‘The arrogance of acquisition’…

The Badger’s following the legal battle relating to HP’s acquisition of Autonomy in 2011 with interest. It’s providing a fascinating insight into many facets of the acquisition process and the dynamics once the spotlight moved from deal closure to integration. The Badger’s interest stems from having had some involvement integrating three or four acquisitions during his career, and one experience of being ‘acquired’.

The failure rate for acquisitions apparently sits well above 50%. That’s unsurprising given the diverse factors involved. Bringing large groups of people together with different personalities, ambitions, behaviours, cultures, working practices, and IT and financial systems across multiple offices and geographies is always risky! Doing the deal is one thing, but it’s the subsequent integration where the rubber hits the road, workforce hearts and minds are won or lost, and success or failure is determined. One point the Badger learned early in his acquisition-related experience was that people in the acquiring company always unwittingly radiate ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ which conveys that they know best! This can quickly alienate ‘acquired’ people and make the road to success bumpy.

The Badger’s first post-acquisition integration experience involved presenting to a group of ‘acquired’ business leaders on how to manage risk on their delivery contracts. The body language of those present and absence of questions suggested something had not gone down well. After the meeting ended, the Badger approached the most senior attendee for feedback and was told ‘you were trying to teach grandmothers to suck eggs and they felt like second class citizens, which they are not – they are mature and very experienced professionals’. The Badger quickly realised they were right! Talking ‘to’ them rather than communicating ‘with’ them was unwittingly arrogant and never going to win hearts and minds. The Badger adjusted his approach to be inclusive, to listen and be respectful, and everything subsequently went smoothly and successfully. The Badger learned to avoid ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ when dealing with people during integration activities post-acquisition!

Which brings us back to HP and Autonomy where the likelihood of a successful integration looks to have been low from the outset. In this case ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ mixed with post-acquisition leadership disagreements will have created a particularly challenging, polarising and uncomfortable environment for the workforce. Shame, because winning people’s hearts, minds and allegiances is central to the success of an acquisition, and it’s also people that bear the brunt when an acquisition is a failure. So, does the Badger have any view about what individuals should do in the integration post-acquisition? Yes. Watch for the ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ and call it out. What happens in response will provide an insight to the future ethos of the fully integrated company and the next career decisions you should make…

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