Mergers and acquisitions can be a particularly challenging part of the business world. It’s a process that involves major changes for every single part of a company, from finance and HR all the way through to senior leadership.
“Human talent and leadership are at the very crux of what makes some M&As successful and others not,” Dennis C. Carey and Dayton Ogden write in The Human Side of M&A: How CEOs Leverage the Most Important Asset in Deal Making.
Not long ago, I chatted with Elizabeth Peters, L&D Director at professional services staffing agency Addison Group, about how the company’s L&D strategy has helped guide the acquisition of four new firms, and how she built a learning program to suit their new teams.
We started off by discussing some of the exciting recent developments at Addison Group - and what they mean for the company’s approach to L&D.
As the L&D Director for Addison Group’s consulting practice, Elizabeth’s responsibilities are big enough even without any acquisitions. “It’s a huge job, but an amazing job,” she says. “Especially now that we’ve started to build out our consulting practice through acquiring four new organizations.”
For Elizabeth, this acquisition process has meant some new challenges for L&D. “These new firms are focused on either technology or finance, and they’re spread all over the US. One is based in Minnesota, and there are a few branches in Texas, too. They’re growing exponentially, which is fantastic news for us, but it does give rise to some unique obstacles.”
“Fortunately for us, these are all obstacles that we’re used to in L&D.”
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For Elizabeth, the acquisition of these four new firms involved managing four big challenges for Addison Group’s L&D approach:
Fortunately, Elizabeth has developed a three-step process to meet these challenges.
“Our consultants are working on demanding projects. We have to give them the space they need to maximize their billable hours, and make sure there’s a high return on investment for their learning.”
As Elizabeth explains, building a suite of L&D programs to match the diverse needs of the four incoming firms hasn’t been easy. But, she says, it all starts with listening.
Elizabeth’s first fundamental step in building a responsive learning program was to understand the status quo in depth.
“Each one of these companies is unique, so the first thing that happened was a lot of listening,” she says. “I had to go into each group and set up one-on-one discussions across the board. I needed to establish exactly what their needs were.”
“Once I took a deeper dive, understanding what direction they were going in and how they were building their business, it was easier to figure out where the synergies were.”
Armed with a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s learning needs, Elizabeth could then look for overlaps in demand for resources.
“We have a lot of CPAs across a couple of different organizations,” she says. “We figured out that there was a broader need for a CPE (Continuing Professional Education) program for our certified CPAs. This meant we could start sharing resources, which was a huge benefit in itself, and saved us a lot of money.”
Alongside finding a home for existing resources, Elizabeth also built content from the ground up. “One of the big things we worked on this year was creating our 90-day onboarding program. That was one of the biggest solutions, and I’m incredibly proud of it.”
With these two steps in place, Elizabeth could match Addison Group’s diverse L&D needs with the right mix of content and learning approaches.
“We put everything together across different learning modules, including the HR modules and the ‘getting to know your job’ learning modules,” she says. “We have modules that go hand-in-hand with performance management, job shadowing, and leadership development.”
“We set a measurement status for each one of our programs,” she says. “We’re taking the structure of these programs and sharing them with our groups across the board. We’ve made a lot of modifications and revisions, but we’ve kept the original spirit of these programs.”
With everything in place, the final step was to measure the impact of L&D after the acquisition.
So, how will Elizabeth know she’s been successful with these post-acquisition L&D programs? Here are her four suggested measurement techniques:
“We look at a multitude of feedback channels, because not everyone is going to respond to a survey. We offer different ways for people to provide this feedback, and we want to make sure we’re getting the highest possible return on investment for every program.”
Thanks once again to Elizabeth for sharing her valuable thoughts and experiences!
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