How M&A is inside

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Any announcement of a merger or acquisition includes discussions about the trends and forces influencing M&A activity, the way valuations and business structures have evolved, who might be next, and what the future holds. I would love to see a more frank conversation about what M&A actually is like from within.

As of this writing, Brinker Capital is roughly six months into the completion of its merger with Orion Advisor Solutions and we have just welcomed the entire HiddenLevers team to Orion. Mergers like ours are about bringing people together, not warehouses. We work in an industry that is rich in intellectual capital and it takes hard work, patience, and humility to find your way forward when you suddenly become part of a much larger team. I want to share what I learned along the way.

Trust doesn’t happen overnight

Even when M&A is done right, and the two companies are aligned from top to bottom, there is still a period of time when everyone feels like they are walking on eggshells. No business can create trust out of nothing. It has to be earned.

When I talk about trust, I don’t mean that the people in the merging companies actively distrust each other. You just have no context or prior relationship with your new partners. You need to learn to listen and communicate again in order to lay a foundation for trust to grow.

Where you go is not where you are and that’s fine

One of the first things you will hear in a newly merged company is a mission statement or other explanation of the shared vision. Here’s the secret: these statements show what you and your new team are going to be after when the dust has settled and everyone is walking on all cylinders again, not who you are right now.

It is important to be real about the disruption and feeling of displacement that occurs at the start of a merger. Nobody works at their best right away. Everyone needs some space to deal with change. It is perfectly right to look at a mission statement and say, “This is nowhere near where we are now.” The idea is to delineate the goal so that you can determine the right course.

COVID-19 made everything strange

I often wonder how the pandemic and remote working have changed the everyday realities of M&A. Does it take longer to establish new team relationships because there are no chats with water coolers? Even months after our merger closed, I still feel like I meet people for the first time every other day.

Life in a merging company can feel surreal with no tangible sign of change. There are no personal icebreakers, no fresh paint or new logos on the walls. Your home office is unlikely to look any different than it did before the merger.

It helps remind yourself that you are not alone. Every change in a merging company matters to someone, whether it’s a new org chart or just a new email signature. While your mission statement is a gathering point for the future, you are currently connected to the strange shared experience of M&A from the COVID-19 era. You and your new hires may have different ways to get things done, but at the end of the day you are all working towards the same goal.

Noreen D. Beaman is the president of Orion Advisor Solutions.

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