Resilience and Commitment After a Merger or Acquisition

Resilience and Commitment After a Merger or Acquisition

Article and Author Information

Peggy Troyer (MSLOC 2013) wrote this article in December 2013 for the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change Capstone Analysis and Interpretation course. This executive summary is the culmination of a nine-month capstone research project. Peggy works as a Human Resources consultant at Northwestern Mutual. In this role, Peggy supports a wide range of functions including: Communications, Financial Management, Corporate Risk, Corporate Strategy, Investment Risk and Operations, Enterprise Risk Assurance, Government Relations, Actuary and Strategic Philanthropy & Community Relations. Peggy has 18 years of experience in consulting external and internal clients by developing various HR solutions in the areas of Performance Management, Talent Management, and HR process improvements. Her experience spans industries including electronics, manufacturing, telecommunications, engineering, insurance, energy and medical products.

Abstract

Mergers and acquisitions (M & A) are a strategy that involves complex organizational change with reported failure rates of anywhere from 50% to 75% (Klendauer & Deller, 2009; Marks, 2006; Seo & Hill, 2005). Though financial and economic issues contribute to the high failure rates, some research has developed around the human factors associated with the failures of mergers and acquisitions. Yet few studies exist on what could be done to make M & As more successful (Buono & Bowditch, 1989; Marks & Mirvis, 1992; Rafferty & Restubog, 2010; Seo & Hill, 2005; Terry, Carey, & Callan, 2001). This study explored factors that have a positive impact on the success of M&A. Individuals who were still working for organizations that had announced a merger or sale to another company were surveyed to examine whether a correlation existed between an individual’s resilience and their commitment to the organization. Results from this study support the existence of a positive correlation between resilience and commitment, and suggest that organizations seek out ways to foster resiliency in employees as a part of the M&A implementation.

The Need to Retain Key Talent Post-M&A

Figure 2

One of the critical problems associated with the people-side of M&A is employee turnover (Buono & Bowditch, 1989; Cartwright & Cooper, 1993; Raukko, 2009; Walsh, 1988). A longitudinal study of managers post-merger by Walsh (1988) had shown employee turnover to be much larger in an organization post-merger, than an organization that had not engaged in M&A activity. Retention of talent and knowledge sharing are important for an organization post-merger, as the development of a new organization requires substantial knowledge sharing by critical employees during integration. If key employees leave the company prior to sharing knowledge or expertise, important information could be lost, resulting in delays, inefficiencies or costly errors impacting company performance (Marks, 2006; Marks & Mirvis, 1992; Rafferty & Restubog, 2010; Terry, Carey, & Callan, 2001).

Specifically following the announcement of a merger or acquisition, organizational commitment in individuals has been found to decline and employee reactions are generally negative (Klendauer & Deller, 2009; Marks & Mirvis, 1992; Meyer & Allen, 1997; Raukko, 2009; Seo & Hill, 2005). Additionally, studies have shown a negative correlation between organizational commitment and an employee’s intent to leave their organization, as well as turnover (Allen & Meyer, 1996; Meyer & Allen, 1997). One opportunity to retain organizational talent post-merger lies within a company’s ability to rebuild and strengthen the organizational commitment of its employees after a merger or acquisition.

Organizational commitment is defined as “the strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular organization,” (Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974, p. 226). Employees with high-levels of organizational commitment are more likely to perform well in their job, display corporate citizenship behaviors (i.e., go “above and beyond”), and have low rates of absenteeism (Meyer & Allen, 1997).

Three components appear to influence an individual’s decision to commit to an organization: affective, normative, and continuance commitment. An individual may commit to an organization due to the feelings of obligation or duty (normative), positive feelings of attachment to the organization (affective), or because the perception of loss outweighs the benefits of leaving the organization (continuance) (Meyer & Allen, 1991). This study examines all three components as an employee’s relationship with an organization can include different degrees of each component (Meyer & Allen, 1997). For example, an employee may strongly identify with an organization (affective), but also feel a sense of obligation to stay with the organization (normative) at the same time.

Can Psychological Resilience Influence an Individual’s Commitment?

