The M&A pre-close period is marked by ambiguity. Ordinarily that spells trouble for two simple reasons:

  1. Employees are spooked by all the uncertainty.
  2. They focus primarily on what they might lose.

So what's the best strategy for dealing with this dilemma? Meet it head-on. Prepare your people to deal with those things that cannot be avoided. Eliminate some of the surprise. Tell them about the certainty of uncertainty.

The key step in this process is to educate your people regarding the basics of being acquired and merged—how organizations are affected, the way people react, the difficulties that are to be expected, and how they personally can have a positive influence on the merger process.

When Human Resources fails to provide a proper orientation, employees start to imagine the worst outcomes. They become much more critical of the sale and become alienated from top management. As time goes by you will see unnecessary damage done to the firm as morale erodes, turnover increases, productivity slips, and profits sag.

Employees find mergers less traumatic when they know what to expect. Also, when they understand the generic problems that just "go with the territory" during a merger, they are more patient and understanding when they witness management misfires, false starts and mistakes. Instead of assuming the problems they see are unique, they will see them as the usual headaches all corporate marriages have in common.

So the proper orientation program is not only helpful to your employees, it also builds management's credibility and helps the organization as a whole navigate more effectively through the future integration.