“Tough Love” About Acquisitions

I just read this eNewsletter today and thoroughly enjoyed it.  During all the post-acquisition/merger integrations that I’ve been through, I do so wish that I had the Chutzbah to tell it the way it is–as so well articulated in this article.

Still, so many “well intentioned” executives have taken the easy way out (or maybe its just conflict avoidance or too much on their plate) and direct you to “make them feel good” or “hands-off.”  My favorite is “make them feel like they are part of the team” which usually translates into “do what ever they what (or leave them alone) otherwise they will complain to the top boss”.  After all, the top boss said that they were acquired because “we can learn a lot from all they have done right.”  Oh please.

Yes, I’m sure that there is a lot that can learned but the sad fact is that this mantra in turned into a shield to prevent any change.  Systems or processes that prior to the acquisition were the bane of their existence are now indispensable. By the way, learning and sharing are a two-way street; aren’t they?

Well, talk about sending mixed messages and confusing the dickens out of everyone.  I never understood what management was afraid of?  Everyone quitting?  Come-on now,  get real. It is more merciful to be honest and upfront.  Most people are adults and when presented with the truth, will act appropriately.

So, why do most acquisitions/mergers go bad?  Read on ….

Tough Talk About Acquisitions
By Marshall Goldsmith

“In our fast moving economy I am often asked the question, “What advice do you have for professions in acquired companies?” The standard PR hype that goes with an acquisition sounds something like this, “We are so impressed with management and the direction of the company that we are acquiring that we have no interest in changing them. In fact, we believe that we can learn a lot from all they have done right.”

While the acquiring company may actually believe this message at the time of the acquisition – this love- fest seldom lasts beyond a few quarters.

There is one seemingly obvious fact that an amazing number of employees in acquired companies never get:


– As soon as your company is acquired forget about “us” and “them.” You are now part of “them” – the old “us” no longer exists. They can do whatever they want to do. Once you make peace with this fact, your life will be a lot easier. (If your old company’s management didn’t want to transfer ownership to the new owners, they shouldn’t have cashed the checks and deposited the money.)

– Accept the fact that you are now working for a different company. Don’t make assumptions about the future based upon your history with the old company. Realize that – as a professional – you may well be starting over. Learn what matters most to your new executives and new board.

– Look for the positives in the company that acquired yours. Face it, if you were so brilliant – and they were so stupid, how could the stupid they have acquired enough money to buy the brilliant you?

– Read the tea leaves. If it looks like you are going to have no future, because the acquisition will lead to “right-sizing” in your function, start looking for another job. Realize that the acquiring company may well have more loyalty to their previous employees than to you.

– Revisit how you are working. This acquisition may well bring resources that your previous company did not have. Consider how these resources can be leveraged to help you make a larger contribution than you have made in the past. Take advantage of these new resources to better serve your customers and stakeholders.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful to any readers in companies that have been – or are about to be – acquired.”

Originally published in Harvard Business Online, 2009.
Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. His book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,won the Harold Longman Award for best business book of 2007. Marshall invites you to visit his library (MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com) for articles and resources you can use.

What are your thoughts?


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