It is safe to assume in today’s world that a noticeable portion of professionals could experience at least one Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) scenario during their career. After having worked with few large scale organizational M&A/Change scenarios with leadership teams (on both sides), I thought of sharing few reflections for those who may go through similar environments. These may look simple but I have noticed that they appear in different environments repeatedly and if addressed, can make a significant difference. A key aspect is to figure out how to convert these elements to practices at an individual or systemic level. If you don’t get these fundamentals right, the seemingly bigger topics like strategy and execution become less relevant for an individual.
There are couple of perspectives to consider when we think about mindset and related behaviors – one is from the individual perspective and the other is organizational or management perspective.
Typically, major changes like an acquisition bring to the forefront our emotions at an individual level. Both positive and negative feelings on the acquiring company and acquired company exist and the emotions evolve in different directions through the journey. Most times, uncertainty in the environment drives our brains to first pick up and respond to all the seemingly looming threats in the new environment. Therefore, it is even more important to try to understand, develop few mindsets and balance our thinking to help manage through these scenarios. All this takes a lot of effort and support.
In an M&A environment, there tends to be lots of uncertainties and related emotional ups and downs for many employees. At an individual level, it helps to be prepared and develop capabilities to manage through such environments. This is relevant to employees on both sides, whether acquired or acquiring company side.
The three key elements to consider from an individual perspective are:
During an M&A situation, many things related to one’s immediate environment may change – leaders/managers, reporting lines, organization structure, ways of working, peers, team members etc.. There will be a lot of readjustment mentally, with many potential new working styles, strategy, systems, processes and even ways of working to adapt to. Keeping an open mind without jumping to judgments, to all the new people and organizational scenarios are critical elements for success. This also reduces stress for self and people around.
Changes and complexities may seem continuous and non stop. Ability to manage through such situations patiently come in very handy. Many times, answers may not be available. It is important to not get frustrated during such times and clarify, ask questions with an open mind and engage in a dialogue. It is helpful in such instances to build a balanced state of mind through conscious practices of taking breaks, not getting wound up in certain difficult instances, seeking support, taking time out with an awareness practice.
3. Assuming best intentions
Forgiving and forgetting unpleasant or uncomfortable situations help to move forward and not get stuck in emotions. Sometimes, things may not work out well for an individual. Sometimes, people may not behave in a manner that feels acceptable. There may differences in understanding on either side. In such situations, it helps is to engage in an open and respectful dialogue, not assume the worst automatically, stay connected to one’s support networks, find a way to discuss feelings, try to leave negative thoughts behind, and reframe/refocus on the positives and way forward. One needs all the support from support networks, self awareness, reflection and intense focus on next steps during such times to avoid falling into a (sometimes self created) rut of frustration. Coaching or mentoring support becomes even more valuable during such times.
While being prepared with the relevant mindsets, it is also important for an individual to map out the risks, related actions and continuity in work and career. Like companies, individuals also need their own strategies for careers and determining what’s right for them.
There are also three elements to consider from an organizational/management perspective.
1.Engage Actively, Be Visible
It is especially important to know on the acquiring company side especially, that most of the employees irrespective of job level, will feel high degree of uncertainty and have lots of questions. It is important to acknowledge that many are first concerned at a human level to support themselves and their families. Leaders, by nature are the first set of people employees look up to for guidance, assurance and solutions. At a minimum, engaging actively and visibility across sites indicate caring and shared concern. This translates to high or low loyalty.
2. Show Respect
Respect can be visible in different ways. At a starting level, avoid the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ mentality in all leadership conversations. This naturally takes time but when the leaders adopt “We are all one” reinforcement in conversation and actions, the rest of the organization tends to follow. This could reflect in how people feel they are treated or trusted, how the communications flow, or how the processes change. It is really important to take the time before giving ‘do it our way’ guidance. It would be in the best interest of both organizations to explore the best way to adopt the right approach. This also has a direct link to engagement and loyalty.
3. Minimize Uncertainty, to the extent possible
It is practically impossible to have answers to all the questions but it helps to reassure and communicate with employees as the topics are being worked on. At a minimum, it helps to share the high level plan or thinking. Openness to sharing and discussing from an organizational perspective also help a lot in engagement and gives reasons for employees to trust. This needs to be active communication and clarification. Using multiple forms of communication and repetition can help a lot to reinforce.
When these three elements come together at the organizational level, tremendous progress can be made during integration phase.
Fundamentally, it is really important for the leaders on all sides to think deeply and work out the change plan elements to ensure engaging listening and communication to support successful integration and business sustainability for the long run. Assuming the acquisition objective is to maximize value for combined organization and not to shut down the acquired business, it is in the best interest to be prepared on the fundamental mindset to build and support the whole organization. Difficult decisions are inevitable but most times what sets the tone and expectations for employees is the ‘How’ more than the ‘What’.
Any M&A or large scale change is really complex. No two organizations or environments are the same but adoption of these fundamental principles can help a lot in different environments. The process of applying them may differ and depend on different factors.
It can also be really time and energy consuming for the people involved to work through this, especially for the leaders. Therefore, the need to find a healthy balance and perspective during those times become even more important.
If you have had experiences in similar environments, what else would you suggest? Are there other questions or elements that come to your mind?