If the acquired workforce is to be integrated — truly merged — then the staging for this consolidation should begin well before the deal is formally closed. Problems develop rapidly when the parent firm fails to orchestrate a prompt and systematic assimilation process.

Organizations routinely suffer a loss of identity upon being acquired and with that loss comes an erosion of employee commitment. Motivation deteriorates as my people's sense of "my company" fades and blurs, making it harder for them to maintain an emotional attachment to the organization. Also, personal ties to upper-level managers or the owner may be severed as those people leave the scene, eliminating important personal loyalties that previously generated strong motivational forces. Other demotivating merger factors include stress, uncertainty, feelings of loss, and fear of change. The best antidote for these ailments is powerful onboarding.

Of course, there are some companies (the old Beatrice Foods is a good example) whose acquisition philosophy did little to destabilize or threaten corporate identity. As Beatrice bought out such firms as Samsonite, Stiffel, La Choy, and Gebhardt, most employees were never personally affected by the change in corporate ownership. Beatrice made a deliberate effort to let acquisitions keep their individuality and the same management team. Each stand-alone subsidiary continued to use its own name and company colors. There was no real integration, and the less apparent it was that the company had been bought, the better.

When an acquisition will be integrated and its current corporate identity reshaped, the parent (or surviving) firm has an obligation to bring acquired employees into the fold. This calls for comprehensive, sustained onboarding. People in the acquired firm need to develop a feeling of citizenship in the new corporate structure. They need guidance on what to expect and how to fit in. They need help in making social connections that can provide a new sense of belonging ...


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