The most successful practice mergers employ a number of simple strategies which allow them to bring two distinct groups of staff together with minimum downside and a whole lot of upside…

The following comments were received during a recent staff survey*, by an advice practice who had earlier this year merged with/acquired another.

“The office still does not feel like one company since it is ‘them’ and ‘us’. The favouritism of the staff can be felt and becomes discouraging to get the help that you need. Where is the teamwork and responsibility as well as the desire to know what you are doing.”

Lack of camaraderie – still very much 2 companies under 1 roof… too many cliques.”

The feedback wasn’t exactly what the owners were hoping for, but at least now they knew and could do something about it. It’s always better to know than not!

So, given the current environment where the battle for ‘good’ staff continues unabated, how can an acquirer best optimise one of its greatest assets – the staff of both businesses? The most successful practice mergers, in our experience, employed a number of simple strategies which allowed them to bring two distinct groups of staff together with minimum downside and a whole lot of upside, where 1 + 1 = 3.

Top 12 strategies of successful mergers;

1. Know what you’re getting in terms of people and culture (“cultural assessment”), before finalising the merger. Sometimes you just can’t get square pegs into round holes!

2. Never assume, aways be on the lookout for early warning signs that the merger isn’t going to plan. Such as:

  • Poor participation, or ‘no shows’ for meetings, events etc.
  • Lack of teamwork on integration projects.
  • Negative feedback via general office activities or through staff surveys.
  • Complaints from staff or worse still, gossip and back channelling.
  • Higher than acceptable rate of staff turnover.

3. At the time of the merger announcement, hold an ‘all staff’ meeting to introduce everyone (both tribes), overview the rationale for the merger, the expectation for its success and encourage questions. Consider sending a ‘welcome and hi’ note/gift basket to the spouses of new staff – not a bad way to kick off a new relationship.

4. Make the time for one-on-ones with staff (both old and new), a ‘how are you feeling/any questions?’ call or coffee can work wonders.

5. Schedule training to bring people up to speed with new systems, standards, policies and even the language used etc. Use teams drawn from both sides to address specific areas and to share knowledge and ideas.

6. Communication is an absolute must and should be regular and relevant. “Simply explaining what the changes will be is not enough; people need to know why they will be implemented.”** These work:

  • Regular updates to staff on how the practice is tracking to its key integration goals and projects (CRM, service offers, fee structure and so on).
  • ‘State of the nation’/’town halls’ held at least annually allow the business to update staff on the bigger picture, future outlook and field questions with a Q&A session.

7. Team events bring the whole team together. This can be the perfect platform for training, team building, celebrating and acknowledging important milestones and achievements. And yes, even a little fun. There are costs involved, but it may be far less expensive than the cost of replacing staff who decide to leave.

8. Ensure everyone (both tribes) has role clarity with an up to date PD which clearly addresses goals and objectives for the role. Unfortunately people management has been a weak spot for many Australian practices over the years, where, for example, almost half of all staff don’t have up to date job descriptions or clearly defined objectives for their role.***

9 . You don’t have to do it all yourself. With most successful mergers, the acquirer has appreciated that successfully merging two businesses isn’t an easy thing to do and for many, it’s a one-off occurrence.

  • Look for external input and guidance from a trusted B/PDM or business coach to provide objectivity and direction.
  • There will most likely be differences between the salaries/benefits being paid for the same roles. Over time you will no doubt achieve consistency and equity but at the outset, be aware of the potential disharmony this might cause and for key             roles, don’t run this risk.
  • Reward the behaviour you’re looking for with one off integration styled bonuses.

10. If someone isn’t working out, act quickly. Don’t risk lingering animosity and a deleterious hit to team morale.

11, Regularly checking with staff through an annual staff survey will allow you to tap into any prevailing sentiments and get ahead of any lingering post-merger issues.

12. Remember, your culture will be determined by the worst behaviour you’re willing to accept.

Yours in best practice,

The team at Business Health

*Confidential Staff Survey, conducted anonymously through Business Health.

**One Reason Mergers Fail: The Two Cultures Aren’t Compatible, Harvard Business Review, October 2018.

***Future Ready IX: Insights into the Australian advisory profession, Business Health Pty Ltd, January 2022.