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How to Best Emotionally Support Team Members During a Merger & Acquisition

how to emotionally support team memebrs during a merger and acquisition


Sarah Noll Wilson 0:02
Hi, everyone, Sarah and Theresa back. Hi, Teresa. Nice, Sarah. We are we received a question. And actually, this is a situation that comes up often. And so we wanted to take a moment to answer it together in exploration, because this is certainly a situation that other people will go through may go through have gone through. And that is, and here’s the question, drumroll. You ready?

Teresa Peterson 0:31
Do it now.

Sarah Noll Wilson 0:35
So, so the situation is the company is going through a merger and acquisition and acquisition acquisition. So they’re being purchased and struggling with how do we manage team morale by the company that has been bought out by saying, a really common example a larger company, right? So we see this a lot where it’s a smaller company, there’s something really beautiful about the culture. It’s very familiar, it’s very consistent, and then a larger company comes in, purchases them, and it’s a long process as they’re navigating all the Yeah, just all of it. And so we wanted to talk about that. Yeah, that’s the question, Teresa.

Teresa Peterson 1:19
That’s a good question. It’s a wonderful question.

Sarah Noll Wilson 1:23
So so let’s start with maybe talking about some common patterns of traps. That yes, organizations fall into when there is a substantial, substantial change. And, you know, and I’ll start one is, there is a tendency to want to smooth over the discomfort by doing things like having a pizza party bringing in lunch, and we’re just gonna keep throwing these little good things. Yeah, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, or that there can’t be value in that when you’re navigating a stressful time. However, if we’re talking about a change, that’s going to fundamentally shift perhaps my identity, yeah, the work that I do, what I get paid the benefits, I have the comfort that I’ve gained, right, if it’s if it is creating a significant perception or reality of loss, the pizza party isn’t going to heal that wound. And so we have to be careful that we aren’t just putting band aids on what really needs to be much more vulnerable and honest and open conversations. That’s that’s one that’s coming up for me. What about you? Yeah,

Teresa Peterson 2:49
I was, the first thing that came to mind is loss. And I feel like when we’re working with teams, and we start talking about the experience of loss, there’s always a Oh, you can you can literally hear that, oh, in the group. And the new the new team, and I feel like we’ve seen this a lot lately, often is very welcoming, very warm, is so excited about this, can’t wait to meet their new buddies, you know, so to speak. And so then they can become frustrated when this group is experiencing loss because they’re taking it personally. But it’s not. You know, when you think about common losses we’ve seen, and you chime in here to Sara, but maybe before I had almost total control over an area. Now I don’t. I knew how every part of our business function and the names of every person in it, whether that was five people, 50 people, 150 people, whatever. Now I don’t. I had one recently, I don’t remember what the person’s actual name is. But we’ll say something like Amber. I was the only Amber before now there are 15 Amber’s so like, I’ve lost my uniqueness. Or someone said, Amber said, and everyone knew who Amber was, you know, so, you know, loss of understanding the procedures. This was a known thing. Now we’re unknown. Even if we’re kind of positive about it in the long run. What other ones have you seen? I’m, I’m replaying some Yeah, classics that we’ve heard. Well, I am

Sarah Noll Wilson 4:29
yeah, I mean, it’s sometimes it’s like a loss of simplicity in the process. Right. Yeah. It’s not uncommon that if we’re a smaller company, it may be a little bit of the Wild West in our processes. And so there’s not as much maybe rigor or, or there may be more hoops we have to go through because larger companies just inherently have larger systems in order to manage it. And there could also be, you know, other losses like I’m thinking about But when I went through a situation where we were, I don’t know, how you would describe what happened, we were sold off, we were outsourced. You know, and one of the things that made this company that I worked with tolerable, in addition to the people were the benefits. And day one, when they were announcing, you know, we’re moving to this new company, we’re going to become a part of this, like this departments becoming part of this, there was lots of layers of losses, like, I’m not going to be coworkers with these other people, now, they’re going to be clients, and I’m a vendor to them. And now that changes that relationship, but then it was everyone starts asking how many days of PTO do we have, and they did not think through the fact that PTO is gonna get cut in half and, and length of time. Right, like, the length of tenure, you know, for every however long, right? You got more weeks, and some people got up to six or seven weeks. So substantial amount of time off, and everyone was getting, and there was just huge, huge, huge loss when it came to that. A couple of things that we have to keep in mind, particularly you know, so we’ll talk to the leaders, you have likely had way more time to get familiar and used to this change, then your team members have, you have probably been a part of meetings, you have probably had some heads up likely part of some of the conversations. And so you have just simply had more time to get used to it, and have maybe gone through your own grieving process your own. Maybe you’ve just shifted into that kind of parent mode or that manager mode of hey, how do I take care of other people? And so you’re not, you know, maybe with your your own own feelings and on situations, you likely have some influence, perhaps over it. Yeah. And so you have to remember that, just because it’s not a loss to you doesn’t mean it’s not a loss to someone else. And to check that that’s definitely a real a real common trap we see people fall into is I mean, they’ve it we’ve been talking about this for a month or two months, and they should like, suck it up and get over it. And it’s like, Well, how long have you been working on this merger? Two years. Okay, so you got two years to get used to this idea. And they’ve right you’re only talking two months? Um, any other traps or patterns that you want to call out? Theresa?

