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  • Writer's pictureLata Hamilton

HOW TO: Stop culture shock during M&A

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

What challenges may you face as a leader when your company gets blended with another company? As well as the obvious fears of job loss amongst your staff, there’s other factors at play. HR & Change Management are often brought in to an M&A project to get the “technical” side of managing people right. But what about the “emotional” side? And even more importantly, something that drives how people are feeling is their workload, clarity of work processes, and how these feed into the bigger picture. Processes might seem boring - but invested in correctly they can be a huge source of engagement for showing you care about your team, and not just WHAT your team does, but also HOW they do it. See 3 fresh and recycled ideas for making the merge smoother and easier for you and your people.

shocked man

So mergers and acquisitions are probably the most interesting type of organisational change and the most complex. Especially for your people. Because usually with a restructure, you're dealing with one organisation - so everything is happening in this contained bubble. However, when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, you could be dealing with two or more organisations. This includes all of the nuances of processes, culture, people, roles, responsibilities, brand identity, and their own identity and understanding of what organisation they work for. You're having to deal with all of that. And it can bring up a lot for people. It can bring up a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, a lot of fear, and a really big one is... a bit of a crisis of identity.

I'm Lata Hamilton, Change Leadership and Confidence expert. And this is the second article in my 15-part Reimagine Restructures Blog Series. So here’s three key tips and hints on how you can smooth the way for your people during your next merger or acquisition.

Prefer to watch the 5 minute video? Jump over to my Youtube Channel.

IDEA #1: Unite the forces

So with a merger or acquisition, you’ll usually have two really disparate groups of people. They have been geared towards their own unique purpose of their particular organisation. And often that's been led top-down from a strategic approach, cascaded down through the layers. So they're really used to that. But what you need now is to be able to actually have both groups tap into a uniting force, something that they can both really find meaningful for the future. 

Interestingly, this one you're actually going to start from the bottom. You're actually going to start it from a grassroots level and run exercises with your teams to have them starting to build up what they believe they're here for:

  • Why does their team exist?

  • What are they here to do?

  • What are they here to contribute? 

  • And so doing they will come up with their own "team purpose".

And then actually chunking up and going to the next level, and the next level, and the next level. We're so used to things cascading down, and this is actually turning it on its head and doing it the other way. Then, as senior leaders together, take what each organisation has come up with and combine it into one unifying, common purpose across the entire new entity that you're going to be creating. 

Often, as leaders, we feel like we have to do all of the groundwork, we feel like we have to have all of the answers, we have to be doing all of the driving. And here is a real difference in terms of perspective. Because it's actually all about bubbling purpose up through the layers of your organisations, and letting people tap into it and have buy-in and engagement of it, because they were part of the process and they actually came up with it themselves.

IDEA #2: Rebirth the brand

To help support them through this identity crisis they might be going through, I usually see one of two activities. Either:

Approach 1:

There is a really strong brand which becomes the flagship brand, and every other team or organisation that's part of the merger or acquisition gets grouped underneath that brand as an umbrella. Now that's absolutely ok if you want to do that! But really help your people to make that transition to understand that new brand: understand why it's going to be the best opportunity for customers, for clients, for shareholders, for the staff themselves. It's not about leaving the other brand behind, but it's about actually "rebirthing" the brands together into a more solid, coherent, cohesive "Masterbrand", if you will. 

So what you can do is a launch party, and that really does bring it to life for people, and really gets them connected. And it might sound a bit flippant, like "throwing a launch party". But it's a symbol, right? We have parties when we want to celebrate something, and it's a symbol to their unconscious mind that this is something "new", this is something "exciting", and it can help really get them on board. Obviously there are steps that have to happen before that party! 

Approach 2:

The second thing that I see happen is that sometimes if the brands are of more equal value, then a new brand is created. So allow staff to say goodbye to the past: to say goodbye to their respective brands, and to honour them. But then also, really showing them and getting them excited about what the future is going to look like.

And you can do the same thing – have a bit of a launch party to feel part of and integrated in the birth of this new entity, this new organisation. 

IDEA #3: Processes matter

The third thing that I would say is to problem-solve the processes BEFORE you do your merger or acquisition. Don't leave your people to pick up the pieces,  having to struggle through and work out how they're going to do things in the new world. Find how you're going to work together in the future, and how you're going to leverage the resources, the processes, and the assets of each organisation. And do this before you make the change. 

So to recap, get the organisations to chunk up the united purpose from a grassroots level, decide on a masterbrand or a new brand and introduce, celebrate and integrate it, and solve your processes before the change. Good luck, my friends!

I'm Lata Hamilton - the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, a Change Management consultancy specialising in digital transformation, operating model changes, and new ways of working and leadership.

Grab my free Creative Launch Ideas Guide with 53 ways to bring your next Change and Transformation to life - download it here.

And if you'd like my help with your next change or building leadership capability for your team, get in touch with me here.


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