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Putting People First in M&A Integration: Strategies for Effective Post-Merger Integration

· Data Science


Corporate mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have long been recognized as effective means of expanding market share and profitability. However, the challenges of post-merger integration often undermine the expected benefits. While financial and strategic considerations are essential, the human aspect of M&A integration is often overlooked. In this article, we explore the critical role of the HR or people perspective in post-merger integration and identify best practices for managing this often-overlooked aspect of the process.

The intricate web of relationships and emotions that are inherent in any human-based endeavor can significantly hinder organizations from addressing the human side of M&A integration. Failure to address these issues can lead to reduced productivity, high turnover, and low employee engagement, ultimately undermining the success of the M&A transaction.

This article aims to provide insights into the importance of the HR or people perspective in post-M&A integration by reviewing existing literature from consulting brands and academic research. We also highlight the challenges organizations face in integrating people and culture during M&A and suggest solutions to overcome them.

The article is divided into several sections, including a literature review that examines key findings from consulting brand and academic research, a methodology section that outlines the approach used to gather insights, a results section that presents best practices for managing post-M&A integration processes, a business impact section that discusses the tangible and intangible benefits of addressing the HR or people perspective, and a conclusion that summarizes the key takeaways and offers suggestions for future research directions.

Literature review

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have become an integral part of corporate growth strategies. While financial considerations and strategic fit are critical to the success of M&A transactions, the human aspect plays a pivotal role in post-merger integration. This literature review aims to examine existing studies from consulting brands and academic literature on M&A integration from a people or HR perspective and identify best practices for managing the post M&A integration process.

Existing Studies on M&A Integration from a People or HR Perspective:

Numerous consulting firms and academic researchers have explored the importance of people and HR perspectives in M&A integration. Some notable studies from consulting brands include:

  1. McKinsey & Company's "Putting people first in merger integration" ( highlights the importance of prioritizing human capital and culture during M&A integration to achieve success.
  2. Deloitte's "Cultural integration in M&A: Six ways to mitigate key risks" ( emphasizes the need to address cultural integration as a significant risk factor in M&A transactions and offers six strategies to overcome this challenge.
  3. Mercer's "M&A Human Capital Strategy: Best Practices for Managing M&A Talent" ( focuses on talent management during M&A, suggesting best practices for retaining and integrating talent in the new organization.

Academic literature has also addressed the human aspect of M&A integration. For example, Schweiger and Weber (1989) examined the role of communication during M&A, while Marks and Mirvis (2011) analyzed the psychological impacts of M&A on employees.

Best Practices for Managing Post M&A Integration Processes:

Based on the reviewed literature, the following best practices emerge for managing post M&A integration processes from a people or HR perspective:

  1. Effective communication: Ensuring transparent, consistent, and timely communication with employees is crucial during M&A integration (Schweiger & Weber, 1989). Engaging employees in open dialogues, addressing their concerns, and clearly communicating the rationale behind the merger can help build trust and reduce uncertainty (KPMG, 2019).
  2. Cultural integration: Acknowledging and addressing cultural differences between merging organizations is vital to prevent conflicts and enhance collaboration (Deloitte, 2017). Adopting a systematic approach to cultural integration, such as conducting cultural assessments and developing a cultural integration plan, can facilitate a smoother transition (EY, 2021).
  3. Talent management: Retaining and integrating key talent is essential to ensure business continuity and achieve strategic objectives (Mercer, 2021). Best practices for managing talent during M&A include identifying critical employees, offering retention packages, and providing opportunities for career growth and development (Aon Hewitt, 2021).
  4. Change management: Implementing a structured change management approach can minimize disruptions and maximize employee engagement during M&A integration (Boston Consulting Group, 2017). This includes defining clear roles and responsibilities, setting realistic expectations, and providing necessary training and support for employees to adapt to new processes and systems (Bain & Company, 2021).
  5. Employee engagement and well-being: Prioritizing employee engagement and well-being throughout the integration process can foster a positive work environment and contribute to the success of the M&A (PwC, 2021). This involves addressing employee concerns

Existing Gaps and Article Contributions:

Despite the insights provided by the consulting brands and academic literature, there are still gaps in understanding the human aspect of M&A integration. This article aims to address these gaps by incorporating lessons learned from case studies, offering a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to M&A integration that prioritizes people and HR factors. This human-centric perspective can help organizations better navigate the complexities of integration and achieve more successful outcomes.

