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The L&D Lever to Improve M&A Results

Lost in the commotion of keeping the newly formed company moving forward during a merger or acquisition is the impact on Learning and Development. L&D is often left waiting for a number of upstream decisions to be made before bringing together leaders from both companies, and delivering the most impactful training. In the current flurry of M&A activity, that may be slowing the pace to results.

Mergers are a major C-suite growth lever again, so strong implementation is an important leadership skill. Between the final touches being put on the $67B Dell-EMC acquisition and Abbott announcing its second multi-billion dollar acquisition in 2016, it is safe to say that the merger and acquisition market is strong. In fact, according to Ernst & Young’s April 2016 Global Capital Confidence Barometer, 50% of the CEOs surveyed expected their company to pursue an acquisition this year, up significantly from the 41% average over the last six years, and 25% just 42 months ago.

Once these acquisitions close, the real work begins. Leaders and consultants work to combine strategy, identify redundant resources, combine shared services and systems, and much more. Yet keeping L&D waiting is a missed opportunity. Mergers demand that leaders up their game: they have to motivate and deliver results through ambiguity; they have to balance their own emotional journey with supporting their team; they have to do their day jobs while taking on enormous interim roles in driving execution. How leaders lean into that challenge can make an enormous difference in the success of the deal.

Amid all their work, leaders and their actions create the combined culture. We know that, regardless of the intent, the combined culture and style of the future organization will not be 100% of either precedent company, but rather a combination of both. Leaders of this combined culture need to align their thinking, share expectations and experiences, and educate their teams about the new business and how it will work. L&D can be the lever to address these demands.

What type of programs should L&D put together to have the greatest impact on an acquisition?

Our experience tells us that experiential learning programs can be the most effective way to teach and develop a combined culture. A new culture is, at best, aspirational on paper. Learning about financial reporting systems via a video or e-learning does not capture the subtleties of real people making real decisions. Experiential learning programs demand that leaders work together. That simple challenge—executing a task together—helps build relationships and identify shared values more quickly and more effectively than any extensive lecture or case discussion. Experiential learning that utilizes a business simulation can bring new systems and processes to life by giving participants the opportunity to explore and understand the new culture, while identifying challenges that previously would have taken months to surface.

L&D should have a seat at the merger integration table: it can make all the difference.


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Jamie Hayman is VP of Business Development with Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.