People Skills Help to Weather Mergers

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New York-Cable is a people-based business, and the fast-paced changes that come with merger activity can affect employees, said several speakers at the Cable & Telecommunications Human

Resources Association's annual "Diversity Week" conference here.

Eaton Consulting Group president David Eaton, whose clients have included Motorola Inc. and Sony Corp., emphasized the importance of leveraging differences in corporate culture as an asset.

"Cable, long-distance and wireless are very different cultures," noted an unidentified AT & T Broadband executive, who had survived that MSO's acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc. One third of the division's work force is now from AT & T, another third from MediaOne and the rest are new hires, he added.

The lack of "cross-cultural competency" can also hurt the bottom line and doom mergers, Eaton told nearly 200 human resources managers.

Research indicates that as many of 75 percent of senior managers leave an acquired organization in the first three years after a merger, noted McKinsey & Co. consultant Walt Shill. Meanwhile, the pool of executives in the 35-to-44 age range is shrinking, he said.

CEOs must focus on "your 'A players;'" the top 50 to 100 senior executives "who drive your organization," Shill said.

"Today's high performers are like frogs in a wheelbarrow [who] can jump out at any time," he noted.

Shill advised holding one-on-one meetings to reassure and "re-recruit" key executives as soon after a merger announcement as possible.

"Critical" short-term staffers also should be offered "stay bonuses" so the company can meet its interim business objectives, he added.

Regardless of mergers, the No. 1 reason why employers leave companies is a lack of recognition and appreciation from their bosses-and not a lack of compensation, Nelson Motivation Inc. president Bob Nelson told CTHRA.

"Customer service starts with how your people are treated," he advised, "and they will pass it on to their customers.

"Make recognition part of your culture," he added, citing the modus operandi at both United Air Lines Inc. and The Walt Disney Co.

For example, the Walt Disney World theme park alone has 200 recognition programs for both employees and managers, he noted. Its eight-year-old Dolphin Hotel still has 70 percent of its original staff, Nelson added.

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