Expert Commentary

Effective Change Management after a Merger

Change agents are vital to the success of your new company after a merger. Your role as a human resources (HR) manager is understanding how to find these employees and then leverage their competencies to help build the culture of the new company.


Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention
May 2019

Why are change agents so critical after a merger or acquisition? The culture will never be the same as it was before in either of the previous two companies. There is one new culture, and you need to identify the employees who will help create a smooth transition.

Think of this unique position as a blank canvas. If managers and employees are aligned after overcoming resistance to change, they are ready to move forward being productive and helping meet the business objectives of the new company.

However, for your brushstrokes on the canvas to be meaningful, you need an effective change management plan. This includes leveraging the competencies of change agents.

Effective Change Management Plans Start with a Human Capital Strategy

As an HR manager, you need to be very intentional about the culture you want to build. The culture cannot be a blend of the previous two companies. Otherwise, you will find employees from both companies falling back into their old habits, resulting in misalignment.

One of the most effective methods to do this is to build a human capital strategy. This requires removing yourself completely from how your former company operated and what you heard about how the other company operated.

Once you are removed from the past, you can take a clear look at your employees, managers, and the capabilities of your teams to determine the best culture for the new company.

It is important to document your process for arriving at the new culture. For your change in management process to be effective, you need supporting evidence that helps you confidently present why you chose the new direction. This includes conveying how the new culture aligns with the company's business goals.

Next, you need to identify the change agents who can support your strategy to achieve universal buy-in throughout the company. In turn, you will create healthy subcultures that feed into the overall culture.

Where Are the Change Agents in Your New Merged Company?

In addition to being intentional about your human capital strategy, you need to be intentional about finding change agents within the new company.

These individuals are the leaders who are leaning into the new culture. They could be managers, but they could also be employees from different levels in the organization who are communicating effectively, working with the new executive team, and engaged with your HR department.

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, successful change agents fall into the following three categories.

  • Central figures in the organization's informal network
  • Ability to bridge disconnected groups
  • Close relationships with fence-sitters unsure of the new direction

Additionally, change agents have the characteristics of first followers. These individuals might not be the first person to follow the new culture, but they will support the first person who buys in.

Picture a group of children staring at the deep end of a swimming pool. The first person who jumps in plays an important role in conveying confidence that the deep end is safe. Then, the second person to jump in—the first follower—confirms that the deep end is safe and leads the entire group jumping in.

The change agents in your company will have the respect of their peers, are capable of leading other employees, will follow your strategy, and instill a sense of confidence in the entire company.

Depending on the nature of your organization, it is recommended that these individuals be part of a culture committee managed by your HR team to continually reinforce critical aspects of the company culture. The employees in the committee should have fair representation from both former companies to ensure there is no appearance of bias.

During culture committee meetings, the change agents will receive your HR team's latest input on the overall culture and feed this information back into the subcultures. Overall, change agents need to be comfortable, confident, and flexible to change, which will ensure the effectiveness of your human capital strategy.

How Do You Leverage the Competencies of Change Agents?

The next step in executing your change management plan is obtaining measurable data about the competencies of change agents and other employees.

An assessment based on the science of axiology is a reliable tool that objectively measures the competencies of individuals. Using the assessment results, you can identify the competencies of your change agents to continue motivating them after the merger.

The absence of motivation is demotivation, which highlights the importance of continuing to develop these individuals with consistent communication, one-on-one conversations with your HR team, and more opportunities to grow in their role. Using the results as a guide, you should ask yourself the following questions.

  • What motivates the change agents?
  • What training can I provide to managerial change agents to better align with the executive team?
  • What training can I provide to employee change agents to better align with their managers?

Additionally, you do not want to leave behind employees who have not been identified as change agents. An assessment will also expose gaps that highlight the need for training or development.

The key is not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to training and development plans. An assessment offers insight into the unique competencies of each individual, providing you with a guideline on how to customize their training to address blind spots.

Overall, understanding how to effectively communicate with each person in the company is one of the most important aspects of your human capital strategy. If you leverage the assessment results correctly, you can help build a strong foundation for the new company to become more productive, grow as a united team, and get results.

Supporting Your Change Management Plan

You started with a blank canvas. Now, you have a change management plan, a human capital strategy, change agents, and an idea of how to provide training to each employee in the new company. Your painting needs the final touch to be effective.

ZERORISK HR offers the Clear Direction Team and Communication Development Program that provides you with a precise view of the core competencies of each person in your company. Using the resulting Team Directory Report, you gain an understanding of how your HR team should motivate and communicate with each individual.

The report will also provide a coherent team vision and focus to support your strategy. This will allow you to continue motivating change agents, understand how peers work best with each other, and ensure alignment with the new company's productivity metrics and business goals.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

Like This Article?

IRMI Update

Dive into thought-provoking industry commentary every other week, including links to free articles from industry experts. Discover practical risk management tips, insight on important case law and be the first to receive important news regarding IRMI products and events.

Learn More