Managing the emotional journey of M&As

Jerome Parisse-Brassens

Are you aware of the emotional journey that people go through during a merger or an acquisition process? This journey is the same for all organisations and all levels.

Mergers and acquisitions are a little like an arranged marriage. The bride and the groom have to learn to know each other and hopefully, over time, will like each other enough for the marriage to be successful. After a few months both parties are left with the reality of having to make a life together. It is their ability to understand and work with each other’s values and beliefs that will make the real difference. Understanding and aligning values enable strong partnerships to develop. The same is true when two cultures merge with each other.

The emotional journey usually starts in ignorance: “My way is the only way”. Over time, it will move from ignorance to arrogance (“My way is the best way”), and if things go well, to respect (“You have a good way too”) and curiosity (“Let me learn”). In the best-case scenario, the journey ends in full collaboration (“Let’s build our way together”).

What does this mean? First, that you cannot ignore this journey. The best way to deal with it and speed up the move towards collaboration is to make people, especially leaders, aware of it. Once they understand the emotions they and everyone else will experience, they will be able to accept their feelings and move on quicker. The challenge for leaders is to find a way to focus on culture whilst simultaneously dealing with their own personal feelings, and those of others, about the merger. Managing emotions is one of the key roles of leaders in the M&A process.

One thing to pay attention to is to ensure people feel personally responsible. If they don’t, blaming the other party will be common and will prevent progress from taking place. We recommend putting leadership from both parties (big or small) together as soon as possible and letting them get to know each other, like in an arranged marriage. You should let them express how they feel and see each other – the good and the bad – and why. This is about creating understanding. You can even use the framework of the emotional journey as a conversation starter.

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