Last week I had dinner with a really sharp 30-something project manager who had joined his company via acquisition just less than a year ago. He was impressive in many ways. He had ten years of experience with regularly increasing responsibility, professional certifications, international experience including being bilingual, great “presence” and communication skills, and an even temperament. On top of that, he was a genuinely nice guy—someone you’d be happy to work with over the long-term.
He told me a story about what it was like to be “acquired” by his current company. There is no recording of the conversation so the below isn’t a transcript, but this is what I heard him say. See if it sounds familiar, as if it could have been written about someone joining your company:
[A Newly-Acquired Talented Employee:] I had been working for my old company for about seven years when I heard that we’d be acquired by my new company. They bought us for some of our technology, customers, and revenue stream, but at the announcement meeting they told us the real reason they were buying us was because we had a terrific group of seasoned experts who would provide a much needed infusion of talent into a growing company. I was happy with my old setup, but I went into the acquisition feeling optimistic.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a pretty good experience overall. I like and respect my boss. I don’t really get any time with him because he’s really busy, but he has assigned me to some pretty interesting projects and I am making my way. I’m pretty good at wandering the halls in search of answers when I don’t know what I’m doing and I think I’ve figured out the bulk of it. I haven’t really been able to find a mentor who might take a little more interest in me yet, but I’m pretty sure I will.
The other guys who came over with me thru the acquisition have been a little more frustrated than I have. A lot of them have already left. Once the word got out about the acquisition, we all got calls from recruiters asking to see our resumes and talk about jumping ship. I think we all expected to stay put, but once we arrived and got the lay of the land in the new company, these guys figured they might as well check out their options. They said, If we’re going to have to start over with no support, we might as well start over at one of the competitors.
In my 20+ years in the business of talent management and knowledge transfer, I’ve seen many acquisitions where this story has played out. A big company decides to grow through acquisition and buys a competitor with the dual aim of adding the revenue stream and bringing onboard the top-notch talent that made the purchased company attractive in the first place. Then, leaders carefully merge the buildings, the books, the systems, and the products—but, other than headcount decisions, leave the acquired people to fend for themselves. The sought-after talent soon begins to feel as though their new supervisors are not invested in them and their success.
I don’t think this happens because the executives don’t care about their acquired people. I think it happens because they don’t know how to care about their acquired people.
Acquired Employees Want to Know
You improve your retention rate of acquired talent—as well as increase their speed to productivity—by showing them that you are engaged in their success in their new roles: provide a clear vision of why they were brought in and what pathway they can expect for their future. Clarify and quickly transfer the critical job knowledge needed to excel in the merged organization.
A good knowledge transfer process will provide a framework for ensuring that every acquired employee can be assessed for their valuable expertise, introduced to the cadre of experts who will be their peers, slotted into either learning or mentoring roles as appropriate, showed which tasks are most critical to know and use on the job, and provided a clear path to success in both the near- and long-term. The field of knowledge transfer is the best choice for this work because its core focus is moving the right knowledge between the right people, fast.
There is no need to set up a knowledge transfer system if the acquired company does not have valuable expertise. But if they do, a knowledge transfer system might be your merged workforce’s most important system of all.
SUMMARY: If your company acquires talent through an acquisition, don’t fall into the trap of letting new people fend for themselves, or you risk a talent flight. Instead, show your new talent that you care about their success. Let a good knowledge transfer system quickly provide acquired employees the role clarity and critical job knowledge and skills they need to excel.