In small and mid-size businesses (SMBs), middle management (along with the Office Manager) are close enough to the work that is being done to recognize the capabilities and capacities of staff in dynamic, growing companies. They have the influence, if not the power, to promote best practices in solving problems. Therefore, they are well positioned to be a catalyst for the integration of an acquired business although they are rarely leveraged.
Dr J. Keith Dunbar, of Potentious has done significant research on the effect of management in M&A integration success. He found these two groups of people have the most influence upon integration success:
- Senior management in the acquiring company (buy side)
- Middle management in the acquired business (sell side)
Some might be surprised to find that the senior management of the acquired business is not a major factor in integration success. However, J. Keith’s research makes sense: in times of stress, one turns to trusted voices; team members have closer relationships with their team leader than with senior management.
So how do you leverage middle management to achieve integration success?
1. Empower your middle management
Acquiring companies should empower middle managers by increasing their authority to be a decision maker. In turn this increases the speed of the integration, frees up some of senior management’s time, and develops the middle manager’s professional skills.
When bestowing middle management with this autonomy, senior management must devote time to provide middle management deeper insight into why the acquisition took place, what the vision for the future is, and to reveal the strategy to arrive at that vision. Within this context, middle management follows precise guidelines to know when they can be the Decision Maker, and when they should defer decisions to leadership.
2. Include middle management in your Staff Retention Plan
In a small or mid-size acquisition, it is a priority to retain staff. A key part of the staff retention plan should be to involve middle management in the onboarding and staff retention processes. We discuss this in detail in our online subscription, Managing Integrations.
3. Encourage middle management to influence staff morale
It is a false assumption of staff that middle management knows more about the integration than they say. Nevertheless, staff listen to the decisions and statements they make. It is reassuring for staff when managers do not encourage or prolong water cooler discussions about the future. Middle managers are seen as examples of expected behavior.
Middle management should maintain their staff’s high morale by directing informal (water cooler) conversations to the present and future of the company. Staff will emulate the behaviors that they observe middle management model. If team leaders are industrious and go back-to-work after the announcement, other staff will do the same. Their attitude gives a clear message to those around them.
4. Communicate through this trusted voice
A successful communication strategy used in Change Management, is to pass messaging through a trusted voice. The integration communication plan should flow from senior management to middle management, to staff.
Messaging should restate what the objectives are, clarify truths and dispel rumors.
5. Provide clear chain of command
Staff members’ concerns and issues need to be heard and addressed by senior management. However, senior management rarely have the bandwidth to spend the time with staff members to hear any issues firsthand. Middle management are much more able to hear, or even foresee, staff concerns. There must be an easy way for issues to be brought up to senior management.
Middle managers are effectively on the “shop floor”, where integration activities are taking place. They are uniquely positioned to see how an acquisition integration is progressing and positively influence it through actions, directions, or communication. Involve them in the tasks and goals of the integration as deeply as you can, to improve the odds of success.
This blog was originally written in March 2016, and was updated in June 2020
Image credit: ALEXIS DOYEN