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The Human Side of M&A

by vantageleadership on

This blog is a condensed version of an in-depth article, Merger and Acquisition Integration by Ralph Mortensen, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

At a high level, merger integration has at least two dimensions: the mechanics of planning and executing business integration and the journey that organizational members take as those details are settled and changes are implemented.  Integration Mechanics includes important areas of focus such as planning, communication, staffing and execution, but in this blog post, we focus on the journey (for more on mechanics, and a more detailed exploration of the journey, download the full article from our resources page).

The Integration Journey

cropped merge highway

This dimension of merger integration is an intensely human one.  People may intellectually grasp the reasons for the merger but behind that, they will need to come to personal and emotional grips with how it affects them.  Understanding the vision in the abstract is entirely different than living with its reality.

The leadership team went through its own emotional journey during the ups and downs of initial courtship, due diligence and deal-making.  Now their employees will have to make a similar psychological transition.  And they will start it with less information and often a lower sense of security and certainty.

Weathering the integration process does not happen overnight.  A helpful model divides any major change initiative into three phases.  First, there is an ending.  At least some part of the former situation will go away, whether stakeholders loved it or hated it.  Second, during the integration period, people will live in a work world where the old roles and rules may no longer apply.  They will struggle to make sense of the changes and what they mean personally.  Finally, everyone will take part in a new beginning.  The organization may retain its name, but at least some parts of its business, and its workings, will be different.  In all, employees and customers will need time to let go, reflect and ponder, and grab unto the new organization and how it operates.

Phase One: The Ending

We recommend that leadership allow time to mark the end of an era.  People will need time to discover what the old organization meant to them, as well as to find their way through that ending to a new beginning.  Along the way, they probably will experience large emotional peaks and valleys, irrational thinking, and possibly act unconsciously on old habits.  It will take time and attention to help them understand the changes in their work lives. Mind you, we don’t recommend holding a wake. But the sudden absence of familiar ways and surroundings takes time to absorb and we recommend that leaders remember and mark the passage.

Phase Two: The Transition

The middle transition zone has its own challenges.  While the former business is now behind, the exact form and nature of its future hasn’t arrived yet.  Nor is it quite clear how a given person fits in.  There is a struggle in this ambiguous zone and a clear psychological price in anxiety.  The transition can involve ruminating, exploration, struggling to perform, possibly failure, and pushing the mental reset button, often more than once. Leaders should expect this, and allow for people to flounder, at least to some degree, as they try to get a psychological fix on the future.

Phase Three: The Beginning

Finally, there will be a new beginning.  Employees, and leaders, too, will mentally and emotionally arrive at their new organizational lives, but at different speeds.  Ultimately, of course, every employee needs to be aboard for the new enterprise to succeed.  That means that the time to “sign up” isn’t open-ended.  Leaders need to be vigilant for anyone who can’t quite grab hold of the new organization and role, given reasonable time and space.  Those persons need to be offered other options, or urged to find opportunities elsewhere.  People have different tolerances for change and ambiguity, but ultimately the new organization must take form, backed with enthusiasm from all directions.

For a more detailed account on the journey, tips on handling the mechanics, and a suggested further reading list, take a look at the full article Merger & Acquisition Integration: The Mechanics and The Journey

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