Deals are done to make changes happen for a business. They can alter what a company does, who its customers are, how it creates value, who does the work and how they do it. To help facilitate a deal, the use of transaction change management across an enterprise can speed the adoption of any desired changes. The approach can also reduce any unwelcome surprises for the parties involved.
We often see integration management executives applying the same disciplines they use for “business and process harmonization” to “change adoption by people”. This often leads to problems, which can provoke comments such as:
If you’ve heard complaints like these, then it’s likely that someone who didn’t fully understand the “people factor” was in charge of your change program.
Your change leadership needs to know what it takes to get everyone — from leaders to line employees — working toward a goal. Participants should understand their roles and feel a sense of purpose and pride in the achievement of project goals.
The bottom line is that creating the right kind of change across an enterprise is all about people. It’s not just about the technical steps required (for example, to integrate a system or co-locate a new production plant). Of course, it is essential to get these steps right. However, successful transaction change management is fundamentally about how you get people to accept and adopt change. This is why people experts are best placed to deliver critical change management programs.
Change management has been around for decades. However, the laws, practices and customs surrounding deals tend to leave most traditional change management efforts just limping along.
We’ve found that there are ways to both deliver good, effective change management for deals and so reduce your people risks. We believe that the best approach is to apply all change management activities in a deal-appropriate sequence.
Normally change management calls for the up-front alignment of leadership and lots of stakeholder engagement. This is done to enhance the effectiveness of any subsequent communication and skill-building work. However, in a deal environment you can have periods of weeks (or even months) when you have limited information available, and no ability to speak to leaders. In short, few or none of the normal “early change activities” may be possible in the initial phase of a deal.
At the same time, people will be begging for information. They will be asking: Will I have a job? Will my pay and benefits change? Will our systems change? Will my team change? Such questions often require legal and other restrictions to be taken into account (e.g. on what can be said and to whom). The whole process can get so complicated that many people just give up.
The good news is that you can do effective change management for deals. All the basic ingredients that need to happen are the same, but you must expect to do them in a very different order.
You’ll probably need to forgo the traditional starting point — working with leadership and key stakeholders. It’s likely that, before you even have access to such people, you’ll need to get a range of communication messages out, in order to meet people’s needs for answers “right away”. For example, you might need to tell them: “Yes, we are selecting new systems. Yes, you’ll have a job. Yes, you’ll still have benefits.”
As you move forward, It will be important to set out basic expectations and let people know what will be happening (i.e. deliver predictability). Until you do that, most people won’t be ready to meaningfully engage.
Once you close the deal, it is vital to remember that change management is a marathon and not a sprint. Even though you’ve been communicating for weeks or even months, you’ll need to continue (or even start) building both alignment amongst leaders and engagement with key stakeholders. You and your team may be tired by this time, but strike when and where you can, and return to those activities that normally start early in the change process. Better late than never!
Here are the steps to take once a deal has been closed:
Ask yourself: In the past, what has worked well to build participative understanding among leaders? Group workshops? 1:1s? Ongoing leadership forums? Use the most effective format(s) to create shared understanding among leaders regarding key changes, impacts, roles, responsibilities and more.
Ask yourself: How best to engage in two-way dialog with key influencers in your business. Advisory groups? Change champions? Manager lunches? All are viable alternatives. Choose the approaches that work for you and use them to gather insights, feedback and reactions to your plans and ideas.
It is likely that most of what you’ve done so far has involved sharing information. Keep it up. Use any tools that have proved effective, and find a working rhythm that is good for your team. In deals, employees are endlessly hungry for information, so you will be busy. It is important that you don’t make every question or request into an emergency. Effectively cadenced communication works wonders.
Processes, tools, rules and even business cultures can all change over the course of a deal. This means that people often won’t be able to do their jobs in the way they used to. For every impact that change brings, be sure to address the question: “Do all our people know how to respond? If not, how will they learn?”
Deals are all about change. By its very nature, this creates risk (both for people and for the deal itself). As a result, traditional change management usually breaks down when you try to apply it to a deal. Our experience is that — as in all transactions — flexing with the specific demands of the deal can make change management work. Do what you can, when you can, and complete when you can. Eventually, you’ll still do all the change management activities needed (you will not be a change management failure, just because you didn’t do things in the normal sequence). Like everything to do with deals, you need to adjust to the realities you face. This is the way to help your organization adapt to change, with minimal fuss and the fewest possible surprises.