Joanna Kingston-Davies and Mairi Probin explain how firm leaders can ensure easy integration of teams and cultures, post-merger or acquisition
No one tells you in the run-up to signing on the dotted line for a merger or acquisition that despite all that time, energy, emotion and, sometimes tears that go into it, the real hard work starts the next morning.
It is easy to get so focused on getting the deal done that looking beyond that, to the newly shaped business and the people looking to you for answers, can be hard. But the reality is, to make it a success – for you, your people, your funders and backers – you need to think about day one and beyond, and be ready to have a clear plan.
Any plan can only be delivered with, and through, your people – making sure your new team understand what has happened and what happens next is vital. This is the case whether they are merged, acquired or existing teams.
Taking the right action
A great starting point is to clarify your objectives for the merger or acquisition. A significant acquisition of ours a few years ago was principally about reversing the operations infrastructure from the acquired into the acquirer. This meant that we needed to go about things in a particular way.
In each of our mergers and/or acquisitions, a clear objective is to create the right environment for people to thrive, to be themselves, to be happy and enjoy what they do – easy to say, harder to deliver! This is crucial, as it is the tool to deliver commercial results as well as the ‘endgame’ to make a positive difference for our people, our clients and our communities.
As leaders, you need to be honest with each other about what your objectives are and what you can authentically deliver. You then build your vision around that and articulate what the newly shaped business means to its people.
Don’t feel you have to wait for the ‘right’ time; at MAPD, ‘pre-completion’ conversations cover people and communications as much as the intricacies of the transaction itself – perhaps even more so.
Making promises you can keep
An indisputable fact is that broken promises lead to broken trust, and trust is a priceless commodity. When considering what your plan and your vision is, don’t make promises you can’t keep; don’t overstate what’s possible. The temptation to turn up on day one like Father Christmas is huge, but being realistic is important, as is making promises you will keep.
At MAPD, when a transaction completes, we are clear on our messaging and engagement for the first 100 days – everything else is shaped by the outcomes of listening. We have a team ready to deliver from day one – to make sure we keep our promises, from people to client, and from data to finance.
What do we mean by ‘deliver’? A core tenet centres around delivering with people – ‘with, not to’ is a guiding principle. Again, easy to say, hard to do, as this means listening, being open, and knowing where you want to get to but not necessarily with a pre-determined plan to get there.
Involving people in changes, new ways of working and helping them understand that the ‘why’ is important. A great tip: assume nothing. Assuming people will understand what is going on, and why, comes back to bite.
So, helping people understand the ‘why’ is important but getting people excited about what that could mean for them is even more so. Most people want to feel part of something exciting; something with purpose and they want to see where they fit.
You’ve been living with this change and what you want this newly shaped business to look like for months but, don’t forget, to the people in the business, it is completely new and they played no part in creating it.
Being open, talking and listening (following the two ears, one mouth principle) is key. Being ready to hear questions and to listen to worries will lay a foundation for a positive future. Not everyone will want to talk or share their worries, so it is about creating space, creating opportunities and not expecting everyone to open up immediately.
Asking the right questions
Most mergers or acquisitions comes about because you can see the opportunities, the growth and the untapped potential.
When listening and asking questions about what the future looks like, you need to let go of the idea that you have all the answers. The good news is that you don’t need to – some of the best answers and ideas come from within, from your people who are doing the jobs, day in, day out. But it may take some time to draw them out – expecting people to trust you from day one is naive!
This links to the next two points – when helping your new teams understand your vision for the business and to understand what happens next, you need to be patient. This approach may take a little longer in the short term, but will deliver longer lasting, sustainable results. Bringing people on the journey, flushing out past experiences, negative perceptions and giving them time to ‘share and air’ will reap benefits further down the line.
Learning from the past
It is highly likely that some people will have been through this before, and will understandably expect you to mirror what they have seen in the past. So often, what they’ve seen before wasn’t good!
People need to go through the ‘share and air’ process before they will really talk to you, share their ideas or help solve problems. It is a cliché, but actions speak louder than words. With new businesses into MAPD, we communicate to our teams that we know lots of people say the right things, but let us show you that we mean what we say.
So, what kind of things do we talk to people about? A learning culture is a fundamental part of any MAPD business. However, what that looks like in each business could differ.
Ultimately, we want to create a learning culture where everyone knows that we all have things to learn, no matter how experienced we are and no matter what role we’re in.
We talk to people about their views on learning; about what development means to them. Through these conversations, we develop a learning culture together, and we evolve it together. How it is delivered can be determined from within, from the skills and experiences and passions of the people in the newly shaped business.
Let me let you into a secret: sometimes the brilliant people who will take your business to the next level may not immediately come to the fore. Perhaps no- one has identified their talents or told them how good they are; perhaps they need a confidence boost or have had a bad experience. Give people – all of them – the time and space to show themselves, to bloom and to tentatively put their hands up and show you what they can bring.
This can lay the foundations for future changes, whether in creating an outstanding client experience, using your data to unlock insights into the levers you can pull to drive efficiencies or growth, or changes to your infrastructure to realise technology benefits.
Shutting out distractions
Today’s hot topic is hybrid working, and the impact this has on how you build a culture and create a positive environment. This follows into conversations about how you integrate people in a newly formed or newly acquired business.
This may be controversial, but I think that is a smokescreen – the idea that, pre-pandemic, our offices were hotbeds of dynamic, innovative cultures is just plain wrong, in my opinion. The businesses who put in the hard yards on their culture and who had a clear view of what they wanted their businesses to feel like got it right; those who didn’t, didn’t!
The same applies to hybrid working in any business – if your guiding principles are positive and you have a clear commitment to good communication, the wellbeing of your people and creating ways to make hybrid work positively, you’ll make it work. If you don’t, you won’t.
The reality of any discussion like this is that people are looking for revolutionary ideas – that one big game-changer – but the reality is that it is as much about doing the little things, such as caring about how the accounts team will be worrying about signatories, as it is about the big flagship ideas.
So, no rocket science, but it is worth saying again – because it is so important – stick to your promises; I promise you’ll thank me later!