Best Practices of Mergers and Acquisitions

By Staff Report

Aug. 26, 2002

This checklist of best-practices solutions provides a sampling of proven and practical approaches used by leading companies to address critical issues and challenges in the area of mergers & acquisitions. As you read the list, you may want to place a checkmark next to the best-practice solutions that you could adopt or modify to add value to your company’s unique situation.

1. Over communicate all aspects of the merger or acquisition with employees. This is a stressful time and people often need to receive information several times and by several different means before they truly “hear” it. Be creative with your communications: hold group meetings, utilize the corporate intranet, write submissions to company newsletters, and send information home.

2. Establish integration task groups made up of key individuals from each of the combining organizations. Not only are these your best and brightest choices for those actually working within the process and helping make decisions, but they will play a pivotal role in gaining buy-in from the rest of the ranks when they take informed, positive information back to their workgroups.

    3. When restaffing, evaluate and then select the best candidates for new positions. It is a mistake to assume that the best candidate will necessarily be from the acquiring firm or even the larger firm. Take time to determine who has the best fit with the new organization’s culture and goals.

    4. Begin planning integration immediately, even before due diligence has begun. Waiting to act until the close of the deal will undoubtedly be too late. When you identify a target company to acquire, develop a vision of how much integration is desired.

    5. Remember that no merger or acquisition is perfect and obstacles are inevitable. Stay focused on the outcome and if mistakes happen (and they will!), own them, be honest with employees, and move on.

    6. Make it a family affair. Do not ignore the influence family members can have on employee attitudes and readiness for a merger. Make certain to include spouses and significant others among those receiving information about the deal.

7. Pick up the pace. Moving through the deal quickly will mitigate instances where too much time allows uncertainties to brew. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some precision in the process in order to achieve critical speed of decision making.

8. Involve HR in the entire process. If HR gets involved too late, it will be playing catch up and correcting problems rather than participating in the development of a strategy that will avoid problems from the start. HR’s participation is essential at all stages of the merger or acquisition process.

    9. Retain the services of a consulting firm with a well-established background in mergers and acquisitions. Consultants provide valuable help, as well as an objective viewpoint, at all of the various stages of the process.

10. Heavily emphasize due diligence and do not hesitate to “Just say no!” Don’t forget cultural due diligence. Sometimes even the greatest integration efforts will not be able to meld two disparate organizations. Not all potential mergers are meant to be. Increase the odds for success by knowing just what you are getting into.

11. Answer “Me” questions immediately. Once employees know how their jobs, pay, benefits, and work environment are likely to be effected, they will be able to focus on their work and on their activities that will further integration.

12. Do not sacrifice core business or customer service during transition. Merger and acquisition processes are time and energy consuming.

13. Design the features of the merger or acquisition process with the cultures of the participating organizations in mind. Consider culture in all communication efforts, especially. Culture dictates how people process information and how well they adapt to changes, both sudden and planned.

14. Identify each organization’s best practices. Then, determine what from each organization should be carried forward. Do not automatically continue only the practices of the acquiring company, larger company, older company, or even the most profitable company.

15. Accept the fact that sometimes neither organization’s process, system, manager, etc., is right for the new, combined organization. Be open to developing something new to service needs strategically, since all parameters have likely changed with the merger.

16. Be certain to conduct “external” benchmarking of competitors and non-competitors, alike, to enhance your own best practices. “Raising the bar” can increase the success of transition processes and the newly combined organization.

17. Ensure that communication efforts support unification and alignment of the two cultures. The wrong messages, or even the right messages by the wrong messenger, can sabotage the best-intentioned program.

18. Include training in the list of post-merger activities. This will serve to facilitate integration and cultural alignment on top of the other, more traditional benefits of training. Training topics should include: benefits and retirement, administrative procedures and information technology, career development, corporate vision, product and services, customer make-up, and communication skills.

19. Remember that change is the only constant. Employees need help understanding the changes taking place. They also need assistance anticipating changes yet to come. Educate your workforce in the change-management process.

20. Focus attention on career opportunities. Many times concerns about the negative career impacts of a merger overshadow the many great opportunities it presents. Get information out there about career growth, training, and advancement opportunities.

21. Be willing to listen to employees. It is normal, and even productive, for a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty to surface for employees during the process. Face it, discuss it, and be honest with your advice. Keep business as usual as much as possible for the sake of reassurance and be sure to offer praise and positive feedback wherever warranted.

22. Present clear opportunities for employees to participate in the process and be rewarded for the success of the new business. This will serve a dual purpose: to motivate employees and to encourage their “ownership” of corporate growth.

    23. Keep managers and HR representatives abreast of all information. These are the people to whom employees, in general, will turn when they have questions. If buy-in is secured from these individuals, they will be able to positively represent issues when asked.

SOURCE: Reprinted with permission from “Best Practices in Mergers and Acquisitions,” Watson Wyatt Data Services. For more information, visit or call 201/843-1177.

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