How to keep your key staff in a merger

How to keep your key staff in a merger

A recent meeting with the human resources director of a well-known multi-national software development company got me thinking.

We had met a number of times before, and had recently been engaged by her company to help some of its staff find new jobs. Their positions had been made redundant when her company bought a smaller software company three months before. We were meeting to discuss the support being provided to the people affected by the merger.

All in all, the HR director was pleased with our support, and had received positive feedback from both the staff that had left, the remaining staff and, importantly for HR’s credibility, the executive team.

However, as often happens in these cases, I noticed she had something else on her mind. She was grappling with how to retain her key development staff, given the high demand in the market for experienced software developers, and the challenge of dealing with Generation Y staff more committed to living life experientially than to the company’s success, or being loyal.

Immediately after the merger, as part of a broader staff retention strategy, the executive team had approved a program to identify and retain staff with high potential.

This program incorporated all the usual elements – higher pay and incentives, preferred learning and development opportunities, accelerated promotion and increased visibility within the organisation. The program had formally launched two months before with quite a bit of fanfare and profiles of each of the identified staff in the regular monthly company newsletter.

Sound good? It did to me, although I had the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. At my previous meeting I had asked how success would be measured and the HR director had indicated that a key measure would be staff turnover.

And that was what worried her – the staff turnover rate had just increased quite markedly. Furthermore, the analysis showed that it was directly related to the staff on the high-potential program – they were leaving at almost double the rate of the other “normal” staff!

The question was why. It appeared that the staff did not like the attention that was being directed their way and were voting with their feet.

It struck me that the company had had the best intentions with their program, but they had not actually thought about what was important to their staff.

How often do we neglect the very people that we want to support, and take the time to really listen to what they want?

The company had succumbed to organisational paternalism – assuming they knew what was best for the staff – but had neglected to actually ask the staff what THEY wanted, what would engage and retain them, and what was important to them, and not just to the company and the organisational objectives.

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