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Avoid The Pitfalls Of Acquisition With Change Management

A strategic change management process is critical if you want to seamlessly acquire and transition a new organization. Change is not only difficult for employees and leaders alike, but it can be complicated to facilitate and you need a clear direction to be successful. 

A well-defined change management process ensures that you’re taking all the necessary steps to mitigate the pitfalls, like communicating effectively, leading with empathy, and empowering employees to be part of the process. 

From our own personal experience when we parted ways with Stanton Chase International earlier this year to become Comhar Partners, we needed to inform all of our candidates and clients. This required us to become personally familiar with the change management process and how we could best manage the change experience from their perspective. As you embark on change within your organization, consider these three phases of change management and how you can implement them within your company.

Phase 1: Preparation and Strategy

Before you can make any changes to the company, you need to have a strategy in place. This is a critical piece of  your change management process because it will guide the rest of the experience, for both you and the people who currently work there. This starts with setting a foundation for the change and then developing a plan for making it happen.

Determine Your Why

This is the first step in preparing for change. Without a “why,” you’re moving into a potentially resource-heavy and stressful experience with little motivation for sticking it out when the going gets tough. Not to mention, your “why” makes it easier for employees to understand why the potential discomfort of change is both important and worth dealing with. 

For us, we had many strong reasons for becoming Comhar Partners:

  • We have differentiated ourselves in the retained recruiting space as collaborative, flexible and transparent. We, as Comhar Partners, have all of the capabilities of the larger firms while being far more nimble in the marketplace. We also wanted to remain entrepreneurial with our service offerings, which now include Executive Search, Talent Advisory Services and a new offering called Professional Recruiting.

  • Our change was driven by clients wanting something different from their talent management partners. We recognize that technology and process improvement are the main drivers of this innovation. In its essence, we are now able to provide our clients the customized solutions, specialized experience, and individualized service they are seeking from recruiting consultants. 

Get Clear on the What

What does change actually look like for this business? And what role will you and your team be playing in the process? Perhaps you know you want to digitize the company’s offerings or implement a streamlined customer experience process, but that’s not enough to get to the finish line. Your change management process needs to have a clear “what.”

As such, your “what” is ultimately the outcome and defining this is the first step to creating a roadmap that will guide the entire organization. It also ensures that you have clear metrics of success—when you know “what” the final outcome looks like, you’ll know when you’ve reached that finish line. 

For Comhar Partners, one of our “whats” was to launch in multiple markets nationwide, including San Francisco and Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, and New York. We wanted to have boots on the ground in all places where our team could represent. It’s important for us to be present with clients, and this allows us to do exactly that. We knew that was accomplished when we were up and running in all of those cities.

Create Your Roadmap

This is the most important piece of the change management process—without a clear plan, the process is bound to go off the tracks. You’re new to this company. Employees don’t know. Make it clear for you, and everyone else, exactly what this experience will look like with step-by-step documentation of how and when the changes will occur. 

Depending on the size and depth of the change, you may need one roadmap for the company as a whole, along with some guiding plans for each team and what’s expected of them. At Comhar, we needed to have a roadmap for our employees, for our customers and clients, and  candidates and prospects that we were working with throughout the change. We needed new processes and methodology and we needed to reflect the new firm. Collaborative, entrepreneurial, more nimble.

Recruit Change Management Allies

The hardest part of the change management process is managing the emotional side of the experience. Employees can get frustrated about what’s required of them, or scared of being let go in the process. This is especially exacerbated when they’ve been newly acquired.

As a result, Deloitte explains: “….employees often lose trust in their organizations and feel betrayed by leadership. Consequently, in an attempt to regain control over individual job situations, many employees begin to contemplate ‘jumping ship’ as a merger or acquisition is implemented.”

However, you want to keep employees on during this time of change to maintain business continuity and avoid the financial cost of losing employees. That’s where change management allies, also referred to as Change Champions, come into play. These are employees who are already influential within your workplace and can help generate support for the change. Keep in mind that this may not be someone in a leadership role. 

