In my last segment I discussed the importance of integrating inward, or focusing on your internal team first. This segment we will touch upon the value of prioritizing your integration efforts within the acquiree to maintain the soul of the organization and leverage both what you brought to the table and what you acquired in the process.
As a young adult, I had the luxury of working for an organization that believed in delivering only the highest level of client and employee satisfaction. Delivering on our promises was expected. Growing and developing our teams was expected. We had an extraordinary leader who was highly driven, intelligent, and disciplined. He believed in and executed on the essentials – setting expectations and communicating results. And when the company won, everyone won. We were about something. Our leader maintained core business and personal philosophies that shaped our corporate strategy. That vision was something in which we could all understand and believe. And that sort of leadership attracted and inspired ambitious, hard chargers who fought for the win because they knew what a win looked like; they knew what they were shooting for. There was always a scoreboard and it could be applied to anything and everything. Said simply, it was a culture that drove results. There was a living, breathing soul to that company.
Every company has its own unique culture. Every company is founded on a certain something that will drive the heartbeat of its team. And just to be fair – that certain something isn’t always going to be the thing you want to maintain or foster long term – but there may be times when it’s one of the primary reasons you acquired the company to begin with. It’s a crucial element to evaluate.
Let me restate. Take the time to understand the DNA of the company you are acquiring. Then make decisions on how to best integrate. I understand streamlining and creating a one-to-many acquisition process may be beneficial for the acquiring company. However, unless you don’t care about the continuity of your new asset – which, by the way, means continuity in revenue, talent and morale – then you must be flexible. I’m going to continue my story for context.
Due to the wild success of our organization, we were bought by another company. The announcement was made and we received t-shirts and pens and sat through meetings where we were told how happy everyone was about bringing on such a successful team with such an interesting pedigree. And the very next week we were mandated to take any and all “legacy” items off of our desks, walls, etc. This included but was not limited to framed news articles displayed about our philanthropic contributions and awards that had been won due to spectacular achievements in sales and operations, and recognition plaques and letters from clients describing the great service we provided them. It included removing the wallpaper appliques that reminded us daily of our mission – to be successful, to be driven, to be a partner. The visual representation of a culture we took great pride in fostering and that absolutely drove all of the aforementioned success was wiped clean. What happens after that? You can easily guess.
Why was that the first thing on the list to do? Maybe there was good reason for it, but there was no communication as to why that was the first step of integration other than the new company wanted no remnants left of the old. The “legacy” stuff was gone, except of course the people. What does that say to the team that built what you bought? These people have with talent, tribal knowledge, and client relationships you would like to maintain. Wiping clean the culture they spent years cultivating and that was central to that talent, knowledge and relationship-building is at best a poor choice and at worst disastrous to your financials. This is one example of many head scratching strategies that have been shared with me regarding acquisition integration. When you need your new asset to thrive, be judicious about when and how change is introduced. You are dealing with the emotions and grit of the people within that organization and they need to feel a part of the process, not the recipient of the order. This goes far past the human element. Here are some other things to consider as you begin your integration process to avoid sucking the soul out of your results.
- Spend time understanding what makes the organization tick. Core values, mission, belief systems. Apply some emotional intelligence to the scenario. Think about how to keep the workforce engaged and executing at a high degree while new integration cycles are introduced.
- Make sure you know the market factors in integration changes. For example, does your new company’s name have a market value in the industry? When does it make sense to introduce a name change if at all? Does the name change hurt or impact your revenue stream? Do not let ego get in the way of this one, it can be detrimental to your bottom line if this one isn’t carefully thought out.
- Be cautious about what you say to the employees during the announcement time and press releases. For instance, “we are buying this company for their expertise in this channel, we plan on utilizing their best practices across the entire enterprise”. Statements like this, if not followed through, can destroy both trust in and the credibility of new leadership if not implemented. Say things that are real and honest even if it is not all roses.
- Evaluate the cost of non-revenue generating moves. If mission statements, company name and marketing materials, and various business processes already work, use them. You will save time, money and lessen non-critical burdens in the beginning of an integration strategy by simply letting simple things stand.
- Know that people are your biggest asset. What do you spend the most money on in any company? Salaries. These people are your largest investment to make you successful and when you acquire a company with a rich, employee-centric culture, you’re acquiring people who have been given something to believe in for which they’ll go to the ends of the earth to maintain. Some changes are not a matter of if, but when. Take your time understanding the proper roll out plan for items that may not be a big deal for the acquiring company, but certainly matters to those in the new organization. There is a time and place for everything, make sure you become a student of that statement.
- Stay clear of soul torching activities. Sometimes employing an unbiased party into the mix is a good idea to assist in removing the emotion out of decisions and assist in your prioritization process.
Carefully evaluating your priorities of integration will set the stage for a successful future. Garnering buy-in from those who are responsible for keeping the soul of the organization not just alive but thriving is paramount. What you are creating with the acquisition carries both the legacy of what it was and what it could become with the proper nurturing. Strike the balance.