The Employee Handbook for Navigating Mergers & Acquisitions

M&A Leadership Council Announces the Upcoming Publication of
“The Employee Handbook for Navigating Mergers and Acquisitions: 
A Guide for Preparation, Patience and Perseverance”

Mitchell Lee Marks, Ph.D.
San Francisco State University

Perhaps nothing has been more “over-communicated” than the need to “over-communicate” to employees when their workplace is being merged or acquired.  On the one hand, this is motherhood and apple pie—who could argue against taking efforts to keep employees informed about the process and progress of going through a merger or acquisition?  On the other hand, most M&A communication efforts fall flat. 

Despite employees’ seemingly insatiable appetite for M&A-related information, there simply is not a whole lot to say (especially in the early days right after a merger or acquisition is announced).  Then, as the deal moves forward, leaders get so busy driving in two lines at once—that is, running the business while trying to manage the integration—they get distracted from their communication commitments.  Not because they are bad communicators or have bad intentions, but simply because they are overwhelmed with the rigors of doing a deal, most organizational leaders executives need communications support.

With this in mind, I am excited to announce that the M&A Leadership Council is preparing a new publication to help inform employees about the M&A process—an employee guide to M&A.  The publication is written by my colleague Philip Mirvis and myself.  Between us, we have first-hand experience in over 100 corporate combinations.  The format is a short handbook, intended to give employees, supervisors, and managers a realistic preview of what it is like to go through a merger or acquisition. 

To be sure, no two deals are alike—each has its own set of purposes, personalities and processes.  So there can never be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to understanding M&A.  However, based on our broad experience over the past 30 years, Phil and I have summarized the key aspects of the M&A process so that merging or acquired employees can gain insight into what to expect as their combination unfolds. 

To be available soon in electronic format, the handbook provides solid content about the M&A experience and, in particular, what employees will encounter.   The handbook gives straight-talk about M&A meant to inform and prepare employees, not sugar-coated messages meant to placate them. But the handbook will also show how many combinations create opportunities as well.  Innovative work procedures and technologies may be adopted, new career opportunities may open up, the combined company’s financial position may be stronger than the predecessor companies, and the overall organization may become more effective and competitive.

Research shows that communication programs that provide a “realistic preview” of a merger or acquisition buffer against the common and to-be-expected negative effects of M&A on employees.  The result is that employees move more smoothly through the process and with less resistance.  Specifically, employees who receive realistic communications early in the M&A process report less overall stress and uncertainty and less negative impact on job satisfaction, organizational commitment and on-the-job productivity.  Of course a handbook will not eliminate the stresses and strains of going through a merger or acquisition, but it can help prepare people to handle them better.

The Employee Handbook for Navigating Mergers and Acquisitions:  A Guide for Preparation, Patience and Perseverance educates employees about the combination process and gives insight into common human and cultural reactions to being merged or acquired:

  • Why companies merge or acquire
  • The combination process
  • The human side of M&A
  • Why company cultures clash
  • The “Merger Syndrome” and related reactions to stress and uncertainty that impact personal well-being and work-place productivity
  • Sizing up one’s own situation in a merger or acquisition
  • Managing M&A-related stress
  • Minimizing culture clash and contributing to positive cross-company relations

The Handbook will be published within the next few months.  And, we look forward publishing a companion edition, “The Manager’s Handbook to Mergers and Acquisitions, shortly thereafter.  Unfortunately, middle managers and supervisors often are just that…caught in the middle! They find themselves bombarded with questions from subordinates but do not have the information available to those at the very top of a company.  The intent of Manager’s Handbook to Mergers and Acquisitions will be to assist team leaders in both (1) managing their personal situation in the combination and (2) supporting their people through the transition.  It will provide keen insights and practical actions team leaders can take during a merger or acquisition.

About the Author:  Mitchell Lee Marks is Professor of Leadership at the College of Business at San Francisco State University and leads the change management consulting firm   Over the past 30 years, he has been involved in over 100 mergers and acquisitions as a researcher or advisor.  He is the author of six books on organizational change; most recently “Joining Forces:  Making One Plus One Equal Three in Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances” with Philip H. Mirvis.  Dr. Marks is a member of the Advisory Board of the M&A Leadership Council.  He can be reached at [email protected]