the headlong rush to offload as many of HR’s traditional areas of
responsibility to overworked line managers continues at a frenetic pace, we may
be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with offloading non-value adding
processes but I suspect that doing so to a busy line manager just spreads the
pain. I also suspect that what we see as "non-core" is actually very
core for most of our people. By this I mean the safety of their pensions,
benefits, terms and so on and, like it or not, we cannot ignore this during
change. People find it understandably hard to celebrate the strategic logic of
a merger when they have a mortgage to pay.
The topic of mergers and acquisitions was debated at the recent Henley Forum
for Human Resources and I have reflected on what HR does in these
Here’s a typical scenario. Today Sue works for Tom Ltd. Tomorrow they merge
with Dick and Partners. She just gets used to this when the new company is
bought by Harry Inc. She now works for Tom, Dick and Harry Ltd. and everything
has changed. She does not know her boss, hasn’t seen her terms, works with new
people and most of what was familiar to her in the job she used to love has
Who helps people with this – who explains their new conditions, where they
might be based, will they have a job? They are probably told about the new
"aspirational culture", and the new logo but I’m not sure they care
People need something to ground themselves in the emotional chaos of change.
This means access to information but it also means human contact. HR brings
this to the party. We are at the front of the change process and we need the
answers to the questions people have. We have to listen to real people with
real problems, particularly if we want the organisation to continue to function
during change. Let us predict what people want to know and have answers ahead
This is a difficult and massively stressful job. If HR has been outsourced,
then precisely when people need someone to listen to them they will end up
dialling an 0800 number, being told to press 1 for advice, 2 to find out if
they have a job and so on. Do we really want HR to end up like this?
If mergers and acquisitions are about securing and enhancing superior profit
performance (which they should be) then HR is vital because value only gets
released through the productivity of the people who are left. How many City
institutions see it that way?
By Chris Matchan, Group HR director, the Pentland Group is joining global
executive search firm Korn/Ferry International as a vice-president in its
consumer goods practice next month