Change Management: The Human Side of (M&A) Crisis Management

“Never let a good crisis go to waste! Attributed to Winston Churchill upon the formation of the United Nations, it’s sentiment still resonates in today’s business world where mergers and acquisitions abound. Of the estimated trillions of dollars spent on Mergers and Acquisitions each year, conservatively 50% of these transactions fail. (1)

Does this constitute a crisis? Drawing from the word’s roots – “turning point” from the medical Latin and “decision from the Greek – arguably so. Among the various reasons for failure, the best I’ve found was in a Harvard Business Review article almost 20 years ago: “traditionally no one has ever been responsible for that process.” (2)

That was 2000. Since then, while not yet perfecting the process, organizations have become more sophisticated about handling these transactions from an operations standpoint. (And for those who have not, a plethora of comprehensive and specialist service providers have emerged to fill the gaps.) Until recently, Mergers and Acquisitions emphasis was chiefly an operational (staff, real estate and technology) rationalization. Absolutely critical to success, but no longer the sole priority, as over the past decade we’ve seen the C-Suite shift – or at least share – its focus with another key asset: talent.

So how do we manage talent in a “crisis?” According to entrepreneur and investor Maynard Webb, there are 9 things you need to do to manage crisis. As change agent, my favorite is number 7: Communicate with Everyone! (3)

Change Management – codified methodology

Communicate with everyone – a simple (common sense) concept is not easily dispatched with press releases, town halls and bulletins alone…and there’s no App for it. However, there is a codified methodology called Change Management that guides the uniting organizations throughout the transition and creates a two-way dialogue between stakeholders and implementers that helps inform the process (and improve the result.)  

And there’s so much to communicate:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • When will all this happen? Who will be taking the lead?
  • Will I have a job? If so, will my job change? Will I have to move?
  • I heard “Company A” is very formal; will we be compatible?
  • Are there opportunities for me to branch out and up?
  • And on and on and on

What’s needed is a two-way, timed-release, multi-media, communication plan, tailored to multiple audiences addressing queries like:

  • I have so many questions. Who can answer them?
  • What is my new role; what’s expected of me?
  • Will I be expected to change the way I work? If so, how?
  • How can you be sure you will you take our business needs into account?
  • How will you know you’ve succeeded?

That’s just the tactical, pragmatic part of Change Management. The more strategic part of Change Management requires a months’ to years’-long commitment to bringing colleagues along through the change journey. 

Should you hire a consultant? Surely, the questions posed above (and the thousands that  surely follow) can only be accurately addressed by the client organization. But Change Management practitioners are experts at helping with the discipline, the scope and scale of managing the delivery and engagement process, and, frankly, with the ongoing, one-on-one human interaction that is often required to successfully navigate colleagues through change. Rare is the organization that can do this alone. Even assuming the skill set, people still have “day jobs” and deliverables due to keep the organization humming.

Managing change successfully takes continuous communication, navigation, facilitation and engagement – with timely authenticity, clarity, and empathy – from the beginning to the very end of the process. If you think you can manage this alone, remember, what’s at stake: not only is a crisis/merger/transition, etc. not to be wasted, it’s a “turning point,” that can go either way. The key is to find the right partner.

See related – 10 things you should know about Change Management

(1) “Top Reasons Why M&A Deals Fail” by Shobhit Seth, Investopedia, May 2019.

(2) “Special Leaders for Special Times” by Ron Ashkenas and Suzanne Francis, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2000.

 (3) “9 Things You Need to Do When a Crisis Hits” by Maynard Webb, Inc Magazine, July 18, 2017

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