The other day, when I ran into a mid-level manager I know, he told me that the technical services firm he works for has been acquired twice in the last few years. We talked about some of the challenges of being the acquired company, including this major one: By the second acquisition, no one in power actually cares about who you are or what your real business is; by then, they’re only concerned about how much money the firm can deliver, quarter after quarter.
What frustrated my acquaintance most was the idea that the firm’s original owners did the deal without really understanding what was going to happen; then afterwards, when things had gone awry, they kept asking, plaintively, “Why are we in this situation? How did this happen to us?”
I told him that this doesn’t just happen with acquisitions. Often, the anticipated upside of a major change looks so good that it can blind decision-makers to the full range of likely outcomes and their impacts.
Are you part of a firm that’s up for acquisition — or any other drastic structural shift? To reduce the likelihood of unanticipated pain, use these eight evaluation points to help you review decisions that will bring significant change to your organization. This exercise can be applied to your entire business unit or just your team, and it can take both internal and external customers into consideration.
- How will the change affect your customers? Will it enhance or reduce what you can offer them or modify how you deliver it? Will it undermine the way customers think of you or the buying experience? Will it gain you a new group of advantageous customers? Will you lose any of your old reliables? Show your data.
- How will the effects on your customers affect your top line? And, whatever the answer, what makes you so sure about it? Show your work.
- What kind of small, everyday adjustments will it take throughout your organization to actually reach that top line? Will resource availability shift as changes are being accommodated? What if you lose employees, either because they don’t want to be there anymore or because staff reduction is part of your overall plan? What will actually happen during the transition? Will you suddenly be responsible for new people — and if you are, will they be stars or folks who slow you down?
- How will the change affect your current work teams and individual employees? Will incumbents have to take on new roles and responsibilities? Will their work locations change? If you’re inheriting staff, how will the two groups mix? What concrete, detailed plans are you making to smooth that adjustment? Will any key employees be significantly disrupted? How might their dissatisfaction affect your plans?
- What will your new needs for talent be, and can you find it and afford it? Will anything about the new combination of cultures and business plans trigger a need for new skills or capabilities? Will you no longer need individuals who’ve been around for a long time? Will you need new roles that work across the equivalent of party lines, requiring you to coordinate, facilitate, and interpret for the two groups as they integrate? What will become of existing departmental silos, and how will that affect both processes and people?
- Where will the structural change position your organization vis-à-vis your competitors — and is that a safe place? Will you be stronger because you’ll have deeper capabilities? Or weaker because your brand message will be diluted? Will you be able to cover ground you couldn’t reach before, or will you be barred from entering areas or markets that are already covered?
- What will the cultural impacts be? What about your values? Will there be any loss of esprit de corps? Will your environment have to accept different rhythms or new time horizons? Will there be different definitions and expectations regarding respect, employee diversity, and inclusion; employee and team autonomy; compensation; office layout; information systems; or communication requirements, etc.?
- How do the previous questions affect your bottom line? How much will you need to spend to make sure things go smoothly?
You may not be able to see deeply into the future, and the immediate picture might not even be clear, but by answering these questions, at least you’ll have put some energy into crucial preparation. And please keep in mind that if you don’t like the answers you’re getting, perhaps you shouldn’t go any farther.
Onward and upward,