14 Warning Signals Post Acquisition

14 Warning Signals Post Acquisition

Post Acquisition Integration – Do you know the warning signs it isn’t going well?


Spirit West works on the people and strategy issues which undermine productivity. After a merger, interpersonal and cultural issues often prevent the new strategy from unfolding. We have developed a proven methodology and set of tools to teach and mentor leaders the "how to?" of leading change.

From getting buy-in for building the change management plan to working through roles and responsibilities, our job is to help leaders and managers recognize the pot holes before they fall in. We show them how to remedy the endless Catch 22 situations that arises before during and after a merger or an acquisition. We don't keep busy executives away from the office, we keep them engaged and participating in highly focused sessions on the work of integration.

Post Merger Integration – 14 Warning Signals All Executives Should Watch For

by Lorraine Rieger, Copyright © 2005 All Rights Reserved

This list of warning signals is based on direct experience with out clients. To determine whether there are warning signals, spend time observing people, listening to their stories, the words they use and the attitudes that emerge. After a few days, you should have sufficient data to assess whether the signals are present.

The following list of warning signals is in order of severity of the problem, least to most. If all that is observed is the first or second signal but none of the others, a small problem exists which can be rectified with a communications plan. If there are at least five warning signals, the problem is escalating and will affect productivity. If there are more than five warning signals present, then productivity is already a problem. The company may soon lose some of their best people who refuse to work in a polarized workplace. More than nine? The company has a toxic problem: There are many elephants in many rooms. Need help naming and clearing out the elephants? Call 206-395-3530 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1. Merger Purpose Fuzzy:

The purpose of the merger and how it relates to each employee is unclear. People can't explain it, they argue about what it is or isn't or make jokes about it. Their minds are occupied on the change and their confusion about it. How can you buy-in to something you don't understand yet? This removes 50% of your productive capacity.


When people comply, only 50% of their mental capacity, willingness and contributions are available to the company. Why? No one wants to risk jumping in 100% until they know what it means for them. How do you get willingness? Let them participate in creating their part of the future. This has huge implications for productivity and profitability. The Vision Event facilitates this process.

2. What's in it for me?

People are waiting for the parent company or their own leaders to provide contextual direction. Often what they have heard to date is just a restatement of the party-line. You keep hearing the party line but managers have yet to give it context for a department or project area.


Department leaders and teams need to work on developing their own vision based on what they do have control over.

How can you help the people on your team to find some aspect of the vision that can be made relevant and personal to them? They want to know how to be successful in the "new" and near future. Explore the topic with them. Team coaching is needed.

3. This is a Good Thing?

Leaders are so busy selling the optimism of this merged vision they can't see how it is affecting stakeholders and managers. They miss the body language, water-cooler talk, resistance and use of negative and cautionary language being used. Or if they can see the affect, they don't know how to influence proactive change. "This merger is a good thing" will not change the hearts and minds to start making it work.


Sure the merger will be good, but in the mean time, acknowledging it's difficult to change and that uncertainty about how to proceed is everyone's concern, can go a long way to helping leaders deal with employee resistance. A thing is what it is. Telling them otherwise sends resistance down deep where you can't see it.

4. Culture Clash.

There is culture clash of mannerisms. The acquired company was loose in their communication style and "shot from the hip". The acquiring company is more formal and reserved in how they work together. They see the acquired company as "rude and unprofessional". The acquired company sees their new parent as "dinosaurs stuck in analysis paralysis", afraid to make things happen. Both sides are fed up and offended. Meetings are unproductive.


This is a classic problem that has to be brought out into the open or it will fester and few synergies will ever be found. People will just "put up with each other" and eventually leave. Bridge builders must be found and cultivated to provide interpretation for both sides. Peace talks need to occur where both sides air their assumptions and make new agreements about how to talk to each other, work together and make decisions.

5. New Teams Have Poor Communication.

Leaders feel frustrated with their direct reports. Their people don’t talk. The leader sends an email to the team and gets back six different responses rather than a well thought-out unified response.


Set the boundary ? if you want a unified response, ask your new team for it. You may need to facilitate the first meeting to show them how to work collaboratively to find a unified response. Then let them select their own spokesperson on a rotating basis. Sometimes, people just don't know how to "get off their need to be right". They need a role model. So think about it, if you need to be right, does that mean I am automatically wrong for presenting another opinion or idea? Collaboration starts at the top.

6. Un-communicated Expectations.

Real planning for the future is blocked by short-term focus on immediate crises and pet projects. In the absence of planning, some over plan their parts and live in fear that the others will be too disorganized and sabotage the projects they have meticulously planned. The result? Endless disappointment and blame from un-communicated expectations.


