“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.”
- Horace Mann
An organization’s productivity today is indelibly linked to technology. And, for technology to be effective, employees must be educated on specific uses and embrace its utility.
Training and fostering technology adoption for just one new-hire coming to the organization through normal HR channels is difficult enough. On-boarding entire teams after a merger or acquisition – especially in the swirling storm of integration uncertainty – can seem insurmountable. Newly acquired employees typically face a deluge of new HR documents, different terminology, process changes, new policies and, often, new systems they are expected to use to execute their work. Leaders need to first set their employees up for success by painting a picture of the role that technology will play in the new organization. Beyond that, it becomes a practical matter of getting employees to comfortably embrace the chosen tools.
Over the years, we’ve collected a few lessons learned about what works and can help tilt the odds of success in an organization’s favor when getting employees to adopt new systems and technology after a merger or acquisition.
Plan and Prioritize Systems and Timing
In an M&A situation, the IT team will develop a long list of data centers, applications, software, hardware, and host of other items that need to be either kept, integrated, or abandoned. When it comes to prioritizing this list, first and foremost, identify any items that are most closely tied to the expected value from the merger at large. For instance, if cost synergies are a major source of value, prioritize decisions on expensive, overlapping infrastructure like data centers or opportunities with costly licensing arrangements. If, on the other hand, revenue synergies are a major driver it might make sense to prioritize CRM integration and other related sales and marketing systems.
For example, one CIO we worked with stated a clear objective that drove IT decision making: “We need all of our customers to see one company no matter who they talk to as soon as possible.” This meant that sales and order-to-cash financial systems went to the top of the list. Additionally, he now had the ability to deflect low-priority issues that arose when managers in different departments came forward with claims of “we need these tools now!”
Teams can begin planning for integration of these priority areas even prior to the transaction close. Though regulatory requirements prevent integration prior to close, planning for integration is time well spent. (For more on this see our blog on Integration Planning: How Early is Too Early?)
Pay Attention to Technology’s Impact on Culture
Time and time again merger failures get blamed on “culture.” Failure to integrate cultures, adopt a common set of values and get people working together in teams that transcend legacy companies is hard work. Technology can play a huge role in helping to bring two cultures together. For many organizations, this will be through tools for shared communications like instant messaging or phone systems, shared calendars for scheduling, and/or security access.
While these items may not drive the measurable hard dollar savings or benefits as with other technology priorities, they can pay off in helping bring employees from the legacy organizations together more quickly. Too often we've seen unintegrated employee productivity tools and general lack of easy access solidify existing divisions between legacy companies.
Customize Training Materials
“Only give them what is relevant,” was a recent lesson learned from a significant acquisition for a publicly traded manufacturing firm. An integration manager from the recent merger oversaw the implementation of an ERP system and made sure that whatever materials that were provided to the new employees were all connected to the specific functions that they would be performing. With large organizations, it can be easy to fall into the trap of preparing one-size-fits-all training manuals, especially with an ERP system that serves many functions for many different groups; however, taking the time to personalize to the task at hand is a tremendous return on investment. In this instance, the customization paid off, as employees were exposed to training that was a bulls-eye with the actual work they were to be performing within the new system.
Additionally, when it comes to training it is important to stick to and perfect the basics. Trainers and subject matter experts have a wealth of experience, and in gaining that experience, have picked up short cuts or advanced functionality that adds to their productivity, but this knowledge will only confuse if shared at the beginning of a lesson. The basics will give a solid foundation and advanced functions can always be revisited in subsequent follow-up training sessions.
Pick and Train Ambassadors
Successful communication to the newly acquired employees will require trust and respect. While management from the acquiring company will strive to achieve this on their own merits, they can also pick members of the acquired community that are already trusted and respected and enable them to start effectively articulating messages immediately. These ambassadors can train on new systems as well as help new employees navigate the acquiring company at-large. Chosen ambassadors should be senior enough to have experience and expertise, but not too senior to be removed from day-to-day operations. We have seen ambassadors that were recruited from a variety of roles ranging from on-site managers from the acquiring company to trainers of the acquired company.
Capture Improvement Ideas as you Go
During the whirlwind of integration, management is coordinating many moving pieces to fully capture all the value that sparked the deal. As technology and training is being deployed, new discoveries will be made that should be used to reflect on legacy processes. New training methodologies or platform workflows can pop up while going through transition. Management should gather all these insights, constantly using the integration as an opportunity to learn. Once the integration has been announced as complete, management can go back through the insights and decide if any should be put to work to further optimize on-going operations.
Management is constantly looking for ways to give their company an edge. The integration process in mergers and acquisitions is no different. By being prepared with a technology plan and supported by an ambassador model, management gives itself a better shot at a successful acquisition.