The role of human resource specialists in M&A is both important and under-valued. According to Adrian
Gostick and Chester Elton (, 2009:98>:
'It is not possible to achieve sustained, long-term success without a strong, positive corporate
culture, which is what makes the culture clash that accompanies so many corporate mergers and acquisitions
such a dilemma for leaders. In fact, the reason most mergers fail is culture clash and people issues, and yet,
most senior leadership teams have little idea how to address this issue. In most cases, during a merger,
they either outsource the culture dilemma to consultants or ask human resources to figure it out while the rest
of the senior leadership team focuses on perceived "important" pecuniary issues. Is it any wonder that
more than two out of three mergers fail to deliver anticipated results?'
But HR's participation may be late, or not at all:
'There are literally hundreds of reasons why the M&A failure
rate is so high. But many can be traced to the exclusion of human resource professionals in the
pre-deal planning phase and the function's last-minute inclusion after the transaction has closed.
It's a classic case of "too little, too late". (Clemente, M.N. and Greenspan, D.S. 1999)'
Clemente and Greenspan (1999) present a description of the typical merger or acquisition.
The focus is on 'making the numbers work' and the sequence begins with an investment banker or
equivalent present an apparently suitable candidate company to management. If this makes 'financial
sense' the process is launched.
The due diligence phase then begins, involving a detailed examination of financial,
legal and regulatory, accounting and tax issues. If these check out, the merger partners 'plunge forward',
assuming that all the strategic aspects will somehow fall in line. As the authors point out, the statistics
on failure suggest that this is often highly erroneous thinking.
Clearly, the 'ledgers and liability' aspects of the process are extremely important but the
all-consuming focus on these matters ignores people issues. Clemente and Greenspan ask:
"If people issues are so important to the success of the deal, how can such little focus be paid
to those issues in the strategy development, target company screening and due diligence phases?"
They answer their own question by stating that in most cases the merger partners have not
looked closely enough at the 'people component' - strategic variables at the very heart of the deal.
Most M&As are driven by apparent cost-cutting synergies and stock prices. But if they were
driven by true strategic vision instead, HR professionals would need to be involved from the beginning to
assess the people implications that do not feature in balance sheets or income statements. They conclude that:
"...identifying key human assets in a target company and quickly taking steps to prevent them
from walking out the door on announcement of the deal is an HR-related imperative every company
must take. Yet, historically, HR comes into the M&A process too late to make this vital
In most cases, the deal-making is more or less complate by the time that HR gets involved.
HR specialists are left with the difficult role of:
- developing communication strategies;
- aligning payroll, benefits and compensation systems;
- melding different and possibly incompatible processes and cultures.
But by this time a number of key personnel may have gone and those remaining may be confused
Instead, Clemente and Greenspan argue, HR professionals should be involved in the earliest stage of
any acquisition involving people. This means that human resource specialists must be familiar with
the organization's strategic objectives, and its business and marketing plans. HR professionals
must contribute to 'target screening' to identify and evaluate the worth and 'integrate-ability' of
the proposed merger partner's human assets. This includes an evaluation of the two cultures and
their potential compatibility.
Hanson (2001) observes that early coordination between HR specialists in both companies is ideal
but due to the 'sensitive nature of many organization transactions, it is possible that the
HR team on the receiving side of the transaction will be notified before the team on the sending
side, or vice versa.' Tellingly, as someone writing from experience, she concurs with Clemente and
Greenspan, noting that: 'The Deal negotiators and attorneys will usually dictate when the intercompany
communications can begin in the HR planning process.'