The months between the announcement and close of a merger can be gut-wrenching for an acquired organization. Uncertainty reigns, tensions run high, and employees feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster.
The ambiguity can really tax people. But, the situation is manageable if you understand and adhere to six basic principles:
1. Expect surprises.
The period between announcement and close is consumed with planning activities, but anticipate that some unplanned things will occur. It’s almost inevitable that some people will leave, even if you hoped they wouldn’t. Some press will probably be negative.
And there may be some delays in getting the deal to close. All this is par for the course. After all, if merging were easy, everyone would do it. It takes perseverance to lead people through the months of uncertainty that every combination creates. Don’t lose confidence in a strategically sound merger just because of the emotional highs and lows that inevitably occur pre-close.
2. Help people yield to uncertainty.
As managers, that may sound counter-intuitive. After all, when there’s a problem, managers are supposed to fix it . . . right? Well, not when it comes to uncertainty. The fact is, you can’t always directly resolve uncertainty. Sometimes, only time or decisions outside your control can bring uncertainty to an end. So often when it comes to uncertainty, the best solution is to model how to tolerate it. Be patient with it. Let the future unfold. And participate in that unfolding with curiosity and optimism. If others see you yielding to uncertainty without letting it paralyze, distract, or demoralize you, they’ll understand how they can do the same. Show people that uncertainty and high performance can peacefully coexist.
3. Fill the waiting with work.
As humans, we hate to wait. Not knowing how long we’ll have to wait makes it harder. Sometimes, as managers, we make the mistake of assuming that we shouldn’t burden people who are experiencing uncertainty with additional work. “After all,” we ask, “don’t they have enough to deal with emotionally without loading them up with work?” Again, it’s a bit counter-intuitive, but the kindest thing you can do for someone who is burdened with uncertainty is give them real work to do, and lots of it. The result. Real chances to add value. Real opportunities to make decisions. Real satisfaction for contributing. Work is the best antidote to worrying. If we have to wait, and sometimes we do, work is a blessing, not a curse . . .