1. Share information
All board members—and not just senior directors or the larger of the two companies—need a clear understanding of the reasons for the merger. Advisory experts and board members say poor management of this essential step can be a big contributor to a failed merger.
Ideally, the chief executive and the chairman should present the merger rationale together in an open, transparent way, giving a coherent outline of the benefits the deal should bring such as improved performance, growth and synergies.
Describing how the merger fits in with the overall strategy and the implementation plan is essential. It is also worth explaining the structure of the deal: whether it is a merger of equals, the fusion of a large and small company or a hostile acquisition.
Keep the information concise and relevant and provide some specific examples of gains to be made in particular areas such as technology, key people or market access. This all helps to make sense of the decision, reduce rumours and speculation, and helps everyone to buy in to the changes ahead.
2. Think hard about board composition
It is important for the incoming chairman, who may be the incumbent or chair of the other company, to make sure he/she has the right balance of skills and experience from the two organisations. Experts advise against taking the easy option of appointing an equal number of board members from each company and to choose the best to ensure long-term success.
As uncertainty among board members is rife at the moment, it is best to let everyone know of the most significant changes as soon as possible.
3. Ensure the chairman is suited to the role
Make sure the chairman has the necessary expertise and experience for the Herculean task of bringing the board together in the new environment. Studies show that between 70% and 90% of mergers do not succeed; failure to integrate the board will add to the chances of a failed deal.
Sensitivity, empathy and relationship-building will be among the skills needed to gel all members in the team, particularly those who have lost senior positions and are nursing bruised egos as they adapt to less powerful roles. Listening will play a big part.
Consensus-seeking to create an inclusive, effective decision-making process for the new company will be more important than ever.
4. Get to know each other
An important but often neglected step is for all board members to get to know each other at an early stage, since they may only be aware of each other at CV level. A series of familiarisation sessions before the first formal board meeting will help, especially if there is a big shakeup of board composition.
But first leave behind any preconceived ideas about the merger and the people involved and do the homework to learn about the other company’s history, growth and assets. This is essential to understanding how the newly merged business will look.
5. Be a successful player in the new order
Recognise the new order, and work to understand the culture of both companies and where there might be big differences, instead of looking back to how things used to be. Keep an open mind on different ways of doing business and be ready to explore alternatives to previous thinking, strategies and decision-making processes at board level.
Respect all board members, particularly if they are part of the smaller company, as it will give everyone a sense of being valued.
Try to see the bigger picture, keep looking ahead and buy in to the future of the merged entity that is now your company.