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4 Key Strategies For Supporting Freshly Acquired Employees

Prevent unwanted turnover and boost engagement among staff during acquisitions with these proven support tactics. By SHARON ROSS

The increased uncertainty and ambiguity newly acquired employees face as they transition into a shared entity has been linked with dramatically higher turnover rates and severe disengagement. In fact, post-merger, acquired employees are nine times more likely to depart and engagement levels can drop by up to 50 percent. According to Temkin Group, this impact is multiplied as an organization grows larger, with engagement and turnover rising in tandem with organizational size.

These statistics are especially troubling in an environment where good talent is scarce and retention is already a red-hot problem. Thus, during an acquisition, HR teams and change leaders need to give extra focus to supporting incoming employees. Here, four proven strategies from organizations around the world will be discussed with the aim of helping companies prevent unwanted turnover or the destructive impact of active disengagement.

Priority 1: Establish a communication plan

The first priority in any acquisition should be the establishment of a communication plan. However, this plan should cover more than pure logistics and transactional items. For the long-term health of the newly combined organization, the communication plan needs to include a clear expression of the story behind the acquisition.

Now, this story needn’t be a blow-by-blow of the negotiations between sides. As Elon Musk and Twitter have demonstrated, real-time back-and-forth can allow the narrative to get out of hand. Instead, the story for the communication plan should seek to answer, in a publicly appropriate manner, why this acquisition is happening now and how both sides can expect to work together in the future. This is the tale of “why this, why now, and why we’ll be stronger together” for all sides.

As the acquisition progresses, the key points of this story should form anchor points for the logistical and operational hurdles which need to be overcome together. Repetition and consistent messaging helps to keep everyone aligned to the same goals and lays the foundation for the next important strategic priority, which is the establishment of a cohesive culture.

Priority 2: Build a cohesive culture

According to McKinsey, culture elements are credited with being responsible for some 50 percent of all failed acquisitions. To avoid being on the wrong side of this statistic, it is important to build a cohesive culture for the new joint entity. The sooner this work can be started, the better.

It’s no secret that during a merger, organizational anxiety is high. Culture provides a cushion – the proverbial spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of change go down. Even before the ink on the deal is dry, communications team members and frontline leaders should be working together on what the new shared culture is going to look like, feel like, and sound like. If possible, elements of the new cultural frame should be woven into the communications plan and acquisition story.

This early-stage culture planning is also the best time to tackle difficult culture points head-on. A start-up buying a legacy firm needs to directly address how they’re going to blend “move fast and break things” with a more careful, corporate approach. Multi-national acquirers need to cover on-the-group differences in work/life mindset, leadership structures, and even holiday calendars. Anything that can be anticipated as a potential problem and addressed before it does become a problem will lead to a healthier and more cohesive culture over time.

Priority 3: Remove barriers to employee engagement

Along with building a compelling story and establishing a cohesive culture, acquiring firms will want to remove barriers to employee engagement among acquired employees. This is important because as acquired staff transition, they can feel as though they are losing their connection to the company and their power to speak up about issues they’re experiencing. This sensation of being silenced and disconnected can lead directly to disengagement and turnover.

One area of top impact is the nature of the relationship between newly acquired employees and their new managers. Immediate managers are responsible for around 70 percent of the variation in team engagement levels, according to Gallup’s 2021 report on global employee engagement. Setting up systems to help incoming teams build strong, positive connections with their new managers thus eliminates one of the largest barriers to continued employee engagement, yet many firms are so focused on operational integration that they don’t directly address this level of cultural integration in their overall integration plans. Adding this in could make a dramatic difference in acquisition outcomes, and one that could lead to a lasting competitive advantage.

Priority 4: Build and maintain a feedback loop

As a final step in supporting freshly acquired employees and effectively helping those employees transition to the new organization, change leaders will want to build and maintain a feedback loop. The purpose of this feedback loop is to provide insights on the integration process and highlight opportunities for change and adaptation as the process goes along.

Most integration projects have a long tail, with employee and cultural issues that continue well beyond the initial operational merger. Creating and maintaining a feedback channel can help these issues surface in a way that allows them to be promptly addressed before they drive the overall acquisition off track. Plus, by having a feedback loop that is clearly visible to staff and well monitored by HR or other change leaders, every other part of the acquisition, from the communication plan to culture to engagement, can be thoroughly supported. In this way, firms can nip disengagement in the bud, reduce unwanted turnover, and maximize their chances of a successful acquisition.