The literature review highlights the importance of addressing people and HR factors during M&A integration. By building on the insights gained from consulting brand literature and academic research, this article aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the human aspect of M&A integration, offering practical guidance for organizations to achieve better integration outcomes. Future research directions could explore the impact of organizational structures and leadership styles on M&A success and investigate the role of technology in facilitating employee communication and collaboration during the process.


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the airline industry, pushing companies to reevaluate their business models, adapt to fluctuating market conditions, and explore new strategies for efficiency and growth. In this context, two previously acquired airline companies, one focusing on long-haul flights and the other on regional networks, have decided to merge. While these airlines catered to different market segments and had varying leadership structures, they shared similar organizational cultures.

This merger aims to capitalize on synergies, streamline operations, and optimize resources to better navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic. However, the integration process demands careful attention to various people and HR-related factors, such as aligning leadership styles, fostering a shared vision, and addressing employee anxiety during the merger.

The organizational cultures of the two airlines are relatively similar, which can be advantageous in streamlining the integration process. However, the leadership styles in each company differ significantly. The long-haul flight business employs a team of leaders, each overseeing specific functions, fostering a more collaborative and decentralized decision-making process. In contrast, the regional network flight business operates with a smaller leadership team, centralizing decision-making and potentially leading to less collaborative dynamics.

Successfully integrating these two distinct leadership structures requires a thoughtful approach that balances the strengths of both styles while fostering a unified vision for the merged organization. This may involve identifying best practices from each airline, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, and designing a new leadership framework that is responsive to the evolving demands of the airline industry in the post-pandemic world.

Moreover, it is essential to address the heightened anxiety and uncertainty experienced by employees from both airlines during the pandemic. Transparent communication, empathetic leadership, and robust change management strategies can help alleviate employees' concerns, foster engagement, and ensure a smoother transition. This may include regular updates on the integration process, opportunities for employee feedback, and support programs to help employees adapt to new roles, responsibilities, or ways of working.

To address these challenges and ensure the success of the merger, the acquirer company has tasked its HR team with three critical objectives: 1) streamlining processes, 2) implementing an effective change management plan, and 3) ensuring that the new combined unit operates more efficiently to save costs.


To successfully integrate the two airlines, the company adopted a comprehensive, evidence-based approach that addressed people and HR-related aspects of the merger.

This approach was informed by existing literature and grounded in data sources and case studies, ensuring a smooth and successful consolidation.

Step-by-Step Integration Process:

  1. Assessing headcount needs: Guided by literature on strategic alignment and workforce planning (Cascio & Boudreau, 2016), the company computed post-M&A headcount requirements, identifying overlapping roles and excess headcounts to streamline the workforce and eliminate redundancies.
  2. Reviewing the acquiree's organizational chart: Informed by research on the importance of understanding organizational structures and roles during M&A (Cartwright & Schoenberg, 2006), the company analyzed the acquiree's organizational chart to map and transfer headcounts to new job families within the merged organization.
  3. Identifying necessary functions: Drawing from literature on the retention of critical expertise and capabilities (Graebner, Heimeriks, & Huy, 2017), the company studied the acquiree's functions to determine which were essential but not within the acquirer's scope of work.
  4. Finalizing headcount requirements, job functions, and processes: Aligned with best practices on collaborative decision-making and stakeholder involvement (Marks & Mirvis, 2011), the company worked with new business unit leaders to finalize post-acquisition headcount, job functions, and working processes.
  5. Transferring and re-deploying workers: Building on research emphasizing fair and transparent employee transitions (Schweiger & Goulet, 2000), the company developed plans for the transfer of workers who would continue in post-M&A roles and re-deployment plans for displaced workers.
  6. Securing management endorsement and union engagement: In line with literature on stakeholder engagement (Freeman, Harrison, & Wicks, 2007), the company obtained post-M&A management endorsement and engaged with unions to address concerns during the integration process.
  7. Communicating with employees: Grounded in research on the importance of transparent communication during M&A (Appelbaum, Gandell, Yortis, Proper, & Jobin, 2000), the company communicated openly with both acquirer's and acquiree's employees to manage expectations and address concerns.
  8. Coordinating with other stakeholders: The company collaborated with the acquirer's taxation team and other stakeholders to ensure the smooth transfer of functions, informed by case studies on successful M&A integrations (Marks & Mirvis, 2011).
  9. Implementing a transition period: In line with best practices on change management (Kotter, 2012), the company established a transition period to facilitate the handover of HR functions between the acquiree and acquirer.
  10. Executing post-acquisition communication: Drawing from research on employee engagement during M&A (Seo & Hill, 2005), the company implemented a post-acquisition communication plan to keep employees informed and engaged.
  11. Issuing release and offer letters: The company formalized new roles and responsibilities by issuing release and offer letters, following best practices for employee transitions (Schweiger & Goulet, 2000).
  12. Reboarding or onboarding acquiree workers: Informed by literature on employee integration (Bauer, Erdogan, & Taylor, 2012), the company conducted reboarding or onboarding programs for acquiree workers to ensure a seamless transition and foster unity and belonging.

