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Maintaining trust throughout mergers and acquisitions

2 min read

Modern Money

Dennis and Michelle Reina are the co-founders of the Reina Trust Building Institute, a consulting and research firm that helps companies deal with trust issues. SmartBrief recently asked them about how trust can be maintained during a merger or acquisition. An edited version of their responses follows.

During an acquisition or merger, which relationships are most susceptible to trust issues. Between execs of merging organizations? Between workers and execs? Between the organization and its clients?

Initially, the relationships between executives of merging organizations are most susceptible to trust issues. It rapidly trickles down, however, to employees and clients. For merging executives, breakdowns most often revolve around position power, particularly regarding how things will be done and who holds the authority over those things.

For workers and executives, relationships generally break down when employees are asked to make changes without leadership making efforts to understand who they are, what they do, and how they do it. Workers can feel marginalized. They distrust leadership, and an us-versus-them mentality emerges.

How is building trust within an organization similar to building trust in personal relationships? Are there important differences?

Relationships are central in both areas. What differs, though, is the context in which trust is being practiced. In people’s personal lives, they usually have choices in their relationships. At work, however, they typically engage in relationships through circumstances or necessity. Still, whether people are engaging with others personally or professionally, they build trust through practicing core behaviors that comprise the three types of trust: “contractual trust” (honoring agreements); “communication trust” (sharing information and speaking truth); and “competence trust” (acknowledging others’ skills and abilities).

What are some simple steps that companies can do to immediately improve trust levels among their employees?

Companies can, first and foremost, pay attention to the red flags — key warning signs of broken or eroded trust. Are people disengaged? Are teams missing targets or deadlines? Are groups operating in silos? Also, leadership should get curious. Ask employees what’s happening for them and acknowledge their experience.  Allow feelings to surface, share information and show the larger context for business decisions.