M&A Pitfalls: We will not shed any people!

Decisions on people, their jobs and future are often the hardest. They have to be taken anyhow.

No one likes to communicate unpopular decisions, however, avoiding decisions on people and their future is not helpful in most cases, and certainly not in M&A scenarios. Yet, Management frequently chooses the easy way out and prefers to communicate that there will be no job loss with the merger. More often than not, that’s a promise which cannot be held up. (Also compare my contribution “Setting up Merger Communications”.)

Consolidation of functions and departments (HR, Finance….) usually goes along with a reduced resource need, starting from the heads of department, and ending with the lowest qualified positions. Duplicity of roles is commonly not warranted, neither under a cost perspective nor for organizational clarity. In the new setting of a combined business qualification requirements may change (in IT, for example). Also, holding people in undefined roles will lead to frustration and unhappiness.

Overall, mergers routinely create the need to deal with redundancies – it’s a fact, and should be accepted and communicated as such. Ultimately, reality will catch up with Management, and spreading a message which will be proven wrong over short or long will eat into leadership’s credibility.

Prevention strategies include:

  • Development of a TOM and role definitions for key personnel.
  • Leadership changes are not inevitable, but common. Communicate it.
  • Early involvement of works councils to manage expectations.
  • Prepare the organization for changes.
  • If the future is unknown, say it, but at the same time point out specific future decision points in the integration timeline.