This Fast Company article, How to Survive an Acquisition and Live Profitably Ever After, reminded me of an experience I had when a company I worked for bought two fairly large competitors. It was an enormous opportunity for the business, and as the director of learning and development, I wanted to make sure the learning function contributed to the success of the newly acquired people. We thought we could accomplish this by taking the time to socialize these new people into the culture of our organization.
Perhaps culture is not the primary responsibility of the learning function. However, at a minimum, we wanted to bring our new colleagues into learning sessions and talk about our company, culture, and our products. This turned into a full scale on-boarding program and we decided to treat these people like new hires. Not that we had a magic formula, but what we did was successful. We measured that success in many ways including low employee turnover following the acquisitions, high integration of management team, and improvements in customer satisfaction and quality.
So what role does learning and development play in acquisitions? I believe there are two things the learning function should spend time addressing during and soon after an acquisition.
Treat New People Like New Hires
Newly acquired people should be treated like new hires and put through a program that helps them learn the company culture, products, and anything else related to what the acquiring company is all about. Call it indoctrination, if you want. I call it socializing new people into the organization. Treating people like new hires does not mean treating them like people who are new, don't know anything, and need to learn your way of doing things. Treating people like new hires means treating them like the people who will shape and determine the future of your organization. In other words, treat them like the most important people in the organization.
Address the Why and What to Expect Going Forward
Why the acquisition was made certainly needs to be addressed by the executive team, namely the CEO. However the learning function should reinforce this messages repeatedly throughout the on-boarding process. With all of the uncertainty that surrounds acquisitions, people need to hear about the why frequently so they understand why the acquisition is happening and to give people the time and the means to process how they fit into the new organization. If you reinforce this message, people will feel respected and will be more likely to stay and thrive in the new company. The learning function should work with company leadership to understand and deliver a clear message during training sessions.
It is almost certainly true that the last thing on people's minds is how to train and socialize newly acquired people into the new organization during and soon after an acquisition. The role of the learning leader is to insert his/herself into the conversation and craft a plan for bringing these people together to learn what they need to learn in order to be successful in the new organization.
What do you think? What role should the learning function play in acquisitions?
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.