Acquiring another company is always a significant milestone, symbolizing growth, opportunities and a brighter future. However, with this comes the critical task of integrating systems, processes and teams. Acquisitions are both exciting and challenging, and it can feel like things are moving at the speed of light as team members do their part to help get every little piece over the finish line and ensure a smooth and successful transition.
During this time, company leaders should ensure that the employee experience remains top of mind amid the changes. Unifying the cultures of two different entities is no easy feat. Still, when done thoughtfully and approached from an experience-focused mindset, it can lead to a harmonious blend of diversity, innovation and shared success.
Here are some insights and strategies that you can leverage to help ensure a winning employee integration during a company acquisition.
1. Prioritize open communication.
Employees are the heart and soul of any company. Their aspirations, desires and concerns directly impact the success of an acquisition as well as the day-to-day of regular business activities. From the outset, communicate companywide the reasons behind the acquisition, the vision for the merged entity and, most importantly, what it means for employees. An open channel for questions, regular updates and transparency can go a long way in quelling rumors and building trust.
For example, when my company recently acquired a 3-D animation studio, we were crystal clear on the “why” behind our decision. We created an internal communications kit that served as our guide for companywide messaging, focusing on critical channels for announcements, feedback, questions and concerns. This allowed all of our team members to share their thoughts and encouraged them to do so in an informal, conversational space.
2. Understand cultural differences.
Every company’s unique culture is based on its values, work ethic, traditions and interpersonal dynamics. Consider how you can recognize and respect these differences during an acquisition. Rather than trying to superimpose one culture onto another, seek to blend the things that work, and take some time to assess what may no longer be of value. This can be a great time to do a self-audit on your culture if it’s been a while since you’ve revisited it. I also recommend organizing joint team-building exercises and hosting open feedback sessions in person or via Zoom or Slack to help build a cohesive, integrated culture amid the blending of teams.
3. Leverage the strengths of both teams.
Each company brings its strengths to the table. It’s not just about assimilating the acquired company into your existing structure; it’s also about understanding and leveraging its strengths. This can mean adopting best practices, acknowledging star performers or restructuring departments to ensure maximum efficiency and output.
Having dedicated teams or team leaders oversee different integration aspects can be a game-changer. These folks, ideally composed of members from both companies, can handle everything from HR processes and IT systems to cultural integration and knowledge transfer. This can also help ease fears about layoffs and other anxieties that employees might feel during a big companywide transition.
4. Provide additional opportunities for growth.
Speaking of employee concerns, acquisitions provide an excellent opportunity to open more avenues for training and growth. By outlining clear career pathways, training opportunities and potential growth trajectories, you can help alleviate fears related to employees’ roles within the organization and provide a continued sense of purpose and direction.
On a related note, differences in compensation structures, benefits and perks can also be a point of contention. Address these proactively. Ensure a fair and transparent system is in place, and communicate any changes well in advance. If there are disparities, seek to bridge them in a manner that respects the contributions of all employees.
5. Celebrate small wins.
In the whirlwind of merging systems, processes and teams, it’s easy to forget the small wins. Celebrate milestones, acknowledge teams that are collaborating effectively and regularly highlight positive stories. This helps create a positive environment and foster a sense of belonging. Similarly, I recommend scheduling meet-and-greets early on as new employees settle in or host a welcome lunch for the new team members. This provides everyone with an opportunity to get to know each other in a casual environment and can help open the door for critical communications down the road.
In conclusion, acquisitions are as much about people as they are about numbers. When done right, integrating employees can lead to a unified employee experience greater than the sum of its parts. As business leaders, our role is not just to oversee this process but also to lead with empathy, vision and a deep respect for the individuals who make our companies truly exceptional.