Tessa Melkonian discusses why managers need to be aware of the example being set when a business experiences disruptive change, such as a merger. This is detailed in her award-winning research paper, ‘Distributive Justice, Procedural Justice, Exemplarity, and Employees’ willingness to cooperate in M&A integration processes: An analysis of the Air France-KLM Merger’. The findings provide practical solutions to effectively encourage staff’s cooperation throughout a period of disruptive change.

Can you explain the terms distributive justice and procedural justice?

Distributive justice was a large factor to consider in this research, it refers to fairness in the allocation of resources amongst various members of a group, in this instance, amongst a diverse range of employees. Procedural justice indicates that a dispute has been resolved in an equal manner.

What impact have these factors had in the field of management research?

Managers do not always realise the level of scrutiny they’re likely to receive for their behaviour during the change from their subordinates, and the research raises awareness and guides managers as to how they can handle this. It surpasses the theoretical perspective that’s largely present in the subject of management, and looks into the humane, psychological aspects underlying employees’ attitudes and behaviours towards a disruptive change across its different stages.

How was the research carried out?

The research team and I did 600 interviews in 10 countries. Thousands of questionnaires were also carried out with Air France-KLM employees, prior to the complex social situation in the recent months, to see their satisfaction and willingness to cooperate with the changes being made throughout the merger process. During the interviews employees revealed they were more inclined to back the merger because of the example their CEO was setting for the organisation, and they were happy to do this in the long run so long as he remained with the company. This managerial exemplarity remained a strong influence two years into the transition.

What were your findings?

Employees are more likely to cooperate in the process of a disruptive change if the management is seen to be fair in their treatment of staff. This will increase employees’ willingness to cooperate in long-term transitions and work harder to support the process. The decision to cooperate will also rely heavily on how the organisation display their behaviour, particularly in their own hierarchy and top management.

It’s important to remain aware that it’s not possible for an employee to calculate the outcome of a disruptive change, such as a merger, from an economic perspective because there are too many uncertainties involved in the process. However organizations with a perceived history of fairness have a great advantage, because their employees can use this perception to anticipate how they will be treated during the change, making them more willing to cooperate.

How can managers successfully integrate the findings?

Setting an example in the beginning stages of a change process is particularly important, because this is when the level of uncertainty regarding the process is likely to be the strongest. Justice and managerial exemplarity are not just icing on the cake during a merger, but rather the building blocks from which organisations will gain employees cooperation.

Staff successfully using the perception of their managers as a coping mechanism for the uncertainty of the disruptive process rely on the manager to advocate fairness and distribute consistent communication in an equal manner, so I would encourage managers to do this for a positive impact on employee perceptions and attitudes.

Tessa Melkonian, emlyon business school

As Professor of management and organisational behaviour, my research essentially focuses on the influence of perceptions of fairness and exemplary behaviour on the cooperation of employees during periods of drastic change, as well as collective behaviour in extreme situations. My work on the reaction of employees during mergers and acquisitions earned me the 2013 Syntec academic prize in management research. I often work with companies on the question of management relationships and the human aspect of change management.

More information on Tessa Melkonian:
• Her CV online
• Her Viadeo page
• Her ResearchGate Page


Further reading…

  • Melkonian T., Monin P. & Noorderhaven N. (2011). Distributive justice, procedural justice, exemplarity, and employee’s willingness to cooperate in M&A integration processes: An analysis of the Air France-KLM Merger. Human Resource Management 50(6): 809-837.
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