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Embracing change vital to successful business mergers

Companies which embrace the changes brought about by mergers and acquisitions (M&A) will be better off than those that try to sell their employees on a 'business as usual' mentality.

Speaking at the Unleash World HR conference, Abla Filali Meknassi, global culture, HR communications and people development leader at Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions, said companies that try and move on as if nothing has changed run the risk of souring their relationship with employees.

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She said: "As soon as a deal is made, the first thing businesses think about is people leaving. They try to go back to people and convince them everything is OK. The problem with this is that it denies the reality and the challenges that employees will face. By denying it, it creates a huge distance between the leadership team and the people. Once that trust is breached, it becomes very hard to build closeness and convince afterwards."

Research from insurance company Willis Towers Watson, in conjunction with Bayes Business School, found the M&A market remained resilient in 2022, with 210 mergers completed globally in the third quarter of the year, down from high of 264 in the same period last year. 

Filali Meknassa added: "Businesses need to recognise that it’s not a comfortable situation and they don’t have all the answers. They need to talk about that discomfort rather than trying to convince people that everything is fine. This will reinforce trust but also create space for discussion around the difficulties. HR can then better target the actions and support they can offer."

By underestimating the impact of cultural changes M&A can have on employees, a Culture Amp study found the activities cost companies an average of 12 - 15% of revenue.

Meknassi said training for HR teams and managers should be prioritised after acquisitions.

She added: "Train your HR on what processes are going to come. Just because they’re HR doesn’t mean they know how M&A works. Train them on the emotional aspect, as they will be in front of employees with a lot of anger.

"The middle management team are in the worst position when it comes to M&A. They’re not the ones making the decisions but they’re given all the responsibility when it comes to discussing what’s going to happen with the employees.

"Train managers as they will be the ones that employees will go to if they have a problem. Give them the tools to know how to answer the questions employees have."