Figure 3

Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt and cope in the face of adversity or hardship (Fredrickson, 2004). In M & A, employees often experience feelings of alienation during integration, mourn the loss of co-workers and their role importance, and may experience a reduction in benefits they once enjoyed by their former company (Buono & Bowditch, 1989; Seo & Hill, 2005). Moreover, an M & A is an anxiety provoking and stressful experience for employees (Buono & Nurick, 1992; Marks & Mirvis, 1992). A resilient individual has the ability to think positively and tries to make sense of the negative events (Luthans, Vogelgesang, & Lester, 2006). Additionally, studies indicate that resiliency is an ability that can be developed in individuals (Fredrickson, 2004; Howe, Smajdor, & Stockl, 2012; Luthans, et al., 2006).

The question then becomes, “are employees who are more resilient, and better able to cope with the stresses associated with M&A more committed to the organization post-merger?” If so, how might organizations leverage resilience to influence employee commitment to the organization post-merger?

Photo Credit: Charles Roffey

Research Methods

Survey Instrument

To explore the relationship between resilience and organizational commitment after an M & A, a self-administered online quantitative survey was used to assess individual resilience, using the 10-item Connor-Davidson Resiliency Scale (Campbell-Sills & Stein, 2007), and organizational commitment, using an instrument developed by Meyer and Allen (1997).

The 10-item Connor-Davidson Resiliency Scale (10-item CD-RISC) (2007) is a shorter version of the original Connor-Davidson Resiliency Scale (1997) and is used in the field of psychology to determine an individual’s ability to cope or adapt to stressful or adversarial events. The Connor-Davidson Resiliency Scale has been widely used by psychologists to measure resiliency in adolescents and adults around the world (Windle, Bennett, & Noyes, 2011).

To provide a comprehensive perspective on organizational commitment, Meyer and Allen’s (1997) instrument uses 17 questions to measure the three components of organizational commitment: affective, normative and continuance commitment. This three-component model of organizational commitment was developed to better understand or predict behavior associated with the nature of commitment (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Though it would suffice to only review a correlation between the overall organizational commitment data and resiliency, the correlations between the commitment components and resiliency provides useful detail around the behavioral consequences associated with the type of organizational commitment.

In addition, participants answered an open-ended question that explored which factors contributed to their decision to stay with their current organization post M&A. This question was used to qualitatively analyze the type of organizational commitment expressed by the participants.

Participants

Eligible participants worked for companies before and after the announcement of an M & A, and were still working for that organization at the time of the survey. Respondents who were no longer employed by the organization that had announced the M & A were excluded because the organizational commitment questions were relevant to people who were still working for the company post-M & A.

Thirty-two out of thirty-nine qualified respondents completed the survey, answering every quantitative question administered. Not all respondents provided clear answers for the open-ended portion of the survey. Answers that were vague or left blank were not included in the qualitative analysis.

Limitations

This survey was administered once to a group of individuals who were solicited using various social media sites such as, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. These individuals were not surveyed prior to the announcement of a merger or acquisition, which would have provided a “before” and “after” M&A perspective. In addition, other M&A studies have examined individuals over a period of time after an M&A announcement. This study views an individual’s resiliency level and organizational commitment at one point in time, rather than viewing these variables over a period of time. Examining resilience and organizational commitment at different times could provide a clearer picture of whether these variables remained constant or had a common point in time where a change in levels occurred.

In addition, this survey collected forty-four answers where only thirty-nine qualified for the data analysis and thirty-two provided complete and relevant answers to the qualitative question. More responses could have been collected, in addition to additional demographic information (i.e., tenure, age, and gender) to analyze and compare other trends or patterns among the participants.

Analysis and Results

Crohnbach’s Alpha was run to determine whether the survey questions measuring resilience as an independent variable, and overall organizational, affective, normative, and continuance commitment as dependent variables were reliable measures. Results of the reliability test for resilience were strong (alpha = .987), whereas reliability for organizational commitment and its components were not as strong (organizational commitment alpha =.696, affective alpha = .175, normative alpha =.876, and continuance = .937). Questions were removed to improve reliability for affective commitment (alpha =.947) and normative commitment (alpha=.940). Removal of three affective commitment and two normative commitment questions also improved the overall organizational commitment reliability measure (alpha = .964).