Mark Murphy, Founder of LeadershipIQ, says: “I’ve seen Fortune 500 companies where the person who wields the most power is somebody down in engineering, or over in the bookkeeping department. They are the people towards whom others gravitate when there are questions or fears. They bring comfort through sharing their wisdom, their opinions hold weight, and their words get passed around.”

To find your change management allies, Murphy explains: “When I go in to help an organization through a big change management effort I’ll often look for the Champions in the folks who get the most emails, who respond back to those emails, and who others go to for advice. Often this can be as easy as asking your employees ‘Who do you turn to when you need advice?’”

For us, the impetus for change was our two founding partners, but not without significant input from our team—we had champions in every employee because we not only focus on collaboration with our clients, but we value collaboration within our own firm. In addition, the entire team shared the same desire to disrupt, both in what we were shifting toward and how we could separate ourselves from others in the industry. We were lucky to be moving through these changes with a small team, all of whom were excited and ready to be a part of the experience.

Organize Resources and Training

One of the most important aspects for effectively moving through change is making sure the team is ready to implement and act, which means you need to first provide them with the resources and tools necessary to do so. 

According to SmartSheet’s guide for change management, “As part of the planning process, resource identification and funding are crucial elements. These can include infrastructure, equipment, and software systems. Also consider the tools needed for re-education, retraining, and rethinking priorities and practices.”

As you consider this piece of the change management process, look at two main areas of focus and what falls within them:

Tools & Training:

  • Which tools will you need
  • What does training look like?
  • Where do budgets need to shift and change to make room for these costs?
  • When will trainings happen?
  • How will you implement new processes with these tools?

Resources:

  • Messaging guides for employees
  • Messaging for new branding, if needed
  • Planning documents and timelines
  • Updated sales materials

Use these lists as a starting point to build upon. There will be tools and resource needs specific to your business and you don’t want to overlook that. Successful change management requires a clear plan so you can implement successfully.

Phase 2: Tactical Implementation

After the planning, it’s time to implement the roadmap and start moving through the changes. While seemingly straight-forward, it’s important to keep a few key pieces in mind. 

Execute the Strategy You Created

You created a strategy for a reason, so now is the time to implement it and stick with the steps you’ve already outlined. This your framework and it’s necessary for successful implementation because it allows you to track progress according to the metrics and goals you’ve set. It also ensures everyone is on the same page; when you veer from the strategy, everyone else gets thrown off. The strategy ensures consistency, which is crucial to see your changes through to completion.

Create a Streamlined Workflow for Collaboration

Now, more than ever, you need to streamline the tactical experience to allow for collaboration. You’ll hit roadblocks, and when that happens, your leadership team needs to be able to collaborate and find solutions quickly and with ease.

Collaboration like this is so important to us at Comhar Partners, especially as we are moving through this transition as a new organization. It defines who we are in transition and who we’ll continue to be as a firm, but to be effective, we know it requires a streamlined workflow.

Continuously Communicate

Everyone is working hard. Employees are learning new skills. Leaders are pushing up against deadlines and keeping their teams motivated. Make sure your front lines are up-to-date with how the process is going and where their efforts are making a difference.

If you don’t, you risk letting employees fall into a state of “change fatigue.” Tim Eisenhauer, President and Co-Founder or Axero Solutions, explains: “Change fatigue runs rampant in many organizations today, and change management programs often fail to connect to affected employees on an emotional level. This leaves employees feeling like ‘change’ isn’t a very positive thing.”

Communication is crucial to managing change fatigue because, as Eisenhauer points, change is an emotional journey for many employees. This journey often follows the Change Curve, a theory developed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The curve looks like this: 

Communicating from the Denial Phase, with your Change Allies, through to the Commitment Phase, when they’re starting to grow tired of the process, will be crucial to keeping them engaged and empowered to do the work. What’s more, successful communication increases your chances of success: 

“At companies where senior managers communicate openly and across the organization about the transformation’s progress, respondents are 8.0 times as likely to report a successful transformation as those who say this communication doesn’t happen,” according to a McKinsey  report.

