During acquisition integrations, some tough decisions will probably be required for the long-term good of the company. However, some of these decisions are likely to be unpopular (controversial). Many will assume that controversial decisions are politically motivated. To address fears, or even outrage, communication and transparency are critical.
A controversial decision is one that is justified but arouses debate. It is often assumed that these are based upon a political decision to either protect or improve a position. However, the motives behind unpopular decisions may be for the greater good.
Consider this scenario:
- Before an acquisition two businesses had an overlapping network of resellers selling their products
- The integration objectives were to create a new product line that was to be sold through a merged reseller network
- The integration included reallocating markets and regions to these resellers based upon the future product line
- When the reallocation was announced, there was discontent with some of the choices made
Using this example with a political decision being the motive:
- The CEO had a special long-term relationship with one of the resellers. With the integration, it was apparent that this reseller was going to lose a lucrative market to sell to. The workstream lead wanted to protect his relationship with the CEO, so he made a political decision to allocate that market to the reseller
Let’s re-use the same example above, where there was discontent (controversy) in the announcement, but the decisions made were for the good of the business:
- The allocation of those markets was not based upon current sales capabilities, but future sales of the new products. The newly allocated markets and regions were controversial because of the way that the decisions were made
- Without communication of the context, the decisions can be seen as political when they are in fact controversial
Of course, here is the slippery slope: when is a decision for the greater good of the business, and when is it for personal gains?
Communication and Clarity
If you want success during an integration, you need employee engagement. Controversial decisions can cause huge damage by dis-engaging employees. Here are some suggestions for leadership to reduce the damage caused by controversial decisions before and during their announcement:
- Open communications
- Use open emails, group meetings and time for one-on-ones when visiting acquired offices, to give transparency into how a decision was made
- Include qualified employees (subject matter experts) from both the acquiring and acquired businesses, into the decision-making process
- This demonstrates that people of value are recognized
- Be transparent in your decision making and transparent in your integration objectives
- This establishes trust, which is a very important element to a successful integration