Training & Learning

Addison Group’s 3-step process to Navigate Common L&D challenges in M&A

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. 

What does acquiring four firms mean for Addison Group’s 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.”

You can never have enough expert insights! Check out our ebook to find out How L&D Can Help You Build a Strong Company Culture

Addison Group

COVID, consultants, and limited resources: the challenges of acquisition for L&D

For Elizabeth, the acquisition of these four new firms involved managing four big challenges for Addison Group’s L&D approach: 

  1. Making the most out of existing, limited L&D resources. “One of the first things we looked at was how we could best utilize our existing L&D collateral,” says Elizabeth. “We have limited resources, and they’re split across different businesses. Some are in the world of finance, and some are in the world of technology. It’s up to me to really understand each side of the business, and to celebrate the working cultures of our new firms.”
  2. Managing the time spent on training for their consultants. Another big challenge was juggling the pressures faced by Addison Group’s consultants. “Our consultants are working on demanding projects, and there’s a limit to how much time they can put into learning and development. 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.”
  3. Providing relevant content through the right learning methods. “Then, there’s the typical learning and development obstacles,” says Elizabeth. “We need to make sure we’re incorporating adult learning methods, and making sure we’re reaching our broader audience with relevant and timely content.”
  4. Dealing with COVID-related constraints. And because these other challenges weren’t enough on their own, 2020 has also thrown a few more wrenches in the gears. “With COVID, we’ve had to shift our learning content and our delivery,” says Elizabeth. “With everything 2020 has had in store, and with the process of building the business up, there’s been a lot to deal with when it comes to L&D.”

Related: How to Pivot Your L&D Strategy in Times of Crisis

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.”

Addison Group’s 3-step process to navigate the L&D challenges in M&A

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. 

Step #1: Understand the current learning approach in each company

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.”

Step #2: Look for synergies between learning needs and existing resources

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.” 

Step #3: Match L&D needs with the right content

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.

Measuring the impact of L&D after acquisition

So, how will Elizabeth know she’s been successful with these post-acquisition L&D programs? Here are her four suggested measurement techniques:

  1. Offer multiple feedback channels to measure ROI. “It’s crucial to figure out what’s working and what’s not working, and to revise as we go along,” she says. “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.”
  2. Benchmark every year. “We’ve also set benchmark surveys to figure out the extent to which people are using external resources on top of internal ones,” says Elizabeth. “From there, we’ve started to work with each team to build out plans and assessments. We’re making the initial benchmark survey an annual process, so we can track how far we’ve moved the needle over time.”
  3. Include qualitative feedback. For Elizabeth, good measurement means using a mix of qualitative discussions, too. “We use our typical end of course surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one discussions with team members, especially leadership. This way, we can understand what’s working well, and what we need to shift for the next round.” 
  4. Connect the dots between learning and performance. “For return on investment, we correlate our L&D with performance management,” says Elizabeth. “For example, we can track a learner’s abilities at the outset of our 90-day onboarding, as well as assessing their performance once they complete the program. We want to make sure they’re hitting our expected outcomes, as this helps us to know exactly what content we need to build.”

Related: 3 Data-Based Ways To Prove Training ROI (+ Free Training ROI Calculator)

“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! 

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. You can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.