Diversity and inclusion (D&I) activity is not usually top of the list of priorities for business leaders during the turmoil after mergers and acquisitions (M&As). But, in fact, it is a golden opportunity to ensure the new culture that a merger brings carries with it a thread of inclusion – and training professionals have a key role to play when it comes to handling the challenges and opportunities.
M&As strain any organization and its employees, who report feelings ranging from ambivalence to outright fear. In the middle of such complex changes, D&I often takes a back seat. But there’s a danger that the toxicity of hidden biases and assumptions will be sowing the seeds of issues for many years.
Various studies have reported that effective onboarding, along with clear guidance on attitudes, values, and behaviors, are key components of a successful M&A. So, investing in D&I activity from day one of the new combined organization will lead to valuable benefits in terms of culture and talent integration.
During times of change, you can reset and re-evaluate your own organization as well as those you are merging with. Practicing some due diligence on both sides can make for a smoother process. Re-evaluating and reassessing your inclusion programs alongside those of any new partner can help pave the way for future integration. Understanding the culture, processes, and training in place when it comes to D&I will give you a clearer picture of the road ahead and help identify conflicts and similarities of culture and language as you move forward.
Cultural integration begins at onboarding – this initial touchpoint is an important place to lay out explicit expectations about the behaviors and values of your organization. Taking the time to make implicit aspects of your workplace explicit can save issues down the line. This provides the perfect opportunity to look at where these implicit rules might not be inclusive and change them. Think about organizational philosophies, communication styles, valued traits, and beyond.
One of the most pressing issues during M&As is the need to retain key talent in uncertain times. The replacement and reduction strategies that often come with M&As must keep one eye on diversity. You can’t control the demographics and values of companies you acquire, but you can ensure that your senior teams, hiring managers and those involved in any reduction strategies have the tools they need to mitigate and reduce bias in these decisions. One wrong step can reduce pay equity and gender balance, for example. Never have these skills and evaluations been more vital, with eyes on every decision after a merger. Evidencing a fair and inclusive process builds trust in the organization to make equitable decisions and retain high performers.
When it comes to M&As, many companies will be adding a whole new culture, region, or language to their work. D&I plays a vital role in ensuring that colleagues have the skills to thrive with people from other countries. You may need to think more globally about what tools are needed to support employees and leaders alike. Whether it’s psychological safety training to ensure risks are avoided – or greater support on managing biases when new regions come into play – this is a vital space to grow your tools and resources.
When organizations come together, they will inevitably judge each other’s competence at both an organizational and individual level based on the ‘brand’ of the legacy companies. One party might assume that everyone in the legacy organization is technically excellent but not so good at customer service – the other might see their new peers as salespeople with the gift of the gab. It is often easy to overlook the real talent and be distracted by the myths that come with the legacy organization – how their people dress, walk, and talk, for example.
In these situations, it is essential to respect and celebrate the past – after all, the businesses have been brought together to deliver excellence from both parties. You must ensure you do not allow employees to be hijacked by assumptions and biases during these processes. Encourage everyone to stop and think before automatically reacting with “this is how we used to do it.”
The keys to success
As with all great diversity work, accountability, measurement, and great planning are key. People managers need to be accountable for carrying the new culture of inclusion and ensure it is measured appropriately. Making every employee an ally of the other legacy organization is a good example of post-merger D&I activity that can be done straightaway. But the heavy lifting should be in the plan – one that goes out at least two years, and details every system you want to see renewed and de-biased, every training that will happen, and the embedding that accompanies it.
An organization’s culture must be the driver of its post-merger strategy. And it is hard to imagine a scenario where inclusion would not be a critical element. Waiting for things to “bed down” post-merger may be missing strategic advantage. Done correctly, post-merger inclusion can give you the best of both worlds