"If you only knew."

“If you only knew.”

Yup, I love the frankfurter…which is why I’ve never desired to see how a hot dog is actually made. It’s much cleaner and easier to ingest if you are only a witness to the final product.

And, that, my friends, is why it’s best to not see behind the curtain during the merger integration process. The actual “deal” part of Mergers & Acquisitions is a fascinating, tactical, financial, and (for the most part) de-sensitized game of high-stakes haggling. But the “people” piece of the business…well, let’s just say that ugliness abounds.

There are no victimless mergers. When the shoe finally drops and the integration process begins in earnest, there will be bodies in the wake. As I tell my clients and colleagues experiencing this piece of the business life-cycle, “these are times that call for heroes” – but in most cases, the heroic behavior comes on the tails of unproductive and selfish behavior. As humans, we are wired for self-preservation – first & foremost, our instinct is to watch out for our own ass, find safe harbor, and only then will we peek around the corner to check on the rest of the clan. There’s nothing wrong with that response – it is what it is, and it’s predictable – but until we make the choice to run back into the fray, there’s going to be some very unsightly behavior.

(**That’s why the US Marines ad campaign is so brilliant, they’re the ones running toward the danger)

We know it’s coming, right? Livelihoods are going to be threatened. Egos are going to be kicked in the jewels. Retirements, family vacations, 529 Plans, food, and freedom all face the prospect of being compromised or eliminated – reputations, relationships, responsibility [*that’s for Mrs. Enoch, my 4th grade English teacher, love that alliteration] and self-respect, all exposed! We know it’s coming! And yet….it happens in every integration.

Because we can’t prevent humans from being human, we can only try to moderate the behavior. The mindset needs to be focused on minimizing the time frame where this behavior is prevalent. We can’t prevent, but we can prepare. Communicate with your employees as adults; empathize, show dignity, honesty, and respect. It’s still going to be a mess, but it can be a short mess.

It’s unfortunate, but you can’t make a hot dog without scraping the floors to collect the snouts, lips, and “other” [don’t make me say it] pieces of the pig. The product in the end is quite delicious, despite the rather despicable process. At the very least, treat the pig right.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources, business, and people in general.