Resilience was measured based on a 5-point Likert scale, while organizational commitment and its components were measured using a 7-point Likert scale. The mean was calculated for resilience, overall organizational, affective, normative, and continuance commitment to represent five variables for correlation analysis. The average resilience score for this sample was 39.9. Based on the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale Administration Manual (2013), the average resilience score for adults in the US ranges from 31.8 to 32.1, while scores for individuals who have been exposed to severe trauma or suffering from major depression have a much lower average resilience score, ranging from 19.6 to 26.8.

Using the average resilience score as an independent variable, correlations were calculated with organizational commitment, affective, normative, and continuance commitment as dependent variables. A significant Pearson correlation between organizational commitment and resilience existed in this sample (.901). This means that a positive relationship between resilience and organizational commitment exists. Significant correlations were also found between resilience and affective commitment (.911), normative commitment (.799), and continuance commitment (.846) (See Table A: Correlations).

Figure 4

Possible factors for staying with an organization post-merger

At the end of the survey, participants were invited to provide various reasons for why they had decided to stay with their organization post-merger. Of the responses that related to commitment, 50% were aligned with affective commitment, 30% were related to continuance commitment and 20% were related to normative commitment. Responses that did not clearly answer the question or reflected more than one single component of commitment were not included in this statistic. All other responses were related directly to a component of organizational commitment.

Interpretation and Recommendations

Results of this study indicate that there is a statistically significant positive relationship between resiliency and commitment to an organization post-merger. Meyer and Allen’s (1997) research on organizational commitment suggests that if organizations are interested in learning about an individual’s intent to stay with an organization, then the overall organizational commitment measure is a predictor for employee retention. The higher the individual is committed to an organization, the more likely the individual will stay with the organization (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Though Meyer and Allen (1991) suggest that each component of commitment should be correlated with an individual’s intent to stay with an organization, they have also argued that each component has different consequences for other behaviors, such as attendance, on-the-job performance, and the willingness to go above and beyond what is required in a job. Therefore, the significant correlation between resilience and each component of commitment is examined further in this section.

As described earlier, each component of commitment varies in its psychological nature (Meyer and Allen, 1997). Specifically, employees with affective commitment want to stay with an organization, those with normative commitment feel obligated to stay, while employees with continuance commitment stay because alternatives are either limited or costly (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Individuals with higher resiliency have a positive relationship with affective normative commitment, and continuance commitment to an organization. Human Resource professionals should consider whether their existing retention programs encourage the type of commitment organizations want from its employees after a merger or acquisition.

Continuance Commitment and Resilience

Though stressful or traumatic situations are not something we choose to experience, those who are resilient should be more likely to “survive” in a different environment, when other alternatives or options are non-existent or limited. When alternatives are scarce, resilient individuals use problem solving skills and social resources to succeed in difficult or stressful environments (Howe, et al., 2012). Thus the positive correlation between continuance commitment and resilience in this study is not surprising. However, research has shown that continuance commitment has negative correlations with promotability, overall job performance, and no relationship with workplace citizenship behaviors (Meyer & Allen, 1997). In practice, compensation and stock option incentives offered to employees post-merger may assist in retaining key talent by building continuance commitment in individuals, but only if other alternatives are not available or more beneficial than their current incentive plan.

Figure 5

Affective Commitment and Resilience

Though this study showed a fairly strong correlation between resilience and continuance commitment, the associated correlation was not as strong as the correlation with affective commitment. Employees with strong affective commitment are more likely to work harder at their jobs, have lower rates of absenteeism, and perform better than those with continuance commitment (Meyer & Allen, 1997). This study found a positive correlation between resiliency and affective commitment. In addition, based on the qualitative results, affective commitment was reported as the most significant commitment factor amongst among the three components of commitment (50%). Individuals reflecting affective commitment in their responses to the question on possible reasons for staying with their organization post-merger not only indicated involvement with the organization, but seem to have a positive tone, as well:

“It continues to be challenging and fun for me,”

“The opportunity given to me to learn a new role and the challenges it has presented to me.”

“I had confidence that the acquiring company was well run and that it would effectively utilize the company it had just purchased.”

Since resilient individuals are able to manage negative emotions, learn from or find meaning in psychological threats, and use moral beliefs for self-motivation, it is not surprising that the correlation with affective commitment is strong in this study (Luthans, et al., 2006). Those who have high affective commitment to an organization are highly involved in their work and connect with the organization’s values and purpose because it aligns with their own personal values and beliefs (Meyer & Allen, 1997).

