How to Lead Through a Merger or Acquisition

Effective leadership during an acquisition can mean the difference between a great culture and mutiny


Grace Tripathy , Mon 2 May 2022
Congratulations on your firm acquiring a new company! You’ve been working towards this achievement, you have plans for change ready to implement, but what’s going to happen with your newly acquired employees?
Recently, an executive in our mastermind group acquired another firm in Toronto. The former owners of the newly acquired company were older in age and ready for retirement. 
The newly acquired company was historically making sales with ridiculously great prices (sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?). In the due diligence process, our executive learned that the technology used at the newly acquired firm could reduce his manufacturing costs by 50%. So, one of the first points of business was raising prices to normal prices in order to raise their profit. In addition to this, they hold plans to implement their technology into their current company in order to minimize their overall operating costs. 
Of course, for the firm that acquired this company, this plan looked GREAT. But, like anything else, there’s a catch. The biggest problem that managers face in an acquisition is how to effectively integrate the new team members into the new work culture.
 
Why is it important to put time and effort into integrating your newly acquired team into the new company you wish to build? 
 
Mergers and acquisitions represent an enormous operational and cultural change for employees. Culture is too often neglected. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap!
One basic problem is management’s tendency to focus mostly on changes that would help to capture a deal’s value targets (business and technology), meanwhile largely ignoring those required to maintain and enhance the company’s health… AKA, the people involved. 
And why is it so important to ensure that the people involved in these changes are being taken care of?
Easy: If you give them the support that they need, they will give you the support that you need. 
After all of the work that you’ve done, who needs a new team of employees making things harder? If you work to integrate them into your plans, they will work to integrate you into theirs as well. Remember, you’re in charge, but you need them on your side, and it will be in your best interest to begin forming these relationships as soon as possible! 
 
How can a manager effectively communicate with their newly acquired employees during an acquisition? 
A company acquisition can be a difficult and stressful time for your employees. Learn from these tips how you can help calm their concerns and guide them through the process with success.
  1. Make a plan to shape your introduction. 
 
Following an acquisition, it’s vital that a welcome message of some kind is delivered to the acquired business from the parent company. The employees of the acquired business will appreciate this gesture, and it will allow you to set an expectation for the type of relationship you will have moving forward. Consider whether or not your company is well known to the acquired employees. 
If you need to provide background information about your business and its history, now’s the time to do that. You can also let them know when additional communications can be expected.
The goal here is to acknowledge that the acquisition happened and that you care about them!
 
2. Help your employees understand what it means for them, right now. 
 
Give the employees the information they are most interested in—how it impacts them. To do that, figure out what’s new, what’s changing and what’s staying the same in the immediate future, and determine the best way to communicate this information.
To complement the larger organizational meetings and email summaries, leaders should hold face-to-face meetings with their individual teams. Here is where leaders can go into deeper dives about what the change means for their specific teams. Employees who may not have felt comfortable asking questions in a larger meeting may feel more at ease doing so in a smaller team setting.
With all change, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open after the initial announcement. As progress is made on initiatives, consider putting together quick one- or two-minute videos in which you speak to the successes made thus far and key areas of focus in the short term. Email the videos to teams, and/or host them on the company’s intranet page. These tips will allow you to create a mutual relationship with your team members. 
Leader videos and follow-up emails can contain calls to action for employees to complete surveys. Surveys can be hugely helpful in keeping a pulse on employees’ attitudes toward the change and any challenges or concerns that have come up. Employees have a different perspective than leaders, so including their feedback to continue certain initiatives and course-correct others can lead to greater success. In future communications, leaders can speak to how they’ve addressed survey feedback, which can go a long way toward maintaining employee support and engagement. At Ambition In Motion, we have created a tool called AIM Insights to help with that process.
 
3. Share your vision for the future. 
 
What is your vision for the future? 
After learning how the acquisition will directly impact them right now, employees will want to know what the future holds. You may not know exactly what the business will look like post-acquisition as many businesses need to go through an assessment period to understand if and when future changes will be made. However, be as transparent as you can. Let your stakeholders know that future changes may come down the pike and that you will provide them with regular updates. 
Figuring out the key information to communicate during an acquisition is just one step to building your acquisition communications plan. 
I’m sure you have lots of ideas. But what are the most important pieces of information you should share with your team? 
In order to effectively communicate with your team, they’re probably going to be wondering what the timeline is, what’s going to happen to them and their work routine, due diligence, and 1:1 meetings will be extremely helpful in this situation. 
After ensuring that you’ve developed your timeline, plans for the team, and the due diligence that they must complete, a 1:1 meeting with each of your new team members will help acclimate them to you and the workplace. 
A one-on-one meeting is a dedicated space on the calendar and in your mental map for open-ended and anticipated conversations between a manager and an employee. Unlike status reports or tactical meetings, the 1:1 meeting is a place for coaching, mentorship, giving context, or even venting.
The 1:1 goes beyond an open door policy and dedicates time on a regular cadence for teammates and leaders to connect and communicate.

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