An Acquisition from Outside In

Date: April 4, 2014

Merriam-Webster defines the word confluence as “a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point.”  I can think of no better word to describe the end result of an acquisition, where the strengths of two organizations are united to work toward a common goal.  The absorption of one team into another is a reciprocal journey. It’s a form of socialization that takes time and patience from all.

I have found working through an acquisition to be simultaneously rewarding and challenging.  Being part of the acquiring company, my perspective is necessarily different from that of the acquired.  That said, I believe the following lessons learned are themes our unified organization can agree upon:

  • Never underestimate the power of corporate culture.  Every company has its own culture, and larger organizations frequently have sub-cultures within their entity.  Close-knit bonds are forged through the stresses of recurring deadlines, frequently with no shortage of inside jokes and shared stories, which breed familiarity and rapport.  It can be difficult to appreciate how unique that culture is, until faced with the challenge of incorporating an additional culture.
    • Suggested Actions:  Avoid focusing on what is different in the other corporate culture.  Focus on what is the same or similar – where does confluence already exist?
  • Onboarding is critical.  Every team has their own set of policies and procedures; many have sets of terms that are unique to them, and some may have their own language altogether. While onboarding is used in business, it should be viewed in a social context too. The new folks should be made to feel welcome.
    • Suggested Actions:  Have a clearly defined onboarding plan for each business unit impacted by an acquisition to ensure that newly added team members have a clear sense of expectations.  I personally favor 90-day plans which clearly articulate expectations – goals, deliverables, resources to use, and the like.  This gives the new team members direction, as well as providing a set of metrics to assess whether the onboarding was successful.
  • If you think you’re communicating enough, you’re not.  An acquisition touches every part of your organization from the top down. No matter how much you think you’re communicating, chances are there are folks within your organization who feel like they’re out of the loop.  Certainly there will be large portions of the acquisition that are confidential and need to be respected as such. But there will also be detailed components of product and customer service that will need to be reviewed, re-reviewed, and then re-re-reviewed.
    • Suggested Actions:  Define a communication plan that includes multiple channels.  Determine what information you want to disseminate in a meeting versus an email versus an internal announcement.  Set a frequency for each.  No single channel is sufficient, and nothing communicated once is communicated enough.
  • You’re not just adding resources; you’re adding people.  An Excel spreadsheet has no opinion if I add a few tabs to it and then shift the data around.  People tend to be a bit more expressive.  They may be uncertain about their future and likely know nothing about the team with whom they will be interacting. They may be lost as to what is expected of them and simply start browsing the Internet for jobs and/or cat pictures.
    • Suggested Actions:  As part of your communication plan, make sure that you spend one-on-one time with as many people as possible.  Pair team members with their counterparts on both sides.  No matter how elaborate your plan, your people will ultimately be the ones who make it succeed or fail.
  • You won’t do it perfectly.  No matter how well your integration plan is executed, there will always be aspects you want to do better. Chances are there will be at least one significant mistake that slows down the achievement of confluence.  Accepting that risk at the start positions your organization to weather these challenges when they occur, and to learn from what you can do better afterward.
    • Suggested Actions:  Determine the logical risk points and highlight them in your integration plan.  Conduct a review after each major step to record the lessons learned.  Strike a balance between the confidence of a successful integration and the humility to acknowledge and work through mistakes.

At the end of the day, you all want the same thing:  a confluence of values, goals and success.