Normative Commitment and Resilience

Normative commitment has been correlated with self-reported performance indicators and work effort, but no correlation has been found with independent performance indicators (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Though the correlation between resilience and normative commitment was lowest in this sample, it was still significant. These employees do not exit an organization due to feeling indebted to the organization for benefits such as tuition reimbursement or hiring friends or family members.

Normative commitment may invoke a sense of obligation or even loyalty to an organization, but it can cause resentment in individuals over time if an organization provides reasons for the “obligation” to feel more burdensome (Meyer & Allen, 1997). A resilient individual may feel obligated to stay with an organization because he or she may feel it is the right thing to do and aligns with his or her own beliefs. However, resiliency involves the ability to think positively and to make sense of the negative events (Luthans, et al., 2006). Therefore, it is more characteristic of a resilient individual to find meaning in his or her work and develop coping mechanisms, rather than feeling burdened and resentful (Howe, et al., 2012). One avenue for future research could include interviews with individuals who had a higher level of resilience and normative commitment to further explore the correlation between these two variables. By interviewing individuals with higher resilience levels and higher normative commitment levels, more specific information could be collected to understand whether these individuals displayed signs of resentment towards an organization and had some desire to eventually leave the organization within the next year or if these employees felt they were giving “their best effort to do what is right” to assist with changes associated with the M&A activity with the intent to stay as long as they were needed.

Building Organizational Commitment through the Competency of Resilience

M&A is a stressful event that can produce anxiety and a loss of organizational commitment in employees affected by multiple changes in the work environment (Buono & Bowditch, 1989; Marks, 2006). To help employees cope with M&A activity, resiliency is an ability that can be developed and assessed in employees. It is correlated with an individual’s commitment to an organization, and in particular with an individual’s desire to be committed to an organization (affective commitment) the individual’s sense of obligation (normative commitment) to an organization, and the individual’s avoidance of cost associated with leaving the organization (continuance commitment).Given the relationship between resilience and organizational commitment it would behoove organizations to consider adopting resilience as an important competency for its employees and in turn developing the proper coaching, formal development programs, and assessments for managing and acquiring talent. By developing this competency in individuals, organizations can mobilize a workforce that is challenged with the stress and negativity often associated with M&A.

In the midst of M&A activity, studies have suggested a number of various issues impacting employees, including a loss of role identity, an inability to assimilate into a newly formed culture, becoming the source of stress and anxiety due to ambiguity in the environment, and a feeling of mistrust between the individual, managers, and the organization (Seo & Hill, 2005). However, resilience is a strength organizations can further develop as a competency in individuals to prepare them for a difficult and large organizational change, such as a merger or acquisition. Since people are not able to further develop their resiliency unless they have had some exposure to risks that help develop coping mechanisms, organizations can provide individual training and various work experiences that can build a person’s resilience (Howe, et al., 2012; Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003).

As a competency, resilience could be developed and rewarded in organizations (See Appendix for example). A model that addresses resilience at all levels of contribution (i.e., individual contributor, front-line manager, director and above) can help an organization leverage this strength in individuals, teams, and ultimately, the organization. With more individuals developing resilience, the likelihood of retaining talent that is committed to an organization after significant change, such as a merger or acquisition, is higher than those who have low or no commitment. Retention of committed individuals can determine the success of organizational changes post-merger or acquisition (Raukko, 2009). Though this does not solve every issue related to M & A, it is a competency in individuals that can be developed to increase or build organizational commitment so that employees are more likely to have the desire to remain with an organization post-merger.

Appendix

Reliability Test: Resilience

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Reliability Test: Organizational Commitment

Appendix 3

Appendix 4

Resilience as a competency

Resilience is based on an individual’s access to multiple resources (i.e., social networks, informational resources, emotional supports) and experiences that breed success and build self-efficacy, motivating the individual to take risks and succeed in other endeavors (Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003). Using these concepts and the behaviors stated in the 10-item Connor-Davidson Resiliency Scale, Table B illustrates an example of a possible resilience competency model at the individual contributor level:

Appendix 5

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