Management cannot keep everyone happy in a merger or acquisition. But good change management in M&A  can overcome some of the resistance and minimize that which remains.

1. EXPLAIN THE REASONS FOR THE CHANGE.

Usually the best steps in dealing with problems are the preventive ones.

Perhaps the most effective way to minimize resistance is to make sure people in the organization have a good understanding of the rationale for the changes.

The people in charge should be very open, very willing to share their perspectives or the line of reasoning that led to the changes. When this sort of information is communicated, the odds increase that everyone else will come to see the move as appropriate.

But even those personnel who disagree with the logic behind the change, and who are personally against it, are far more likely to accept the situation than if they had it shoved at them without any explanation.

So giving people in the workforce the story behind merger changes is helpful in several ways. First, some people will be persuaded that the move was an appropriate one. Others will not be convinced, but at least they will understand why it’s happening, and therefore will accept it. Finally, still others who neither agree with nor understand the reasoning behind the change will elect not to fight it, because at least someone took the pains to try and explain the situation for them.

2. LEVEL WITH PEOPLE ABOUT THE PATHWAY TO CHANGE.

There is a need for people to understand what the road to change looks like—that typically the pathway is a sequence of events where things get worse before they get better.

Several brief examples may help make this point. First, think of the young boy who wants to learn how to ride a bicycle. He can walk without any problem and generally gets where he wants to go. But his mobility actually becomes less successful when he starts trying to ride the bike. He falls down, bruises an arm, scrapes a knee, and cannot make forward progress as well as if he were walking. His mobility actually deteriorates. But he keeps working at the change, and pretty soon is traveling in a faster, more pleasurable style than he was when merely walking.

Similarly, consider the example of a woman with circulatory problems who enters the hospital to have heart surgery. She may very well walk into the hospital feeling quite fine. However, they will wheel her out of the operating room flat on her back, keep her in intensive care for a while, and generally weaken her physical condition such that she cannot be very active for a period of days. So in a sense she’s gotten worse, but that’s part of the pathway toward overall improved physical health.

Mergers, and the changes they bring, typically reflect the same sort of sequence. Top management needs to prepare employees for this scenario.

Growth—and mergers usually imply organizational growth—generally carries a little bit of pain and discomfort with it, and these growing pains are part of the process that people need to understand and expect.

3. ARRANGE FOR PARTICIPATION AND INVOLVEMENT.

Participation is critical to a successful change effort, but indiscriminate participation creates its own set of problems.

Conventional wisdom has held that participation brings ownership of ideas and that ownership generates commitment. This argues that instead of trying to force change down people’s throats, there is a need to get them involved in the process of designing the change and planning how it is to be implemented.

This is not to say, though, that people should be sourced for their ideas and opinions automatically. If they don’t know about the subject at hand, there is reason to question how constructive their ideas might be. When they don’t really have much at stake in the outcome, their contribution may be questionable. Further, if the person soliciting their involvement doesn’t really give a hoot about what they have to say, it might be better not to even go through the motions.

Participation is valuable when the people involved are capable of contributing worthwhile ideas. It can be a productive exercise when the participants are able to help define and solve key problems.

But mere participation for participation’s sake can be highly dysfunctional. It can waste people’s time and energy and result in an overall weaker game plan for change.

So the key to effective participation is involving the right people. When that happens, people do end up with a better understanding of how complicated the situation is. And if there are no perfect solutions—which there almost never are—then they are probably going to be much more inclined to live with “reasonable” solutions that are fair minded and that they have helped to shape and bring to life.

4. PROVIDE A CLEAR SENSE OF DIRECTION.

In the disordered environment of mergers and acquisitions, where changes themselves are constantly being changed, employees need an aiming point. They need a target to shoot at.

Otherwise, there is a tendency to wallow or flounder in the waves of change. People will resist the changes because they cannot determine where the new forces are carrying them.

It’s one thing for a military commander to march his troops across an icy, rugged mountain range with their knowledge that on the other side will come victory over the enemy and glory for the individual soldier. It’s something else altogether to give only the order, “Okay, men, today you climb mountains and crawl through snow and ice. Move out!”

There are two very important components to the needed sense of direction.

First, there need to be very short-range objectives that are specific, highly structured, and vigorously promoted. But at the same time there needs to be an overarching goal, something that people can orient toward well into the future. There is much less resistance to change when people can view the changes as part of their pursuit of a vision.

This visionary objective gives employees something they can get excited about. It needs to be articulated by the leader, and should be the sort of challenging goal that might be defined as a unique mission, calling, or purpose that really inspires people.

This is the kind of thing that can justify for employees all of the upheaval, confusion, stress, and destabilization that change brings. In other words, vision is what allows people to conclude that all the effort and headaches associated with change are worth the price.

5. GIVE LEADERSHIP.

When things are changing, when an organization is destabilized, people need someone to follow. It has to be someone they have confidence in, someone they feel has the ability to lead them out of the struggle safely. When leadership is missing, resistance festers and spreads.

All too often when a company is being acquired and merged some of the key people— who are the best leaders—leave the scene. Others get reassigned, with the result being a lot of people who feel they have been left leaderless. They easily fall into the ranks of the passive resisters.

6. MOVE RAPIDLY IN MAKING THE CHANGES...