Continuing Thought Leadership From Schaffer Consulting: New HBR Article Discusses How to Survive an M&A Event

Schaffer’s Harvard Business Review article – 4th in a series – shines a spotlight on the most common M&A risks and obstacles


Mergers and acquisitions are one of the most disruptive aspects of corporate strategy, but they are personally disruptive as well, according to the latest thought leadership from Schaffer Consulting. In a new article in the March-April edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled “Surviving M&A,” Schaffer’s Ron Ashkenas and his co-authors describe the post-merger integration period as highly stressful for employees, typically creating anxiety, uncertainty and tension.

“Most companies look for synergies after a merger, which often means job cuts,” said Ashkenas. “In fact, when mergers are done in the same industry, on average, about 30 percent of employees will become redundant. With the right approach however, individuals who find themselves in a post-merger environment can survive the upheaval, and even thrive. The key is to use the merger as an opportunity for growth and innovation.”

“What we’ve found is that people have a lot more control over what happens than they realize,” said Ashkenas. “The post-merger environment is dynamic and intense, and is a great opportunity to make better use of key strengths.” “In addition,” according to Ashkenas, “mergers also give employees an opportunity to suggest new ideas about how to get things done that perhaps never saw the light of day before. Post-merger integration is a great time to demonstrate that you can make an impact. And even if you don’t end up with a role in the newly merged company, you’ll be better prepared to go elsewhere.”

This is the fourth in a series of Harvard Business Review articles about post-merger integration, which has featured key insights from Schaffer consultants. The first, written in 1998, was a discussion of how GE Capital perfected the art of acquisition integration, titled “Making the Deal Real: How GE Capital Integrates Acquisitions.” In that article, Ashkenas and his co-authors noted that while nearly half of all mergers fail, GE Capital has been successful in integrating hundreds of companies – and they offered four key lessons based on that company’s success. This article was one of the first to suggest that post-merger integration could be a defined and replicable process, and that companies could get better at it over time.

In “Integration Managers: Special Leaders for Special Times,” in 2000, Schaffer consultants wrote one of the first articles ever about the role of a dedicated integration leader who would have responsibility over the post-merger process. The authors interviewed several such leaders to discover precisely how to make that role successful.

The third article in the HBR series was “The Merger Dividend.” In this article, written in 2011, the Schaffer authors showed how getting internal leaders to do the heavy lifting of post-merger integration has a benefit that companies don’t get from just bringing in outside consultants. Challenging internal people with key integration projects helps develop leadership skills and allows the newly combined entity to build an “A-team” that brings together the best talent on both sides.

Throughout the HBR series, Ashkenas and the other co-authors show how to overcome some of the more common obstacles in a merger or acquisition integration effort, and how the experience can be a positive and productive one for both the company, and its employees.

The Merger Dividend

Mergers and acquisitions present unique opportunities to develop leaders

Learn how to develop the three leadership areas that can help you maximize the growth opportunities inherent in a merger.