The company's approach was influenced by academic and consulting literature, emphasizing the importance of addressing people and HR-related factors during M&A processes.

For example, the company drew insights from case studies of successful M&A integrations that emphasized the importance of a structured and systematic approach to managing change (Marks & Mirvis, 2011). This informed the development of the company's change management plan, which included regular updates on the integration process, opportunities for employee feedback, and support programs to help employees adapt to new roles, responsibilities, or ways of working.

Additionally, the company used data from employee surveys and performance metrics to assess the effectiveness of its communication strategies and employee engagement initiatives throughout the integration process. This data-driven approach allowed the company to make informed decisions and adjust its strategies as needed to ensure a successful integration.

Review on the approach

The approach described in the M&A integration process sheds light on the essential people and HR factors involved in post-merger integration. By employing a systematic methodology, this approach underscores the importance of considering various aspects of integration, including structural and cultural alignment, as well as addressing employee expectations and anxieties during a time of profound change.

A key strength of this approach is its emphasis on clear communication and collaboration between the human resource managers from both companies. Involving HR managers from each organization ensures that unique perspectives and needs are considered, fostering a sense of unity and minimizing potential miscommunication or misalignment. Moreover, the change manager's role in refining the change management plan and facilitating smooth assimilation demonstrates the value of having a dedicated individual steering the process.

Nonetheless, there are limitations to this approach. The systematic nature of the process, while beneficial in many ways, could also result in rigidity and inflexibility, potentially hindering adaptation to unexpected challenges or evolving circumstances. Furthermore, the concentrated focus on the HR aspect of the integration might inadvertently overlook other crucial factors, such as technology or operational integration.

Comparing this approach to alternative methodologies or perspectives reveals a heightened emphasis on the human aspect of M&A integration. Other approaches may prioritize financial or operational considerations, which could lead to a less seamless integration and diminished employee morale. By centering on people and HR factors, this approach aspires to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for employees, ultimately contributing to a more successful integration.

The approach outlined in this article offers valuable insights into the people and HR factors critical to M&A integration. Despite some limitations, it provides a solid foundation for understanding and addressing the human side of mergers and acquisitions. By prioritizing communication, collaboration, and trust-building, this approach aims to foster a more successful and inclusive integration experience.

Business impact.

Organizations stand to benefit greatly by applying the people-focused approach outlined in this article to their M&A integration processes. By prioritizing the human side of mergers and acquisitions, companies can ensure a smoother transition, fostering a collaborative environment and enhancing employee commitment.

The tangible advantages of considering people and HR perspectives during M&A integration include clear role demarcation, streamlined operations, and increased overall efficiency. Establishing well-defined responsibilities and optimizing procedures reduces duplicative efforts and boosts productivity. Furthermore, the integration process can generate cost savings through the identification of overlapping roles and strategic headcount reduction, ultimately improving the organization's financial performance.

Intangible benefits, though not immediately quantifiable, are equally crucial. These encompass heightened employee morale, reinforced relationships between the merging entities, and a cohesive corporate culture. An integration process that recognizes and addresses employee apprehensions fosters stability and trust, inspiring employees to contribute positively to the newly combined organization.

Evaluating the success of people and HR integration efforts can be accomplished using various metrics, such as employee engagement and satisfaction surveys, staff retention rates, and productivity indicators. Regularly assessing these metrics allows companies to determine the efficacy of their integration strategies, making adjustments as necessary to optimize results.

The business impact of adopting this approach to M&A integration is substantial. By emphasizing the people and HR aspects of the process, organizations can forge a more effective and cohesive post-merger environment. The tangible and intangible benefits derived from such efforts contribute to a robust, unified organization characterized by improved operational performance and a thriving corporate culture.


