CHRO Day 2023: Navigating a seamless M&A transition

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Attendees at CHRO Day hear that often the M&A itself doesn’t bring value; value is found in people.

At CHRO Day 2023, HR leaders attended a panel discussion on how to manage cultural integration – and help create a thriving entity – during a merger or acquisition. When organisations undergo mergers and acquisitions (M&As), they unite their operations and strategies and bring together different cultures and ways of doing business.

Under the theme Merged in Matrimony, panellists discussed how to best navigate this often-fraught process. Moderated by Life Healthcare’s CPO Avanthi Parboosing, Juba Mashaba, CHRO at Cell C, and Chiluba Mumbi, an independent strategy and tech M&A advisor, emphasised how HR leaders need to be involved in the M&A process right from the start.

They highlighted how CHROs tend to not immerse themselves in the business, and if they don’t understand the key drivers in business, they won’t get a seat at the table – and this includes the M&A process. So, Juba told attendees, they should demonstrate how they can bring value to the business – to “make it your business to understand the business”.

It's time to elevate

Many CHROs know that M&As aren’t just about merging companies, but also cultures. This is often challenging, but Chiluba – who has led major M&As for the likes of MTN – noted that often the M&A itself doesn’t bring value; value is found in people. He agreed that HR should be involved from day one. Keeping the head of the M&A, CEO and CFO in the loop is par for the course, but problems often arise on the people side, he said. He added that, because M&As involve confidentiality, HR isn’t a consideration early in the process due to a concern about leaked information.

Adding to this, Juba stressed that CHROs are used to keeping things confidential – they know how much the CEO earns, for example – and if someone can’t handle confidentiality there’s a problem.

“Organisations have to trust that HR will do the right thing; if you can’t trust your HR leaders, they’re the wrong people,” he said.
Juba pointed out that how CHROs position themselves to the rest of the organisation’s leadership team is vital, and HR leaders are taken seriously once they demonstrate they can add value to the business’ performance.

“I’ve always been in the inner circle, not by accident,” said Juba. “We need to elevate ourselves; there is a lot of opportunity for HR executives to grow because there are gaps, in strategy, for example. You don’t need to kick the door down, they’ll call you.”

The most positive person in the room

The panellists noted that during any M&A there is uncertainty, and the CHRO, along with the CEO, must be the most positive people in the room. CHROs need to help the new leader drive focus back on the business (by helping the organisation understand why the M&A is good for the business in the first place) and develop connections within the team by adequately training and supporting people in new environments.

The panel concluded that it’s easy to teach technical skills, but CHROs operate in an environment where people need human connection and leadership skills more than ever. Any CHRO knows that the human element can never be discounted, and this includes during an M&A process. When they’re involved early on, human capital leaders can play a pivotal role in managing an M&A transition so that it’s smooth and successful, and that the new entity thrives.

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