Teresa Peterson 7:47
I think this hooks right on to what you were sharing, but in some cases drastically underestimated the amount of time it will take everyone to adjust. You know, I feel like there’s this idea that like, well, we’ll move in Monday. And by Friday, we’ll high five on the way out the door. Whatever amount of time you think you probably need to double it. It takes triplet. I mean,

Sarah Noll Wilson 8:13
yeah, especially now, like maybe pre pandemic was like, yeah, yeah. Double double, though, like navigating uncertainty and complexity. And now it’s like, I don’t know. Yeah, yeah, it’ll happen.

Teresa Peterson 8:26
And then be pleasantly surprised if it’s two weeks less than that, you know, that’s kind of where it takes humans a while. That’s normal. That’s part of the process. I think some of the things you were talking about whether it’s, I mean, I, gosh, I have a loving relationship with pizza parties, right? So like, those types of things are fine. They’re going to help ease the way if other things are going right. It’s just gonna take that time. And so trying to speed it along or thinking that those you know, happy little bag of Hershey’s Kisses in your cube or whatever are the solution. It’s not the solution. But I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen as then the frustration of why isn’t everyone there yet? Why is this taking so long? And then that can that starts to erode in a different way. Yeah. Because then this the, you know, the acquiring group or the larger group is getting annoyed, which doesn’t make the other group think oh, well, they’re right. We should really hurry up and deal with these feelings we have and get on board. It does the opposite and further back to their quarter. So I think yes, triple the amount of that you think it will take?

Sarah Noll Wilson 9:44
It’s a ya know, I mean, just to highlight something that you said is, you know, the perhaps the party that is is acquiring could get frustrated. The leaders within the company that’s being acquired can get fresh. straighted and then team members can be frustrated because they’re like, you’re not. You’re not listening to us, you aren’t hearing me. Yeah, so So some things will just take time, it’ll take time to see how things play out, it’ll take time to see, is this new company someone I can trust? Or am I a new leader, someone I can trust, like some of that you can’t speed up. I mean, you can, you can help it, you can help not make it worse, right? By effectively communicating and communicating in lots of different ways. And not just an email by as best as possible, finding ways to connect with people, one to one, you know, so if you’re a leader, and you’re sitting here going, man, morale is really low. Do a check in, you know, do a one to one check in and go, Hey, how are you feeling about at all? Where are you at, you know, honoring the losses, understanding that? Not, you know, not trying to don’t come in as Pollyanna. You know, that’s something that’s a trap that can become unintentionally dismissive. Is we come in and we go, you know, I mean, I not hear all of that. But, you know, the good thing is this, and this, and this are gonna happen and the person’s like, but you didn’t hear me? And so, you know, so some really specific specific things you can try is some one on one conversations, just where are people at? You know, what would be helpful? Like, what information would be valuable for them? What maybe are they struggling with? And how can you work through that struggle together? If there are things that they’re just unsure about, right, like, helping them helping them navigate either gathering information to to feel more secure with it, or even just honoring the fact that it’s going to take time. The other thing I was thinking of is, if you have a perspective, that is different, that doesn’t mean that might be a helpful perspective, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t share it. I’m just I’m a fan of if someone is struggling with something, asking them, would it be helpful to hear how you’re feeling about it? It gives them choice. It lets them you know, decide, I want to hear this perspective, or maybe I’m just not ready to receive it. You know, so we are working with a leadership team that was going another company that will be going through a buyout. And you know, and the CEO has had 18 months to look at all the scenarios and possible and it’s it’s really is the best case scenario. But it could be easy for people to see like, we couldn’t have gotten a better deal, or whatever the case might be. And it’s just, you know, part of that is, Hey, would it be helpful to, for me to share how I’m feeling about it, because this is a journey I’ve taken and sometimes just that invitation, we kind of call it don’t prescribe a perspective. But invite perspective, is one way that you can help people along.

