Things begin changing in an organization as soon as your people learn that a deal is in the works. The possibility that they might be acquired and merged causes people to think and act differently. A new set of organizational dynamics comes into play immediately. Attitudinal shifts and a new set of employee concerns can alter the corporate climate significantly.

It’s a mistake to assume that the transition period starts when the deal is closed, when the papers are finally signed. Weeks and even months can go by before the merger/acquisition is finalized. Due diligence work, regulatory approval, and the negotiation process itself can drag things out for a long time.

Problems, however, don’t wait around on management to close the deal.

So transition management should begin immediately when the deal is announced. Otherwise, you’re going to be running behind, and the bulk of your time will be spent trying to fix problems rather than prevent them. You’ll get caught in a crossfire — on one hand needing to develop your integration strategy, and on the other hand having to deal with problems that have a headstart on you.

A wait-and-see attitude puts you and the organization at a severe disadvantage. You’ll end up being reactive, instead of proactive. Rather than being effectively positioned to shape circumstances, you’ll be a victim of them.

But what if the deal falls through? What if the merger/acquisition event never materializes? Would that mean a lot of wasted effort — gearing up for nothing?

No.

The organization is jittery. Off balance. Destabilized. People are hyper-alert, maybe shaken out of their routines, and primed for change. There’s extra work to be done — you may need to settle things down, or perhaps you should seize the opportunity to make changes and torque up organizational performance.

But it’s not going to be business as usual.