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M&A Lessons from Blended Families

October 21, 2014
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If you are participating in a merger or acquisition, and it’s a genuine merge or consolidation, not a raid, there are some important guidelines for “How to do a merger the right way.”    Take a look at the research on blended families and you’ll find very powerful insights into the process as you look at the parallels between the experience of children and parents in the blended family adventure as contrasted with the experience of management and staff in an “acquired” company.

Or if you don’t have time to do the research, try reading this short blog and I’ll point out some of those parallels for you in the form of 5 general recommendations.

I’m going to pull suggestions from two articles (How Step-Parents Cause Parental Alienation, & The 5 Secrets of Effective Step-Parenting) and translate them into business talk:

1. Avoid reducing the contact of children with their biological parent to avoid increasing the sense of abandonment.

  • Business Redefinition: Support the connections and access employee have with their management team, it’s a primary resource in making the transition successfully.  To the extent you can phase in management transitions and also avoid consuming so much of management’s time that they are not available to staff… you’re going to like the results.

2. Avoid comparisons that involve a sense of value of one over the other parent or introduce competition.

  • Business Redefinition: Comparisons between acquired and acquiring are inevitable, and in fact useful.  The trick in a merger is to communicate value to both, and to support changes by appeals to higher order value, not to one being better than the other.  A large % of people are not positively motivated by being told that they aren’t as good as someone or some other organization.  Remember you want to communicate and enact the value proposition that mergers are built upon strengths in both parties.

3. Avoid ignoring the non-present parent or not mentioning them in conversations.

  • Business Redefinition: Ignoring key contributors of an acquired company in conversations or plans going forward is just a mistake.  It disenfranchises relationships that have already been developed, and is an excellent way to encourage your “stars” at the acquired company to leave, as the prospects for recognition and serious contribution look meager at best.  You want to honor past relationships and structures, even if phasing them out, not suddenly axe them.

4. Avoid speaking negatively about an ex-spouse or non-present parent in front of the children, or close enough that inquisitive ears can hear.

  • Business Redefinition:  Negative cooler talk when frustrated and/or expectations not met… doesn’t stay at the cooler.  It doesn’t stay within the walls in meetings either.  In fact nothing seems to carry like negative talk.  And negative talk is like throwing gasoline on fire when it comes to creating alienation in a merger or consolidation.  Deal with frustrations and conflict positively and directly, and by all means keep the primary focus on positives and the outcomes you are working towards.  Be sure to keep what is going right clearly in focus and in front of both sides.

5. Discover strengths and interests and remember to act positive.

  • Business translation:  Mergers always involve a shift in power, which is easy to confuse with being non-valued.  One easy way to communicate value is by inquiring about the strengths and interests of others, what they do best, what they value the most, what successes they are proud of.  We communicate valuing by those types of inquiries as well as just embodying being positive, and the communication of value to both individuals and the organization is an important platform or environment out of which to form a successful merger.  But then you already knew that I’m sure.  The trick is to put it all into action.

 

Bottom Line:

The research coming out of the literature on blended families underscores a number of practical recommendations for positive outcomes in mergers, including the following suggestions as you work with the acquired organization:

  1. Support, don’t block, access of staff to management
  2. Avoid comparisons that are value loaded or further competition
  3. Avoid ignoring key contributors in planning and the decision process
  4. Avoid speaking negatively when frustrated, better to state frustration and appeal to values and desired outcome
  5. Spend the time to discover strengths and interests, and underscore everything with positive recognition.

 


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