Why managers should be integral to integration

Companies attempting big M&A deals are not making the most of their own managers' influence, a study suggests.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
It is a truth universally acknowledged in the corporate world that most mergers that fail do so because of people issues. And yet, according to a new study by consultancy Towers Watson, lots of companies involved in big M&A deals are making life harder for themselves by not giving their managers a big enough role in the process. After all, if managers don’t really know what's going on, how can you expect the staff that work for them to be any the wiser? And if that's the case, they're far more likely to disengage or leave the company altogether...

The results are based on the Towers Watson M&A Manager Study, a survey of 700 managers with experience of the aftermath of big mergers or takeovers. Barely more than a third said they'd played a part in integration planning, while a similar number said they'd had some kind of formal responsibility for communicating the details of the change. Remarkably, 27% said they'd played no role whatsoever in the integration process. Since staff will often come to their manager to get a better understanding of the deal, that seems rather remiss, to say the least.

As Towers Watson says, the relationship between employee and manager is a crucial part of engagement - and engagement is arguably never more crucial than during the difficult times after a transaction, when staff are uncertain about what the future holds and how much the existing culture may change (over 70% cited the latter as the main reason people leave post-mergers). So it stands to reason that staff will find it much easier to settle into the new regime if they have well-informed, effective managers.

But how do companies make sure that happens? Towers Watson identifies five steps to success for companies going through this kind of deal: pick out the key management talent early; make sure they know exactly what's going on; give them the tools they need to communicate with staff; make sure messages are clear and consistent; and recognise their success via incentives linked to integration targets (of which engagement remains an under-used metric - 82% of those surveyed said it wasn't even tracked during their deals).

None of this sounds particularly complicated. If you're trying to integrate two separate workforces, it makes perfect sense to ensure that the mangers who'll have to deliver your strategy to the front line are actively involved in the process - or there's no way they'll be able to champion your cause. But judging by this study, many companies are still not doing enough. Perhaps senior management are too busy worrying about their own fate once the deal is signed?

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