One unfortunate reality of mergers and acquisitions is that good people sometimes leave…on both sides of the deal. Whether it’s a trickle or a flood, all managers on both sides need to pay attention. Joining forces is difficult enough, even without losing talent. So imagine how risky and problematic merging becomes without your best people to help.
This problem is compounded because your best talent often leaves first. The reason is simple…they have more opportunities. Headhunters are going to target them first and go after them aggressively. And even people who wouldn’t normally take a recruiter’s call tend to be more receptive during the uncertainty of integration. Mergers send everybody in both organizations a wake-up call.
Smart managers are there re-recruiting their crucial resources before competitors capture their attention.
Some managers have never been trained to re-recruit. They simply lack the skills to be effective. Other managers tend to avoid conversations with key talent during periods of uncertainty because they are afraid of getting information they don’t want to hear. Still others fear that employees will ask for things they can’t provide or want to negotiate in areas that are non-negotiable. These reasons to avoid re-recruiting are understandable, but risky.
So what should all managers in a merger or acquisition do to re-recruit key talent? Here are six guidelines that can help you keep your “A Players” and make your life as a manager a whole lot easier as a result.
Re-Recruit Key Talent Continuously: Managers should re-recruit their key talent all the time, merger or no merger. But re-recruitment is particularly important during periods of uncertainty. People get skittish, and good people update their resumes. So re-recruitment is a basic management skill that good managers need to master. Re-recruitment during organizational change just requires a little more of your time and attention. And it requires you to keep your ear to the ground, listening for retention risks and opportunities to provide your key talent with reasons to stay with the organization.
Re-Recruit As a Process, Not an Event: Re-recruitment is not something you can do once and check off your list. It’s an ongoing process. One of your top performers may be happy today and disgruntled tomorrow. Frustration can push them to the edge. Exhaustion can cause them to look for a less demanding environment. Deal fatigue can cause frayed nerves. And the longer the period of time between Announcement and Close, the worse the situation becomes. So don’t think of re-recruitment as an event. Consider it a continuous responsibility of effective leadership. Good managers re-recruit their top talent all the time. Just make sure you double your re-recruitment efforts during times of significant uncertainty and change.
Understand What Makes People Stay with an Organization: Traditional retention research is concerned with why people leave jobs. But more recent and practical research flipped that question around and asked “What makes people stay?” The distinction may sound subtle but the difference is profound. The findings? People stay because of something called “job embeddedness.” Job embeddedness is actually a web of three critical forces. It accounts for far more than simply salary or whether or not a person likes their boss. And it is proving to be much more predictive of turnover, absenteeism, job performance, and workplace citizenship than traditional concepts. It can be broken down into three basic categories: “fit,” “links,” and “sacrifice.”
- “Fit”: A person who fits well with their work, their workplace, and the community where they live is much more likely to be a productive employee. They are also much less likely to leave their job, regardless of the incentives or opportunities offered elsewhere.
- “Links”: Links include factors that make a person feel connected to a job, a company, or a community. The key to forming links is personal relationships. On-the-job links come through personal relationships between co-workers; friendships that create emotional ties to a job that transcend the actual work.
- “Sacrifice”: The third category of job embeddedness—sacrifice—involves those things a person must give up in order to take a new job. People who feel they have such things as a good benefits plan, opportunities for promotion, and the respect of management face the prospect of tremendous sacrifice in leaving a job.
On the acquired side of a deal, all three embeddedness factors get challenged. Key talent often wonders if they will “fit” in the new organization. They may lose important “links” with bosses, teammates, peers, and direct reports as people leave and others move to new teams and reporting relationships. They may have concerns about “sacrificing” the good reputation they’ve built and the credibility they’ve established. They may have to give up a title they worked hard to earn, a team they worked hard to build, or a product they worked hard to launch. It’s no wonder, with this attack on all facets of job embeddedness, that top talent frequently jumps ship on the acquired side of the deal.
What’s less obvious, but equally disconcerting, is that job embeddedness factors can also have an impact on the acquiring side of the deal. And sometimes, the dynamics on this side of the deal are even harder to manage and more destructive because they’re unexpected. Suddenly a key person on the acquiring side of the deal announces his departure. People are shocked. Nobody expected it. What kinds of messages should they take from his leaving? What does he know about the future that they don’t? Perhaps the person would have left anyway, even without the merger. But that isn’t the story on the grapevine. And rumors are difficult to stop once they start. The message: re-recruit on both sides of the deal.
Distinguish Your Key Talent from Everyone Else: The key to successful re-recruitment is prioritization. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for managers to effectively re-recruit everyone. That’s why it’s crucial for you to identify those key players that deserve your time and energy, and put them at the top of your re-recruitment list. That’s not saying that everyone on your team isn’t important, or that some people should be ignored. It’s just admitting that with limited time, energy, and resources, some people on your team will contribute more to success than others—both your success and that of the combined organization. These people deserve and need your fullest attention during unstable times. If you lose them your job will get a whole lot harder.
Conduct “Stay Conversations” with Key Talent: One of the simplest ways to find out how key talent is feeling about their job or the organization is to ask them. Yet few managers actually plan time for these casual, but important, conversations when the organization is caught up in the winds of change. They assume that because their “A Players” are busy and productive, they’re happy. If they aren’t talking about leaving, they think that means they’ll stay. That’s a dangerous assumption. A safer one is that others, like recruiters or competitors, value them too and may be approaching them to tell them so. Offers of signing bonuses, promises of fast career promotion, acknowledgment of their accomplishments and achievement. These are all tactics recruiters use to attract the attention of top talent during a merger. Good managers know this and never take their key people for granted. They pay attention to them, spend time with them, and seek their opinions and involvement on a regular basis. They listen to frustrations, brainstorm solutions, and help fix problems. They recognize and reward their accomplishments and achievements. Smart managers aren’t afraid to have “stay conversations” with the people they can’t afford to lose.
Customize Your Re-Recruitment Actions and Get Creative with Retention Incentives: When it comes to motivation, one size doesn’t fit all. One of your key players may be motivated by being included in decisions and discussions. Another may value a more flexible work schedule. A third may simply want to have important and exciting work to do. So an important part of effective re-recruiting is knowing your key players and what energizes and excites them. Some companies throw money at retention and hope for the best. But a more effective technique is to understand what people actually want and design innovative solutions for giving it to them. Hard currency may be what attracted them to the job to begin with, but it’s typically “soft currency,” like attention, respect, and appreciation that encourages them to stay.