Wow – you just acquired another business. Whether that was a merger with a related business or an acquisition of a non-related business in order to expand your “footprint” in the business world, you are probably pretty excited. This is a defining event for you, your team, and the team you are about to inherit/incorporate into your “culture.”

It’s time to stop and take a deep breath. If you have never been involved in an M&A, you have not experienced first-hand the drama that may be coming – drama among your team, the “other team,” and even customers/clients. And make no mistake about it. Your competitors are watching too. They are looking for the potholes you may step into so that they can take advantage of your mis-steps and move in on your market share.

Getting Organized For the Task Ahead

You have a lot to do, and you really need a structured and sequenced plan to get through this transition as smoothly as possible. You need a checklist that will guide your steps. Here is that checklist, along with some additional tips.

Put Together a Transition Team (and Sub-Teams)

This is a big change for you, your team and the team that is moving in. Leadership will be necessary through every phase of integration. The team must include executives from both sides (if the companies are large enough to have multiple executives) and line managers who are “in the trenches” and can provide valuable insights.

This team should be responsible for mapping out the plan for the transition and integration of all facets of the two businesses – operations, structure, sales/marketing, HR, finances, etc.

There should be smaller sub-teams for each facet of the plan.

Are You Staying Involved?

You as you owner/CEO must be directly involved as progress moves along. You must meet with those teams to ensure that progress is occurring on the timelines that the transition team has established.

Set Up Communication Channels

There is a lot of anxiety among the “rank and file.” Remember, successful M&A’s are achieved by building relationships, and relationships are built through communication. There should be at least monthly communications, in some form, so that all employees can develop a higher comfort level. The worst thing that can happen is that people feel they are in the dark. Morale suffers; productivity suffers.

Have a Plan to “Bridge” Cultures

In addition to top-down communication, there must be cross-communication among those who share some of the same positions within their respective companies. Certainly, there can be formal meetings and discussions about strategies for “coming together.” On the other side, there should be informal and social gatherings outside of the work settings, again because relationships are key to successful M&A’s. Failure to successfully merge culture is a prime reason for failure.

What Channels are in Place to Get Employee Feedback?

Employees need to be able to voice their issues but also what they are observing as successes and challenges. This is valuable information, and there needs to be a channel for them to provide this feedback, privately if they wish, to superiors with whom they feel comfortable.

If This is an Acquisition, Establish Balance of Power Carefully

If you have purchased a company, especially one that is not related and thus will not be “merging” with your current business, you will still need to have the above steps in place. However, the balance of power must be established. You are the new CEO, and you have more power, but you need a comprehensive understanding of the business and the sector as a whole. And you need the people who are currently a part of that company’s team. Easing anxieties and developing relationships will be up to you. Start with a few at the management side and go on from there.

What are You Communicating to Customers/Clients?

Whether you have purchased a company that will not be merged with yours or you are you are initiating a full merger, there are customers and clients you do not know. You will need to develop a strategy for introducing yourself, your team, and your plans to take care of their needs just as they have always been taken care of. Be open about your vision for going forward.

It is critical to get out in front of this at the very beginning. You need to establish those relationships. The team of the merging or acquired company should be intimately involved in any communications to customers/clients. Remember, competitors are looking for those hiccups, and they may be circling customers of the merged or acquired company.

During the process of initiating the merger or acquisition, you had legal counsel. It is important that you maintain that counsel through the transition process, just to be certain that you do not miss any important legal requirements. As well, you may certainly have questions as the process continues. Keep that counsel on retainer until you are comfortable that the process is complete.

Some Additional Tips and Considerations

  1. There may be terminations as a result of a merger or acquisition. Do not hold off on these decisions when you know they are necessary. Do this quickly and check with your legal counsel.
  2. In a merger situation, think about how you will merge the two brand identities. This may be important for customers/clients you are acquiring, as well as the team coming on board. It’s possible that you will not a new name, logo, etc.
  3. Consider compensation. If there are management people you want to keep, encourage them and consider additional compensation.
  4. Consider press releases. And get a pro to craft them. You will also want to provide your spokespersons with “talking points” and training, so that there are not any conflicting messages.
  5. If you have a social media presence, and the merging company does too, think about getting right on the process of merging your platforms and audiences. You want to embrace the followers, develop relationships, and keep them engaged.
  6. Mergers of IT systems can be pretty critical. Getting those two IT teams together early on and charging them with this integration. They have the tech skills and, with some good leadership, this can get done. And do not scrimp on training of all staff in new IT systems.
  7. If you see or become aware of drama boiling up, get on it immediately. Get the players together with leaders they trust, so that the situation can be diffused and resolved. If there are one or two who are promoting the drama, you will need to consider termination – not pleasant but you have bigger goals that must be achieved.

In the end, mergers and acquisitions are exciting and have the promise of moving your business presence into great new places. At the same time, there are tough challenges and hurdles that you must approach carefully and only after serious thought. You cannot do this all on your own. You need to identify those with the skills you need, both in your current company and the company you are merging or acquiring; you need to be decisive and completely open with your communication. And you need to listen – listen to people at all levels.