We work extensively with business owners or successors in the process of taking over a newly acquired business. The transition can be a rough go as the key individuals and teams they inherit try to adjust to new leadership. Even a year or two in, resistance to the change can remain as the new owners fail to realize their revenue projections or operational efficiencies. How does this happen when the acquisition or transition held such great potential?
When a business is acquired by new owners, whether through a management buy-out, third party sale, family transition, or strategic buyer(s), the early days of the new leadership structure need to be managed with care. If you’re a new owner or a member of incoming leadership, how do you onboard yourselves in a way that will engage the current team and ensure alignment with your vision?
Earning and keeping the respect and trust of existing teams and leaders will be essential if this new arrangement is to deliver on its promise. Chances are changes will be made – you may decide to make some management changes, restructure roles or functions, hire new people, show others the exit. Before those decisions are made, you’ll need to truly understand how the new business operates (in the case of acquisition), and the key players who’ll support your efforts from the get-go. You’ll need everyone excited about the future and the value new ownership brings. The path to success in these early days is all about communication – the right messaging delivered meaningfully will be essential. Here are four pathways to lasting success:
Lay the Groundwork: Ideally, before the acquisition completes, you’ll have a chance to meet the team and show them why the business will thrive under your ownership or leadership. If this is a merger, bringing teams together from both entities is essential to begin the bonding process. You’ll need to understand what aspects of corporate culture must be maintained in order for everyone to embrace this new marriage. When two cultures come together, extensive dialogue should explore the points of common ground and shared values. You’ll need these touchpoints as the new reality sets in.
Show What’s In It for Them: The one channel every individual watches during any time of significant change, is WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. Will I get more responsibility and recognition? Or be asked to do more with less? Will my years of dedication to the previous owners be swept away in the face of a new corporate direction? Everyone needs to understand what’s in this for them personally before they’ll get on board and leave their skepticism behind. Failure to connect at this level will leave your integration efforts on the door step.
Anticipate Resistance and Pushback: Never underestimate the case that will be made against this change of ownership. Even if the business required a turnaround, or new technologies and markets were needed that only new owners could provide, there will be resistance and fear as people adjust to the new reality. It takes time to “try on” the possibility of an even better future, or alternatively come to the realization this isn’t an agenda one can accept, and move on to greener pastures. You’ll need to anticipate various scenarios for what may be a long transition and be prepared to communicate over and over the vision for the future and how you intend to get there.
Identify the Best Messengers: Perhaps you’re the new CEO or President, and while you’re clear on the vision, perhaps you’re not the best “public” performer. Your new CFO or Director of Sales may be the better communicator who can really connect with the team. They may offer a generational connect or have an experience base people relate to. Not that the CEO or President should ever abdicate their role as a key leadership messenger, but sometimes others on the management or executive team can make the best change agents. If they are relatable and demonstrate openness to the conversations people need, don’t hesitate to have them front and centre as you build momentum for this new chapter.
You can’t afford to be ill-prepared as you take over your shiny new enterprise or assume the reins of a venture once owned by a family founder. Everyone is watching. With a carefully phased approach to enrolling your new team and a diligent effort to communicate as much and as often as needed, your vision for the future will be given the greatest chance of success.