Hot seat: the HR role in securing M&A success

Somewhere between 70% and 90% of all mergers and acquisitions (M&A) fail to achieve their strategic and financial objectives. The reasons for this are complex, but the management of people is key to avoiding the potential pitfalls.   

When the coronavirus crisis hit in early 2020, it turned many businesses upside down and then shook them about a bit for good measure.

For many, operations were pared back to the essentials and management teams focused on the health and wellbeing of their people, as well as addressing the business’s challenges.

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The abrupt nature of the crisis inspired major changes to daily working life that otherwise would have taken many years to implement. Overnight, people were working from home when before it would have been unthinkable. 

With people physically separated, the challenge of bringing new businesses into the fold has been intensified.

For those who have returned to the M&A process, effective leadership, communication, trust and transparency are more important than ever before in creating a cohesive company culture which enhances performance, capability and retention.   

Company culture can be defined as a set of values and shared beliefs that drives business activities, and includes everything from the way the company interacts with stakeholders and markets its services, to talent management, leadership styles and internal communications.

It determines how people are expected to behave, from senior leaders to front-line field teams, how employees are supported and given autonomy in their roles, and how the company fosters trust and transparency, accountability and inclusivity. 

Culture clashes are all too common during the M&A process and can be detrimental to business performance, leading to poor communication, lack of motivation and loss of talent. However, with strategic planning and a strong people focus, businesses can overcome the challenges of COVID-19 and reap the benefits of M&A.


Cultivating a shared identity

Integration planning should focus on four key areas:

  • Enhanced communication – open communication should form a regular part of working life. Formal reviews are important, but one-to-one conversations, shared discussions and ad-hoc check-ins will give people a voice and make sure they know their worth.
  • Shared values and beliefs – embed company mission, vision and values into every aspect of the business, energising and guiding the way we work from external interactions with customers and communities to recruitment activities.
  • Employee health and wellbeing – a happy team is a productive team, supporting work/life balance and creating space for people to innovate, provide fresh perspectives and ideas
    to flow. 
  • Career pathways and professional development – foster a culture of empowerment, encouraging people to take ownership of their role and supporting the business to become more agile and less hierarchical. 


People power

Workplace wellbeing initiatives were growing in popularity before the pandemic hit, but of course the nature of the crisis has cemented the issue as a priority for forward-thinking businesses. The business case is clear; around 12.8 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2019. 

However, it's also about recognising the value of your people and the impact that their health and wellbeing has on productivity and overall business success. 

Making sure people feel valued is one thing, but when they are working from home, isolated from team members and potentially unseen, there is a real risk of disconnection and despondency. You might be bringing people into the fold who you’ve never met in person and therefore finding a healthy balance is important to both parties. 

In a post-COVID world, tactical planning surrounding integration and company culture is necessary rather than optional and should be at the forefront of business strategy. 


Jennifer Jackson is people director at water treatment firm WCS Group


This piece first appeared in the September/October 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.