This often means the leaders don't have a vision for their own role in the future. Their own uncertainty about their power and position in the company blocks their ability to think long-term. Each project has a hidden agenda to protect image, power and reputation. It's a difficult conversation to start but expressing your own vision to the executive may spark some inspiration.

7. Blame Creeps in.

Uncertainty about the future causes fear. Fear causes conflict. Conflict starts the cycle of blame. A culture of blame fosters a workforce and leadership team that avoids self-responsibility, originality and collaboration. This diminishes mental capacity, productivity and performance. Listen to the tone and what people say in meetings and casual conversation and you will hear the judgment, blame and conflict.


Talk about the uncertainty. If the boss and leaders acknowledge it, then everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief. Lead by example: Be transparent in your communication, stop the judgment and as leaders, take responsibility for your part in everything. Learn how to "name the elephant"? that atmosphere in the air that everyone notices but no one can talk about. One-on-One coaching teaches leaders how to listen, interpret and resolve the dynamics of conflict.

8. Us versus Them.

Listen to people's stories: People cast others in the role of a villain? the them, seeing them as malicious and uncaring. Especially the management of the acquiring company. There is a lot of finger pointing starting. People actually say "management doesn’t get it and isn’t listening'.


When people's concerns are not heard, or there is no appropriate forum for them to voice questions, ideas and problems, the boss and those in power become the bad guys. Start one-on-one and group forums. Hold them frequently. This is not your moment to defend your position or decisions. It's the time to really listen and do something with what is heard. You need good data to make decisions. Your employees own the data. The Vision Event is a good forum for planning and opening people to the possibilities instead of the negatives.

9. New Ideas Not Welcome Here.

At meetings with a mix of old and new people, new ideas are shot down first and then they and their owner are held in contempt for their failings. Since testing out new ideas are viewed as "mistakes", innovation stagnates and problems go underground.


Look to your own style first. Do you help people explore ideas or turn them down as soon as they are voiced? Talk about the issue of judging and criticizing new ways of thinking, and how you work with new initiatives with your team. How do you want to acknowledge and work with your own ideas? Are you going to grow or stick with the status quo? As a leader, you set the atmosphere through your approach.

10. Meetings Missed.

When leaders don't know how to get their people to do more than just comply, they often stop holding meetings, or meetings remain unproductive. This leaderless leadership team becomes competitive rather than collaborative in order to get back the attention of the boss.


This is evidence of a lot more going on under the surface. When leaders can't get results, they need to understand how they get in their own way. There are also many good collaboration tools to run meetings that get results. But first, leaders have to decide what they want to achieve.

11. Finding Fault Then Fixing Symptoms.

Decisions are based on solutions-minded ideas that fail to address the real needs of the organization, and the more difficult research to understand the root of the problem is skipped in favour of instantly gratifying action plans.


The first step in addressing a problem is to frame it properly. Design the frame for the positive outcome you want, not for the problem it points to. Now explore the reasons for the issue. Look further than your own team for the answers.

12. Camps Have Formed.

Teams are polarized into us versus them camps. Camps often operate under blind consensus with their ringleader. They defend their right to be right. They occupy their time with discussion, derision, and dissection of decisions after they have been made. Camps are a major warning sign that the division is lacking leadership or the leader has set up the competitive atmosphere. It's a major productivity drain which affects performance and profitability.


If camps have emerged, many of the above issues have been going on for a long time. They are a sign that people feel powerless and this is their way to gain back some sense of control to deal with their fear. There is a lot of foundation work to be done to regain trust and productivity to reunite everyone.

13. Fiefdoms Ignore Each Other.

Leadership teams demand decisions and direction, but each member of the team acts independently when they don't get what they want.


This is a symptom of lack of trust. It is not OK to speak the truth on this team. Look back at which events caused uncertainty. Ask yourself if that was when people's communication started to get blocked. Not sure what to look for? How often do your people really look each other in the eye at meetings? Not much? Too much? You've got unfinished business. Be transparent yourself. Don't blame those that acted independently, investigate why communication stopped if you want to understand how to deal with the problem.

14. No One Cares Anymore.

Some say no one else is doing their job well enough and that they are the only ones who care. The others revert to activities that are easy for them, that don't involve leadership or needing to deal with problems. Another group is trying to mediate the others or help everyone else understand the nature of their problems. The leaders avoid and self-blame and are then overcome by paralysis.


Everyone copes with change and uncertainty in their own way. Their behaviour can help you to understand how they personally perceive the change. A facilitated group discussion on the topic may clear the air.

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