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I've been involved in many mergers and acquisitions over the course of my career – five in the past three years alone. They're all memorable, and each had its own ups and downs, but one stands out for the challenges it presented when it came to "onboarding" or integrating the acquired company's personnel into our organization.
The problem? The senior leader of the acquired company had no interest in integrating; he wanted his organization to keep operating as an independent company. The acquisition itself was smooth, but this particular senior leader had his own ways of doing things and wasn't willing to change.
After two years, we eventually had to part ways with him – we knew we'd never fully integrate the acquired company otherwise. And what I learned was that it's crucial to have a solid integration strategy in place in order to establish a strong foundation right from the start.
If an acquired organization wants to be integrated quickly and there is full management support, you'll find that the value paid can be recouped in no time – in my experience within as little as four years. But even if the team you are integrating is more resistant, you can take steps to nurture the support you need. Here is my advice for bringing a newly merged or acquired company on board as smoothly as possible to get things off on the right foot and keep them that way:
1. Start early
Begin to discuss the details of staffing and employee integration plans as soon as possible – even before the acquisition is complete. That way everyone will know what to expect and you can start to iron out any potential issues before they accelerate.
2. Keep management – but plan for succession
If at all possible, maintain consistency by keeping the existing management team in place. They know their business and their teams, and can go a long way toward ensuring a good cultural fit. But watch closely and recognize early if it isn't working out. If a leader isn't supportive, then the rest of the organization can't be integrated properly. My recommendation is to keep a close eye on things and make a call to change or terminate the leadership as soon as you can, before an obstinate leader creates a really negative situation. And make sure you establish a succession plan early, in case a key leader decides to depart or doesn't work out.
3. Assign an integration leader
Choose someone you know and trust to be responsible for overseeing integration. It won't happen all on its own. That person's job will be to identify synergies, and then develop and execute a plan for integrating the new organization. This means getting the acquired company's management on the right teams, including strategy development, sales, marketing, operations, IT, finance, corporate logos, and so on, so they are directly involved in integration decisions under the leadership of your organization's integration leader.
4. Learn from the acquired company
One of the first things I do in order to ensure a successful integration process is to facilitate transfers both ways between the acquired company and CSA Group so that lessons and ideas can be shared. I've found that the companies we acquire always bring fresh ideas, insights and ways of doing things. It's a huge advantage for us, and it helps the acquired company to become a true part of our team early on.
5. Synchronize systems, processes and values
It's important to get your systems and processes synchronized so everyone is moving in the same direction. And it's vital to start taking steps as quickly as you can to ensure everyone understands your corporate values. The sooner you can become one organization, the better.
So what happened in the situation I outlined earlier? After we let go the senior leader, we put in place a leader who had been transferred into the acquired organization. That leader effectively integrated the changes within a year, resulting in strong results and employee satisfaction.
Ash Sahi is the president and chief executive officer of CSA Group, (@CSA_Standards) an independent, not-for-profit member-based association that is a standards development, testing and certification organization.