4 Tips for Retaining Employees During an Acquisition


CHICAGO -- Amid the wheeling and dealing of mergers and acquisitions, retailers can get caught up considering contingent liabilities, contracts, target projections and about a million other loose ends that all seem to require immediate attention.

“It’s a challenge not to exclusively focus on tech, operations and vendors,” said Natalya Fater, vice president of human resources for Nouria Engery Corp., at this year’s NACS Show. “But we need to include culture as a priority during these early stages.”

Here’s how Fater and other retailers build the framework for employee retention from the very beginning of a merger or acquisition ...

1. Make a plan


In 2016, Nouria Energy made two acquisitions in six months, doubling the Lil’ Mart retailer’s footprint. With the addition of J&S Oil Inc. and the convenience stores and car washes from F.L. Roberts & Co., the company's retail sites grew to 116  across New England. Nouria Energy created a retention plan for every step of the acquisition, Fater said. “You need to go beyond employee handbooks and anticipate how the process will impact employees and how they do their job,” she said.

2. Communicate at every turn

Fater recommends overcommunicating with employees and including mission and vision statements with correspondences. The first step Nouria took to create a “buy-in environment” started with direct fact sheets for employees labeled, “How will this impact me.” The sheet sought to answer top-of-mind questions for employees such as “What will happen to the brand?” and “Will I keep my job?”

Fater’s team also hosted town halls and interviews with employees, where they shared education and advancement opportunities. During these interactions, Nouria Energy emphasized transparency and stability. “We told them, ‘Stay with us, grow with us,’ ” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

3. Take the best of both

During the acquisitions, Nouria Energy also revisited its mission and value statements to make sure they fit the now-expanded business. “Employees are comforted to know values are shared with their new company,” Fater said.

Last year, retailer Wallis Cos. acquired the assets of U-Gas Holdings Inc. in the St. Louis metropolitan area. To retain a sense of normalcy, the company assessed which human-resources processes Wallis could adopt from the acquired company, according to Rachel Wallis Andreasson, former CEO and current board member of the Cuba. Mo.-based retailer.

For instance, tenure remained consistent during the transition. If a worker had 30 years of tenure at U-Gas, then he or she worked 30 years at Wallis. Traditions such as holiday parties and beginning each meeting with a joke, as the previous CEO did, continued. To not rock the boat too much, Wallis didn’t implement any changes for the first 90 days.

4. Appoint a buddy manager

As part of its acquisition, Wallis kept on all in-store workers but let go some of home-office employees. So finding out who to call about their paychecks and other corporate information could be confusing for the acquired team members.

“Just knowing where to get information from and who to contact is one of the hardest parts,” Wallis Andreasson said. She recommends building a relationship with a manager who can share institutional knowledge and pass along news and resources to the extended team.