Teresa Peterson 13:13
You know, something that came up for me, as you were saying that is also when you’re in the position of the company that did the acquiring, don’t underestimate the value of reiterating, we’re so glad we’re together now. And we know we will find a path forward on these things that are causing us some hiccups, right, like continually setting the tone that you’re glad this happened, you believe you can find solutions together, it will take time. All of that because it you know, and it depends on the group a little bit too, but I’m thinking of one team. This was the leadership team of a group who had been acquired and had done the acquiring. And they found out they had a competing commitment, they had kind of a chronic rub. And that was you know, the company that was purchased, just in their group have this belief that you earn trust, trust isn’t, you don’t have it by default, you have to earn it from me and so ready psycho. But the other company had a culture that was much more, I trust you, I’ll trust you till you lose it. We’ll be talking about it if we’re, if we’re struggling with trust. And you can see how those two perspectives presented really differently when the group welcoming them is saying, All right, come in, we trust you. Let’s do this. And this group’s like, Oh, that’s not part of our way of we’ve operated for however many years. So I think to getting on the balcony and observing for those things, bring them forward. Like I’ve heard some folks from this group, say x and I’ve heard folks from this group say why, how are those things showing up and rubbing every day? Yeah, and not being afraid not avoiding it? Because I think that was a beautiful moment for that group when they saw Oh, we have two different ways of thinking about how trust starts or continues. That was an aha for them.

Sarah Noll Wilson 15:07
Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and, and some of those competing commitments aren’t going to be easily solved. There’s not a solution, there’s just an exploration and experimentation of figuring things out. So just being being able to surface those right to surface the differences to say, here’s what I’m struggling with, or here’s, you know, like, worried about, or here’s, you know, like, where I, I see that we’re different, I’m trying to navigate that, that just the act of being able to surface those is, is powerful. It because we’re shining a light on something that maybe we’ve been avoiding, or hopefully have prevented an elephant from creeping into the room to begin with, right. Yeah, the other thing, the other thing is just a whole lot of grace. I mean, you know, there, yeah, there, there, there, there will come points, where it becomes clear that, okay, we’ve been in resistance a really long time. And now we need to, you know, it probably isn’t, as soon as you would want it as a leader. Sure, for sure. You know, and at that point, then you may have to have some conversations with people of, you know, we’ve been in the situation for six months now or a year and like, this is this is the reality of where we’re at. And if that isn’t a fit for you anymore, then maybe we need to look at something different. I mean, there, there does come a point where sometimes we have to have those conversations. But often, that’s a pattern too, we see people’s they want to jump to that, instead of, you know, again, honoring the human complexity that the resistance to change, or the resistance. Again, the loss is normal is human. And you know, and we all go through that curve, where we dip down and we struggle, and we’re trying to make meaning. And you know, and eventually, most people will come out of it, when they have support when they feel honored. When they feel like they can talk about it when communication and resources are clear. And appreciation is there that can help us navigate Yeah, out of it more quickly. But if if we’re not having, you know, and, and I’m just thinking out loud, like, it’s not that every meeting needs to be like, how where’s everyone? You know, because what we focus on gross, two, so we don’t want necessarily, you know, just constantly focus on the pain, but just making sure we’re doing touch base, it’s just where are you at? Ya know, what, what, what do you feel good about, that maybe maybe wasn’t clear a month ago? You know, when you think about the future, what would are concerns that you have, but also what are you excited about? Right? Sometimes we have to open up the blinders, if you will, so that we can see see more of the picture in front of us. And just giving some grace, you know, that extra that extra love? Free doughnuts, all of that? It’s not? Oh, yeah,

Teresa Peterson 18:22
it’s not bad. It’s rarely donut.

Sarah Noll Wilson 18:25
I know. We’re both very, very proud on it. It just can’t be the only.

Teresa Peterson 18:28
Yeah. Because you’re not

Sarah Noll Wilson 18:35
you’re not getting to the root of the what somebody actually needs. And when someone is struggling with the situation, when they’re struggling with a relationship, it’s because they have a need that’s not being met. Right. There some kind of loss, they’re experiencing some kind of need that’s not being met. And, and how do we have that conversation?

Teresa Peterson 18:56
Beautifully said,

Sarah Noll Wilson 18:58
and that’s our thoughts on that. If you have, I don’t know. So so we know that we have an incredible audience. That is wise. So if there’s additional things that you find help, share, send us an email. Hello at Sarah No. wilson.com and we can include it on a future newsletter or on our social media. If you have a question, if there’s something that you’re curious and you want Tracy and I to chew on or other people in the team to come on, whether it’s you know, maybe it’s a specific personnel issue, maybe it’s a leadership challenge that you’re facing, shoot it our way, and then we’ll explore it together. And if there are things we said that you disagree with, we also

Teresa Peterson 19:38
want to hear that oh, yeah, absolutely.

Sarah Noll Wilson 19:42
We you know, that’s how we grow and expand to is to hear different perspectives. So with that, Teresa, have a lovely day.

Teresa Peterson 19:51
Same to you. Thanks. Take care everyone. Bye


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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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