As we recovered from the 2008 downturn, we saw years of high M&A activity, and then the uncertainty of the pandemic brought everything to a grinding halt.
Faced with the new future of work, leaders continue to look inward to reorganize their structures for greater efficiency and new revenue drivers. It begs the question: will the urgency of workplace transformation become the new driver of deals?
The short answer: Likely.
The need to “transform digitally, innovate new business models,” and “accelerate commercialization of the most promising technologies” was cited as an “opportunistic hotspot” in a recent M&A Leadership Council survey. You can easily see that in the tech world where giants are eyeing up start-ups, such as Amazon’s acquisition of autonomous driving start-up Zoox.
Even though deal activity is slowing down (remote due diligence being one of the many factors), 57% of respondents said they plan to move forward on M&A deals, with 49% intending to buy distressed companies. Makes sense, especially for industries like tourism that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Strategic partnerships in hospitality continue to pop up including this three-way venture deal in Nashville.
We’ve written about navigating HR and recruitment during M&A (you can find that article here), and now it’s time to dig deeper into what happens behind the scenes to bring together people, culture, and workflows.
We sat down (virtually) with two of our partners, Elaine Orler of Talent Function and Joe Stewart of Synchro Talent Technology Services, to hear about their M&A consulting experiences.
As CEO and founder of Talent Function, Elaine has been developing and implementing talent acquisition strategies and solutions since 1993. Her consulting firm helps organizations design their TA framework, drawing from her deep expertise in competitive talent strategy models, process consulting, and HR data and analytics.
CEO and founder of Synchro Talent Technology Services, Joe’s firm helps organizations maximize the effectiveness of their people, process and technology through customized solutions to bridge the gap between current state talent technology capabilities and the strategic needs of the business.
Elaine Orler: Well to start, a lot of things are declared as a merger, but they’re still an acquisition. So, for us, we’ve got to figure out what the scenario really is because it changes the way in which we approach it and changes the direction they’re going to go in. The scenario which is the hardest one to work on is when it is declared a merger but it’s really an acquisition, because you’re dealing with two different messages.
Joe Stewart: It’s almost always an acquisition. Even if it is a merger. Know where the upper hand is.
Joe: It’s an easier message to digest when leadership isn’t just leading from an office somewhere far away. They are there with the team and working directly with the users. I deploy my whole team on site to make introductions, so we don’t feel like some foreign invader. When you respect the existing culture, you make everybody feel like they’re part of the same project.
Elaine: What the business will represent as a consolidated structure is typically done within marketing and employee communications. But then there’s the recruitment brand and you need to determine how you present yourselves as a unified organization.
Joe: And this is important because culture ties into adoption.
Elaine: You present it as a chance for them to take a pause and decide if there’s a better way to do the work and if that’s the best way for the organization going forward. Every layer gets peeled back so we can discuss: What are the preferences? What are the best practices? And how do you want to present yourself going forward?
Joe: And you keep it on track with a structured plan that is not overly ambitious and with timelines that you won’t miss. Because as soon as you start missing timelines, you take dings to your credibility and the attitude really shifts. And the plan should leave some room to adapt when things are not going as expected.
Elaine: Core systems are defined at the executive level, such as the finance system and sales system. There is usually some time to operate these separately until they can make all those pieces come together. But for talent acquisition, they’re trying to quickly operate under the new brand, so we tend to see a more aggressive effort to get that consolidated as fast as possible.
Joe: We talk first from a more conceptual perspective. It’s a discussion of, ‘This our hiring process and this is how it differs from yours’ and where there may be some things missing. Then we identify whether those are actual needs or perceived needs and where those needs stand after a full-on tech integration is completed.
Elaine: In our future-state workshops, we map out the three user journeys, one of them being the candidate. If they applied at the company before, are we going to ask them to reapply? How are they going to feel about this new organization? There’s a whole lot of devil in the details on all those pieces.
Joe: I do have clients that come to me with that way of thinking and I will say that generally speaking they undo that way of thinking within 12 to 18 months when the recruiting function realizes it doesn’t have the tools it needs. Recruiting, thankfully, has enough of a voice in the organization to keep that function separate from the rest of the HR system.
Elaine: It’s also getting the folks in the room to understand that the future doesn’t mean getting to the top of the mountain right away. It means getting off our islands and getting on the mainland. Then, we see where we can go from there. So, it’s determining what’s the best platform for being on the mainland.
Elaine: It all depends. I’ve worked on timelines anywhere from 90 days to three years.
Joe: I would say the sweet spot is around 12 to 18 months with a well-thought-out plan. It’s also setting a clear expectation that this is going to be 85% to 95% right and that we have the room to make changes after 30, 60, 90 days if it’s warranted.
Joe: While these events can be stressful at times, mergers and acquisitions also provide TA with an opportunity to shine. Make the most of it!
Elaine: My advice would be to find ways to contribute and be involved. There is always a fear component to change. One of the best opportunities is to lean into change and find ways you can adapt to a new normal.
Content Strategist by trade, Christine Rochelle has over a decade of digital and content marketing experience. A self-identified writer since the age of eight, she used to enjoy wine and travel. Today she exists to serve the whims of a tiny human she helped create.