Though every business will go through changes as it evolves, being acquired by a business is perhaps the one that can be the most stressful for its employees. There can be much uncertainty for a company that is acquired. If not handled properly, the buyer can lose some of their people (along with their customer relationships, institutional knowledge, etc.) that made the company successful. Managing the change positively during this tumultuous time can reduce a mass exodus after a sale is completed.
Key employees may be worried about whether their jobs will be intact after an acquisition. Perhaps they feel their role won't be needed, or the buyer will want to use their people to perform their functions. At the same time, the buyer may be worried that these key employees will leave. Leaders and other influencers within organizations set the tone for a company's culture, innovation, and strategic initiatives. Losing them reduces the value of the company they are acquiring.
One key to reducing uncertainty for the acquired company’s employees is first to create readiness for change. People will resist change unless they are ready for it. On the other hand, when they are open to change, employees are more likely to accept everything that comes with it. These employees will be an essential part of the transitional period after the acquisition. Getting their buy-in will pave the way for creating a stronger company in the future.
In their book Developing Management Skills, Whetten and Cameron suggest four ways to create readiness when leading positive change:
Benchmark best practice and compare current performance to the highest performance
Within the context of an acquisition, it's possible (likely even) that each of the involved organizations can perform certain functions better than the other. This may be one of the catalysts behind the acquisition. In that respect, synergies can be experienced when buyers and sellers learn each other’s best practices and implement improvements. Improvements can mean doing things better, faster and/or cheaper.
Institute symbolic events to signal the positive change
Symbolism can have a significant impact. The authors indicate that to be "successful in leading positive change, you must signal the end of the old way of doing things and the beginning of a new way of doing things." This can be accomplished in a variety of ways and can be elaborate or more reserved.
Create a new language that illustrates the positive change
Changing the way people talk about the change that is occurring is vital. If negativity abounds, positivity must replace that language. Taking the time to reframe things with a positive outlook can impact how employees view change.
People are typically against change because of the unknown. Finding common ground and having people participate in the change helps. Converting resistors is especially important because they have a way of influencing the rest of the team. Proactively identify the employees most likely to undermine the change and help them get on board first. They will, in turn, help persuade other employees.
Helping people understand the importance/urgency of the change that is happening through the acquisition will increase the likelihood they will stay and help ensure a smoother transition of ownership. The key is conveying that the company's employees are an essential part of the company's success going forward and preparing them for the change they will experience.
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