Don’t Let Mergers and Acquisitions Kill Innovation

One of the great innovation killers in the Corporate world is the traumatic change that can come with a merger and acquisition. Through rough handling and several forms of neglect, some of the brightest would-be innovators for the transformed company can be driven out or, if they remain on board, turned from enthusiastic contributors to bitter observers.

Those who generate IP or have the best potential to do so need special attention during M&A activity. They need to be considered carefully during due diligence, but that often does not happen. If there is one well-known star who is the obvious source of an important product line, perhaps he or she will get careful attention, but a larger body of innovators easily be left out of the picture and damaged in the transition.

These problems can even happen during internal changes in the company, when perhaps one unit is moved to a different sector. In large companies especially, different business units may have different cultures, so the joining or moving of one group to another area in the company can be just as difficult for some as if they had been acquired by a strange outside group. Alienation and loss of trust can easily occur as things that were viewed as promised and commitments from the company are suddenly changed, or as appreciative management suddenly becomes newly skeptical and sometimes even hostile to the innovation efforts that were underway from a creative team.

I know of one case in one of the world’s most highly praised companies where a large team of creative, productive people fled after their unit was moved to a different group. The intent was to keep them and maintain their innovation work, but out of over several dozen talented people, only two or three chose to stay. Many left en masse after  a few weeks because they found the new environment to be hostile. This was a tragedy that set that company back significantly in a key market. Foolish and unnecessary.

How can such bleeding be reduced when there is major change? Here are some tips:

  • First, take an inventory of the creative potential of the units being affected. What kind of IP is being generated? Who are the generators? What are the incentives they have worked with? What is the innovation climate?
  • Talk with IP generators during the transition. Have a meeting aimed at understanding innovation and keeping innovation alive. Let them know they matter. This should apply to all affected people, but there needs to be a meeting worked into the routine where innovation is a special focus.
  • Form bridges between innovators in the incoming groups and innovators in the parent organization. Those connections and relationships may be the key to preserving innovation post-merger.
  • Beware of the tendency of current managers and directors to treat incoming groups with skepticism and disrespect. Monitor this carefully and tolerate no bad behavior. This involves regular communication with affected groups. Pay attention and be ready to make further changes to keep innovation alive.

There is no need to lose the hearts and minds of bright people coming into your organization. No need to turn them off and create enemies from those who should become your allies. Attention to the tenuous bonds that link employees to their employers can keep the relationship healthy and reduce the innovation fatigue that often sweeps through groups shaken by change.

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