Mistakes to Avoid in an Acquisition
by Jeff Schmitt
An acquisition or merger is a melding of two cultures. It involves the integration of various individuals, departments, processes, technologies, philosophies and product lines. It necessitates a strong game plan. It exacts a personal commitment that cannot be delegated.
In other words, a successful transition requires you to get your hands very dirty. Along with establishing a strong communication plan, be sure to keep the following points in mind:
Be Sympathetic: Most people have never gone though an acquisition and never expected to do so. It can be a potentially life-changing event, impacting everything from family relationships to personal finances to career aspirations. Such change requires a sense of delicacy and reservation in judgment to diffuse the stress.
Bring In Your Own People: You cant manage organizational transformation from afar. Bring a transition manager on site to serve as your eyes-and-ears and ensure the project plan benchmarks are met.
Communicate: From the onset, you need to set the right tone and impression to get internal buy-in. Clearly delineate your corporate mission and values. Explain how the change will eventually benefit your employees personally. Accentuate the positive, while emphasizing patience. Always make sure your new team is thinking the best, not the worst. Keep your employees informed throughout the process. Share good news and build up a positive mindset.
Interact Personally: Meet face-to-face with your key people immediately. When you visit, interact with every level of the operation. Otherwise, you will reinforce the perception that employees are, to use a cliché, ‘dead men walking.’ Shower personal attention on your key people to show you recognize and value their contributions.
Keep Your Best People: In any acquisition, your employees are asking themselves the same question: will I have a job next month? After you make your announcement, your new employees will naturally be polishing their resumes and tapping into their networks. Your objective is to keep them from abandoning you in those critical three to six months after the announcement.
It is human nature to ascribe the worst of intents when facing the unknown. That’s why it is so important to create a strategy for avoiding turnover and talent raiding. As an executive, you need to be constantly selling your company, plan and vision. You need to reduce any temptation for employees to jump ship.
It is your employees your knowledge assets who will dictate the success or failure of a transition. This is particularly true of glue employees in middle management; they possess an unwritten knowledge of your history, processes, clients and industry that is irreplaceable. Identify what drives these individuals and what it will take to keep them. Dont accept the gradual erosion of these assets as an eventuality. Dont allow uncertainty and frustration to seep into your culture and undermine productivity.
Treat People Right: In most acquisitions, layoffs are inevitable. There are simply too many redundancies. However, your treatment of terminated employees will send an unforgettable message to your employees along with your customers, business partners, community leaders and the general public. Go above and beyond and show everyone that you are a trustworthy corporate citizen.
Similarly, people have an innate desire to contribute and make a difference. Get them involved in your initiatives. Show them they will have personal and professional opportunities in your organization. Dont treat them like second class citizens.
Perception is Reality: In acquisitions, organizations often focus first on back-end functions like financials, contracts and network integration. Unfortunately, these critical functions have little impact on most employees day-to-day lives. Your back-end may be humming, but a sloppy front-end will leave employees with the impression that the process is adrift and a leadership void exists.
Always be on the offensive. Show employees that you have a vision and a plan. Set expectations for the future and outline the steps that are being taken. Follow up with communication to show that progress is made.
Work with Sales Early: Your sales force often acts as the face of your company. Make sure that your new sales team clearly understands your philosophy, direction and expectations.
In particular, outline how you want them to sell, what your sales process entails, what you want to sell and how to create synergy between the brands. Your new team should also be clear on your organizations capabilities and services, along with having access to information on your current clients and their experiences with your brand. Dont be afraid to share information; maintaining silos only breeds mistrust and resentment.
Be On Your Best Behavior: Your new employees are auditioning you as much as you are evaluating them. Be responsive. Be flexible. Be open. Offer something new, whether it is enhanced professional development or benefits. People are looking for positive change. Give them a taste of the positives that will come once they get passed the struggles inherent in any acquisition.
Jeff Schmitt spent 14 years in the call center and publishing industries. He has worked in marketing, sales, copywriting, training, quality control, project management and legal compliance. He lives in Dubuque, IA and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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