Assess Talent

Now is a great time to be assessing talent. With all hands on deck, you can get a clear picture of how teams work, who stands out, who’s falling behind. This will indicate where staff changes are needed, based on new company dynamics, needs and culture. 

It’s critical that firms take this part seriously, with a team of leaders who can drive and direct the formal assessment. If needed, this is a good time to bring on outside experts, like Comhar Partners, who do leadership assessments every day. Don’t underestimate the value of also integrating assessment tools, like Myers-Briggs or Hogan, to compliment the assessment process. The more information and data points you have, the more informed your talent assessments will be, the more successful the new business will be.

Phase 3: Planning, Sharing and Cementing

The major changes have been made and it’s time to share about the updates, review what you’ve done, and start refining, if needed. The end is just as important as the beginning, if not more so, because this is your chance to ensure the company has successfully adapted to the changes. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead at what’s next. 

Make Plans for Continual Improvement

The same McKinsey report found that 40 percent of respondents wished they had spent more time thinking about how their organizations would continue to improve because this keeps you from backsliding into old processes. In fact, the likelihood of success improves when you make this an important part of your change management process.

This means now is the time to focus on building change into the new company culture. When employees are comfortable with change, and come to expect it, they change management process becomes easier and more fluid. As we look ahead, our entire team is excited about how  the company will continue to evolve because we have the opportunity to provide our clients the customized solutions, specialized experience, and individualized service they’re seeking from recruiting consultants—and we can continually improve and update our offerings based on the changing recruiting landscape and what our clients and customers want.

Cement the Changes in Place

This part of your change management process is all about complete adoption, company-wide. If employees aren’t yet on board with new processes, leadership, software or company needs, this is the time to address those issues, fill the gaps, and move forward as a unified organization. Separating existing talent and replacing them with new people with fresh perspectives is an opportunity to top grade with new and better people.

A key element of fully adopting the change is getting everyone aligned on new or updated mission statement, along with company values. “High-performance organizations are linked to being mission-driven companies. Mission statements must reflect commitment to higher social good for the community they serve, both local and global. Authenticity and transparency build trust,” explains William Craig, Founder and President of WebFX.

This was important for us as we shifted into a new organization. The Comhar mission statement is to provide recruiting expertise in deep partnership with the client and the purpose serves as the driving force behind how we serve our customers and clients. 

Prepare Your Announcement Materials

Now it’s time to announce these changes to current clients and customers. This messaging doesn’t need to be extensive to be effective. Our announcement email was simple, and we recommend you follow the same outline:

  • Specify the changes, when they’ll go into effect, and whether or not anyone will be affected by the changes. 
  • Explain your “why” and “what” to provide clarity on the changes. 
  • Offer a way to get in touch with questions or concerns. 

This announcement should come from the CEO or managing director, which shows that you care about what your clients think. You can then direct questions or concerns to their various representatives within the company as necessary. 

Note that you likely also need a plan for messaging via social media. This messaging should be brief and can link to an announcement or press release. You can even use video to create a direct connection from your CEO to your audience of followers, customers and clients.

Design an Effective Change Management Process

We are passionate about the importance of change in business but we also know there are many pitfalls that can present themselves along the way. Don’t underestimate the power of a change management process that communicates, leads and empowers as you lead a company through the potentially unsteady waters of acquisition. When done right, you’ll drive excitement and productivity, making the experience positive and successful for everyone.

It might seem odd that an executive recruiter be the author of an article on Change Management but given our own personal journey of change and the awareness that many of our clients in industries like Private Equity, Financial Services, Healthcare and Technology are going through  rapid change and disruption too. We thought it would be useful to share.

J. James O’Malley is a founder and managing director with Comhar Partners, focusing on developing solutions for clients that successfully align their leadership with changing business needs.. For over 30 years, Jim has leveraged his passion for executive search, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics, and talent advisory services to solve a variety of talent acquisition challenges for his clients. He can be reached at: jomalley@comharpartners.com