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November 04, 2009

Merger Malaise

Blog cartoon 11-4-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Sometimes when you hear about an impending merger, and you're one of the workers who will be affected by it, rather than one of the decision-makers who arranged it, you feel a malaise coming over you.

You wonder, if you're in a close-knit industry, whether you'll end up working again with a manager or colleague you fled from at a previous job. It's not a charitable feeling (I heard it's best to be forgiving), but it makes perfect sense from a survivalist point of view. You survived them once, but could you do it twice?  If you're lucky enough to avoid working with the dreaded ones again, there may be new dreaded ones brought into your path. You may end up with new colleagues that ruin your formerly happy work environment. What if your work group inherits a less talented, less hard working employee from the company you merged with who also happens to have a higher title and salary than you, and will get to keep the title and salary after joining your group?  In other words, automatically a higher title and salary than you, though you've been there longer, and work harder?  What if, as I've ranted about before on this blog, he's one of those "nice guys" no one wants to get rid of?  A lot of irritation will befall you in that case post-merger.


Even more dangerous is ending up with a malicious (not just a slacker but a malicious and manipulative slacker) in your merged work group who is happy to bolster herself by undercutting your efforts. Then, of course, on top of that, the analytical (slightly neurotic) merged worker will wonder about whether she will inherit a new boss who will make her work life not as much fun (trying to find a diplomatic way of saying "miserable").


With so much unknown, including whether the newly merged company will continue to have need of you at all as an employee, it's no wonder your employees' productivity probably will slip during the merger or consolidation process. Is there any way around it?


What if your company came up with incentives or work goals specifically for the period of time it is transitioning as a merged unit with the newly acquired/parent company?  You could acknowledge to workers the anxiety of the situation, and the potential for work productivity to drop off, and offer them incentives such as added merit increases if they meet newly established work goals. The goals should relate to the company's new position as a merged entity. Workers could be challenged, for instance, with coming up with new marketing or product ideas for their new company, or maybe they could be tasked with learning about the company they're merging with, and coming up with ways to keep work processes flowing smoothly (their ideas, in other words, for how their work group could be changed or enhanced following the merger to increase, or at least not interrupt, productivity). Let them know the more entrepreneurial of their ideas will be rewarded monetarily. It's awful and frightening to have to promise cash, but it would be worth it if it keeps employees engaged and hard working during the merger, and taps their brains for ways to make the merger work better, right?


Also find a way to assuage fears about meeting a horrible manager or co-worker again at the newly formed company. You need to find a way to address employee fears of their work life getting adversely affected by the merger. Let workers know as soon as possible about new additions to their work group, and find out if any of them have dealt with these people before. If they have, encourage the employees to be honest in their feelings about them. If they have negative feedback about an employee your company will inherit through the merger, try your best to find a way to keep the individual away from the employee who is complaining about him. If you can't do that, then think of a way to monitor the situation so there's no chance for abusive behavior by the person your current employee so dreads. If it looks like the potential problem person will be a manager to the concerned employee, be sure to make that person's boss (the one who makes decisions about whether he gets fired or receives a raise) someone else.


To keep things simple, why merge and change work groups at all?  If a work group is functioning at an optimal level, why fix what isn't broken?  Instead of adding unnecessary baggage to the group, you could create an auxiliary or additional, separate group for the merged employees. These two work groups would then divide up projects that fall within the same area of your operations, so you get the extra manpower without creating potential interpersonal problems.


A merger can be positive if you end up with additional resources, but as one who is by nature wary of mankind, it seems as though the best of those additional resources probably aren't human. The additional sources of funding for projects, and the existing business partnerships at your new sister company that you may be able to tap into, is exciting. What's not exciting?  Sharing a cubicle wall with Crazy Sally again.


What workforce management tips can you offer companies planning a merger or acquisition?  Does productivity have to suffer?


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