to their best. The emotional energy spent on this could and should be diverted to making the merger a success.
Keep individuals and teams focused on their objectives and how they are progressing. In an M&A situation, it is not always the team that is better on paper that retains the majority of its people. Encouraging competitive ‘all out’ behaviour often decreases other valuable skills that need to be developed to help individuals progress their careers.
Explain clearly the why and the how
Where there is process and system change, articulate clearly why the change is being made. Give people the reasons, the considerations, so they can see this has been thought through and is not just random / favouring one company’s culture over the other. Then clearly explain how this process will change and the implications of it.
As a leadership team, preparing your rationale and thinking is worthwhile. I can facilitate these sessions so that they are precise and helpful and clearly allow the leaders to make the best decisions. We then discuss how to present the rationale to the workforce. Done well, this shows people that they are working under a competent senior team with a clear, well thought through way ahead for the new business.
Make the time now to save issues later
These points may seem simple and relatively unimportant/obvious; however, I’m too often brought in when they haven’t been followed and am there to help untangle the negative ‘Office Politics’ and detrimental culture that has been created.
Failure to spend enough time on all of this now and what really matters to individuals in your business can lead to a lot of difficulties that can last many years. Do make the time for them.
Bring in objective expertise
If you’re in planning stages of a merger or acquisition or suffering negative consequences as a result of one, then contact me for an initial, free, conversation. Based on my understanding I can give you some initial guidance and, if needed, we can discuss how I can help you in greater depth.