His answer: Most of the integration has gone as expected, but there have been some surprises. Read Kautt’s latest column in Financial Planning’s September issue to learn more.
Robert Glovsky, a financial advisor at the Colony Group, based in Boston, has experienced similar challenges. He merged his prior firm, Mintz Levin Financial Advisors, with the Colony Group on July 1, 2012, and has overseen the integration process over the past 14 months.
Here is advice from both Kautt and Glovsky on how other advisors can minimize (or eliminate) bumps along the road when it comes to merging advisory companies.
1. FIND THE RIGHT CULTURAL FIT
Finding a cultural fit between merging organizations is essential. Are all the people in both organizations on board with the coming changes and extra work? It’s not business as usual — it’s better business through positive changes. “In fact, if you can’t find the right cultural fit, skip the next four steps and walk away from the deal,” Glovsky says. “Without a strong cultural fit, eventually everything else will fall apart. Inevitably, there will be bumps along the way. How they are handled will be dependent on the good will created by a strong cultural fit.”
- Create a culture of change. Read John Kotter's book: Leading Change.
- Look for individuals who resist change. Help them change their attitude.
- Continue to work on attitudes for at least two years after the merger.
Even going into the merger with positive attitudes, many staff will wonder if their jobs and pay will remain stable. Less information combined with more change creates challenges for management. “In truth, the more quickly staff adapt to new organizational configurations and systems, the better for everyone,” says Kautt.
- Develop a credible communication strategy for the merger, before, during and after the event.
- Staff will be nervous. Communicate often to reduce or eliminate worry and rumors. You can’t over communicate!
- Discuss upcoming changes often, and get feedback from everyone.
3. DESIGN A ROADMAP
Have a blueprint, roadmap or project plan before you pull the trigger. Just as advisors help clients reach their financial goals by developing a plan, the more you can plan out the merger and integration in advance — seeing where both firms want to end up — the more effectively and efficiently the firms can combine technology, culture and organizations.
- Have an integration plan in place before the merger. Make sure to include people from both firms and be patient. Deadlines are good, but not critical if the work is progressing in a positive direction.
- Develop your combined one, two and three-year goals now, not later.
- Keep everyone looking to where you want to end up, not where you are.
4. ORGANIZATION CHART
Once the integration work of the merger is done, there’s still plenty to do for the future. “Look out at least three years and create an organization chart which takes into account existing positions, positions which will be changed (possibly eliminated) and newly created positions,” Kautt recommends. Communicate this new organization to the entire staff, and let them in on your dreams. Not surprisingly, when you communicate the future in pictures, and follow it up with a solid plan, it involves everyone.
- Create an organization that supports your business goals.
- Communicate the coming organization structure to everyone.
- Create excitement and involve everyone in the coming growth. Make change fun, not scary.
5. GET HELP
You’ll probably only do this once in your life, so use professional help. A merger is complex, time-consuming, draining and fraught with legal, accounting, tax, human resource and technical details. This is not what you do for a living! Retain competent counsel in all areas. Remember a line from an old auto repair commercial: “You can pay me now, or pay me more later!”
- This is a one-time event. Use accounting, tax and legal professionals.
- Hire a consultant who does mergers and acquisitions for a living. He or she will save you time and money.
- Check your goals against what the pros tell you. If they tell you your goals won't work, they probably won't. Consider modifying them, or shutting the deal down.