Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Company mergers are an inescapable fact of corporate life and have been virtually routine events in the life science sector for decades. Yet it remains a challenge to integrate two or more organisations successfully! In this article we discuss a couple of strategies that can really help, especially in the short and medium term, to ensure that projects continue and front line staff are as motivated and engaged as is possible.
Mergers are a little different to how they used to be
In the past, for large life science companies, it was just about getting bigger and adding new dimensions to the product range. Pharma companies grew by acquisitions over long periods of the 20th century, forming the behemoths we all remember. I worked at one of these for nearly 20 years. The site had been there for 100 years. There wasn't too much information about what went on at the other sites that were added every couple of years, but we didn't need to interact with them, so it didn't matter over much.
But the 1990's heralded a wave of mega-mergers aimed at 'synergies' - facing up to the first signs of drug pricing pressures and tackling historical excesses by closing sites and firing lots of people. These exercises were seismic and long. Integration, rationalising facilities worldwide and building new, global cross-functional cultures could take 18 months. Projects continued rolling, but much of the dynamism and focus was put on hold.
No one has that much time anymore. Companies have acknowledged that vast integration exercises didn't really build the productivity that was expected. Besides they don't have the huge HR departments they used to, or the same appetite to give a blank cheque to corporate consulting firms. Staff finding themselves in a newly configured organisation don't have the same opportunity to put the brakes on, reflect on their own 'change curve' and get counselling. Pressure to deliver remains intense. It's 'do the deal' and get on with work , pronto.
This urgency and pressure is understandable but does not mean that people will operate with the insight, morale and motivation to generate high productivity in future. In fact, statistics show that following mergers many of the talented staff who you don't want to leave, do. Furthermore, after the initial shock and uncertainty of the deal, one could assume that performance will reassert itself and normalise - but this is not guaranteed, at all.
Stage 1 - talk about 'How'
The most powerful activity early on is to get people involved in maintaining critical activities and facilitate meetings and conversations about how to make them work across the boundaries. Of course, in times of change we must help staff members with their concerns about employment status and so on. But it's talking to people about work that's motivating and the former shouldn't get in the way of that. There's a lot of change management wisdom available about this stage and it's not the real purpose of the article to discuss it. But you need look no further than to check out a great article by Mark Blanchard - 'Treating M&As like alliances'.
Phase 2 - talk about 'What and Why'
This is often a lost opportunity which can make a real difference, not at the very start but 'when the dust settles'. When decision-making structures and the senior management organisation is established, perhaps after a few months, it is exceptionally motivating to educate people about the new organisation; how it's parts will work together, its vision for the future, key drivers, how projects will be run, decisions will be made, and so on.
It's great if you can do a bit more than distributed briefings or town hall presentations. A workshop is perfect for this, where people can learn about what the whole organisation does, how it operates and its key challenges. Thing is, you need different approaches for different staff levels.
For functional, junior staff, but also your support people - IT, Finance and so on - a more explanatory training workshop or perhaps (if its done really well) an eLearning package. It can be interactive and challenging, usually with an easy-to-refer to set of online guides to keep the knowledge fresh.
For middle level people, cross-function project members, who might already know much of how any organisation in our sector works, building an understanding of how the new organisation should operate is the critical thing, and a simulation programme fits this bill.
I've been running these programmes for many years, pleased to chat further about them. Check out the Molecules to Markets site