July 18, 2013
David Braun
  
Acquisition can be an attractive growth strategy for many companies: Mergers and acquisitions make it possible to reduce overhead, streamline operations, and acquire top talent. However, every acquisition also brings challenges related to workforce integration. Once executives begin putting their two entities together, they need to consider what it will take to meld their two companies into a single thriving enterprise that will improve bottom-line results. Sometimes, there may or may not already be a natural synergy between the two businesses. Sometimes there is not. Either way, bridging two workforces means identifying and integrating a variety of approaches to long-term operations and day-to-day working styles. Common ground has to be discovered, explored, built, and tested. Even with the best-matched companies, integration can still be tricky. Below are six steps to ease the way toward success and to keep employees from both companies engaged:
 
1. Move Quickly: Have a 100-Day Plan Ready to Go
Once a merger is announced, employees from both the buyer and the seller naturally expect changes to occur. Moving quickly over the first 100 days will give management the smoothest path for implementing changes. Procrastination will lead to more resistance as employees go back to business as usual. Prepare a written 100-day plan to serve as a working document for the entire team to follow. The plan should be built around two basic questions: (1) Where do we begin? And (2) what do we want the new company to look like after the first 100 days?
 
2. Quality, Not Quantity When it Comes to Communication
Communication is key to successful integration. However, communication shouldn't be measured by how much is shared but rather how well it is shared. Employees do not need dozens of meetings or bulletins but rather honest and credible messaging. If there are plans to change vacation policies, it is important to explain openly to employees why, when and how changes will be enacted — whether online, in print or through in-person announcements. While this won't eliminate all uncertainty or doubt, being direct and honest with employees will ease concerns and lessen the spread of rumors.

3. Listen to the Employees
It is important to recognize that employees may be anxious about the future. When you add the stresses and unknowns of a merger, there could be a looming crisis of morale. The best strategy to resolve this is to start listening to employees. Set up a toll-free hotline or in-house online forum for them to anonymously vent their frustrations and ask about rumors. Not only does the staff need to know what executives are thinking, but executives need to know what their employees are thinking. Creating easy-to-use “listening posts” will allow management to understand what employees are concerned about and respond quickly.
 
4. Speed Up Integration Through Secondment
Secondment involves taking a few people out of the recently acquired company and placing them in equivalent roles in the buyer’s organization and vice versa. These embedded representatives serve as interpreters. They learn about the culture of the new partner, and take their insights back to the home team. The move need not be permanent, but should last for at least six months — enough time to get everyone up to speed and make the adjustments that will realize the maximum synergies. Secondment allows each company to get a sense of what matters most to the employees on both sides of the deal. It also gives each a chance to discover hidden strengths and weaknesses in both cultures that help make the best the new acquisition.
 
5. Integrate Brands
The brand can be seen as the outward-facing aspect of the company culture and is a promise that customers and employees can depend projected by the company name, logo, and visual imagery.  Every acquisition raises the question: What shall we do with the brand? Sometimes there’s a case for keeping it, but adding the owner’s brand as a secondary element, as Proctor & Gamble does with its many soap brands. Sometimes there’s a case for using the acquisition to enhance or overhaul the brand. And sometimes there’s a case for exchanging the old brand for the owner’s brand, as happened when U.S. Airways bought America West. Make sure the branding plans are shared with the workforce fully — with all of the reasons why so all employees feel part of the new vision and are enthused about the future.
 
6. Reverse Integration
Integration needn’t be a one-way street, with only the buyers bringing their systems or culture to the newly acquired company. All industries are dynamic, with new management strategies and technologies constantly appearing on the scene.  Acquisitions should help both companies grow and move forward, embracing the strengths of each. Does one have a unique sales team structure that increased the bottom line? Does one have higher employee retention based on a strong rewards program? This needs to be discovered to incorporate the winning elements from both entities for ultimate success.

David Braun is the founder and CEO of Capstone Strategic, a management consulting firm specializing in corporate growth strategies,and author of the new book, Successful Acquisitions: A Proven Plan for Stategic Growth. He has more than 20 years of experience formulating growth strategies in a wide range of manufacturing and service industries and has completed more than $1 billion in transactions with his firm, Capstone Strategic. He can be reached at dbraun@capstonestrategic.com.