Onboard with Care: The Art of Engaging Acquired Talent

In 2013, the volume of mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. hit one of the highest levels in recent years,  and 2014 is shaping up to be even better. Or worse, depending on your viewpoint.


No matter how you look at it, acquisition integration is a fact of life in business today. In helping our clients successfully onboard and engage incoming talent, one strategy that has proven indispensable is to apply many of the same tactics we recommend for high potential development, modified to the circumstances. Let me explain.


A key part of the due diligence during an acquisition is to identify the most valuable leaders at the acquired company and put strategies in place to retain and engage them. For top-level talent that typically involves financial incentives to remain with the company for a designated period. But “pay for play” isn’t feasible or advisable for talent at every level. What additional strategies can you deploy to retain strong performers at the top, and also two or three levels down? Is there a way to quickly integrate them into the corporate culture and flow, and accelerate their contributions to the business?


This issue arose during a recent acquisition integration project. Together with the client, we identified a group of about 30 second-level-down leaders who were critical not just to retain but fully engage.  The client wanted to accelerate their on-boarding in a way that acknowledged their perceived value to the company and helped them quickly become productive leaders in the newly integrated business.


The research is clear: one of the most effective ways to engage employees is to encourage their development. We had assessment data on these individuals that gave us a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses relative to the leadership competencies at that level. In addition, the client had data showing the key drivers of high performers who came from other businesses and were successfully integrated into the company. Thus, we could dial in the competencies that these transplants had to develop if they were to be successful in their new corporate culture.


Funneling our group of high performers into the company’s standard leadership development program wasn’t feasible since the next program was six-months off, nor would it have been tailored to the needs of this particular group. To fill the gap, we developed a specialized three-month program that utilized mentors, executive coaching, and networking opportunities to build the desired capabilities and quickly forge peer-to-peer bonds within the company.


The three-month program was voluntary and roughly 20 of the transplants signed up. Each was assigned a mentor within their area of expertise but outside their business unit. In this way, we enabled the participants to connect with others developmentally while building a network beyond their span of control. Group coaching activities and events complemented the mentoring relationships.


For “graduation,” each participant created and delivered a webinar presentation to their community of functional peers across the globe.  This public knowledge-sharing exercise gave the transplanted high-potentials a unique opportunity to gain visibility, showcase their expertise, and build their brand within the organization.


The results were pretty spectacular. The retention rate for participants was much higher than that of other transplants who did not participate. In addition, the program effectively jump-started the participants’ leadership advancement. Many quickly moved beyond their originally assigned roles to take on broader responsibilities in the newly combined organization, in some cases leap-frogging leaders of the legacy company. By applying proven high-potential development techniques in a focused and tailored way, the client was able to accelerate the integration of the business, more quickly realize the intended benefits of the acquisition, and improve the engagement and productivity of the newly acquired leaders.



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