Trauma Triage: How to Help Your Culture Survive a Merger

November 20, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

One of the most exciting, terrifying and intensely traumatic experiences any company can experience has to be a merger or acquisition. If you’re about to experience one, or even in the midst of one, you’re likely feeling pretty apprehensive about what’s coming your way.

When it comes to M&As, company culture is a true double edged sword. A culture clash (or even a unified culture of negativity) can gut your organization from the inside, and often ensure the outright failure of the merger. But conversely, a successfully harmonized and positive culture can be the magic ingredient that makes the merger successful beyond anyone’s dreams. The scary question is… which one will you have?

What it all comes down to is a combination of two things:

  1. affective commitment
  2. resilience

That is, whether your employees have a strong enough  emotional connection with the company to inspire them to weather change and whether they have the emotional tools to be able to do it successfully.

Resilience, says the American Psychological Association, is the “process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”  In other words, difficult experiences like a merger—where job uncertainty and stress can be oppressive and frightening for employees.

Traumatized organizations–those without this commitment and resilience–tend to experience a breakdown in trust and communication and productivity. Workers feel powerless and hopeless, and a strong sense of loss. Thankfully, there are a few proactive qualities that can ensure high affective commitment and instill resilience into your workforce.

  • Gratitude: Studies show that gratitude is a key driver of resilience—as well as a host of other benefits to employee well-being and the bottom line.
  • Happiness: Happy employees have higher well-being and higher commitment to your organization and to each other, which means they have deeper reserves of resilience to draw from during times like mergers.
  • Meaning: Virtuous organizations, those who strive to imbue their work with meaning and purpose, and to inspire employees to operate at their best,
  • Connection: Emotional connection with peers  is another key factor in affective commitment. At its core, your company is really just a collection of people. Keep them connected and keep them strong.
  • Flow: Psychologists who study flow suggest that it not only helps us operate at our peak, but has a connection to helping us “overcome the inevitable obstacles and tragedies inherent in living.”
  • Trust: Trust is an absolute imperative during a merger. It comes down to this simple epigram: “Say what you’re going to do. Do what you say.” In other words—communicate consistently and act with integrity and authenticity.
  • Respect: Feeling valued and respected is an important part of resilience and affective commitment. When you treat employees as if they have worth, they will in turn increase that worth to an organization. This is particularly true during an M&A reorganization, where companies want employees to step forward and help make the transition successful.

Work on building these qualities for your workers as a way to protect against organizational trauma.  Investing in them will pay huge dividends if your company ever decides to merge.  (These are also a great way to jump-start your relationship with your new employees.) Follow the hyperlinks above to learn more about each one and how to get it. Or see the quick links below!

Read more about these topics in our companion posts:

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