This article has underscored the critical importance of addressing the human and HR aspects during the post-merger and acquisition integration process. By recognizing the need for a people-centric approach, organizations can better navigate the complexities of integration and ultimately achieve a more successful outcome.

The key takeaways from this analysis are as follows:

  1. M&A integration efforts should prioritize people and HR factors, recognizing that employees are a critical component of organizational success.
  2. A systematic, step-by-step approach, grounded in the existing body of literature, should be employed to ensure a smooth integration process.
  3. Effective communication, change management, and stakeholder engagement are crucial elements in achieving a seamless transition.
  4. The business impact of a people-focused approach to M&A integration extends beyond tangible benefits, such as operational efficiency and cost savings, to include intangible assets like employee morale, corporate culture, and trust.

Organizations can apply these insights in practice by adopting a comprehensive, strategic plan that addresses people and HR factors throughout the integration process. By incorporating the lessons learned from the literature and case studies, companies can more effectively manage the human side of M&A, leading to improved outcomes and a stronger, more unified organization.

Future research directions could include exploring the impact of various organizational structures and leadership styles on M&A integration success, as well as investigating the role of technology in facilitating employee communication and collaboration during the process. Additionally, more in-depth analysis of cross-cultural integration challenges and best practices could further deepen our understanding of the human aspect of M&A integration.

In conclusion, by placing people and HR considerations at the forefront of M&A integration efforts, organizations can unlock the full potential of their newly combined entity. By embracing this human-centric approach, companies will be better positioned to navigate the challenges inherent in mergers and acquisitions and realize the long-term benefits of successful integration.


It is important to note that the quantified numbers have been masked to protect the identity of the company. However, the findings and recommendations are based on rigorous analysis and research and can be applied to other companies facing similar challenges.


Consulting Firms:

  1. McKinsey & Company. (n.d.). Putting people first in merger integration. Retrieved from
  2. Boston Consulting Group. (2017). Why Most M&A Deals Fail to Generate the Value They Promise. Retrieved from
  3. Bain & Company. (n.d.). How to Build a Merger Integration Team That Delivers Results. Retrieved from
  4. Deloitte. (n.d.). Cultural integration in M&A: Six ways to mitigate key risks. Retrieved from
  5. Mercer. (n.d.). M&A Human Capital Strategy: Best Practices for Managing M&A Talent. Retrieved from
  6. Aon Hewitt. (n.d.). How to Effectively Manage the HR Challenges of M&A. Retrieved from
  7. KPMG. (2019). How to get the human side of M&A right. Retrieved from
  8. PwC. (n.d.). M&A Integration: Putting people first. Retrieved from
  9. EY. (n.d.). Unlocking the power of culture in mergers and acquisitions. Retrieved from
  10. Accenture. (n.d.). Post-Merger Integration: People and Change Management. Retrieved from

Academic Literature:

11. Appelbaum, S. H., Gandell, J., Yortis, H., Proper, S., & Jobin, F. (2000). Anatomy of a merger: Behavior of organizational factors and processes throughout the pre-during-post-stages (part 1). Management Decision, 38(9), 649-661.

  1. Bauer, T. N., Erdogan, B., & Taylor, S. (2012). Creating and maintaining high-performance teams during M&As. In Y. F. Shmailan (Ed.), Mergers and acquisitions: Practices, performance and perspectives (pp. 93-106). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
  2. Cascio, W. F., & Boudreau, J. W. (2016). The search for global competence: From international HR to talent management. Journal of World Business, 51(1), 103-114.
  3. Cartwright, S., & Schoenberg, R. (2006). Thirty years of mergers and acquisitions research: Recent advances and future opportunities. British Journal of Management, 17(S1), S1-S5.
  4. Freeman, R. E., Harrison, J. S., & Wicks, A. C. (2007). Managing for stakeholders: Survival, reputation, and success. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
  5. Graebner, M. E., Heimeriks, K. H., & Huy, Q. N. (2017). The process of postmerger integration: A review and agenda for future research. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1), 1-32.
  6. Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  7. Marks, M. L., & Mirvis, P. H. (2011). Merge ahead: A research agenda to increase merger and acquisition success. Journal of Business and Psychology, 26(2), 161-168.
  8. Schweiger, D. M., & Goulet, P. K. (2000). Integrating mergers and acquisitions: An international research review. Advances in Mergers and Acquisitions, 1, 61-91.
  9. Seo, M. G., & Hill, N. S. (2005). Understanding the human side of merger and acquisition: An integrative framework. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 41(4), 422-443.