Because dealers have had a wide variety of experiences when it comes to handling matters following the acquisition of another dealership, there was little if any clear-cut consensus on one “best” approach to some of the biggest and most critical issues involved. As Farm Equipment readers know: integrating one business culture into another is often more of an art than it is a science. These takeaways, which are often unique to a situation or personality driven are labeled “Decision Time Takeaways.”
In other cases, there was a general consensus about best practices that produce the best results. These are labeled “For Sure Takeaways.”
Decision Time Takeaways
Keep or Replace Store Management?
- Keep: Maintaining prior ownership and/or managers provides continuity for customers and a certain comfort level for employees at the store being acquired. As one dealer said, “A new broom sweeps clean, but the old one knows where the dirt was.”
- Replace: It’s difficult to make needed changes without a change in leadership. In some cases, previous managers will actively work against any changes implemented. Have a top manager from the acquiring organization who is capable and intimately familiar with the company culture head up the integration.
- Middle Ground: If previous ownership or top managers are kept on, don’t leave them at the acquired location. In all cases, establish an exit plan strategy ahead of time that can be exercised if dealing with the processes, procedures and perceived bureaucracy becomes too much.
Make Major Changes Quickly or Slowly?
- Quickly: Rip the bandage off. Get changes over with quickly vs. trying to transition over longer periods of time. Leave no doubt that there is new ownership and things are changing.
- Slowly: Take time to get to understand the existing culture and business processes. It takes time to get everyone involved and on the same page. Consider the impact of abrupt changes on customer perceptions.
- Middle Ground: Do more homework upfront, prior to acquisition announcement to get a solid foundation for making personnel and other business decisions. This could negate the need to make big, painful changes all at once.
For Sure Takeaways
- Discuss each employee with the previous owner to determine who should stay on and who should be let go. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. This may also reveal employees who should’ve been terminated previously.
- Give employees a week to review company policies, handbook and benefits package prior to the acquisition being completed. This will help familiarize them with your expectations, and decide if they want to continue with the re-hiring process.
- Be careful of announcing the acquisition too early. It could leave employees with a lot of questions and be a distraction.
- Create a checklist/integration plan to keep track of the tasks that must take place to bring the acquired company into your dealership. It should include everything from changing signs to training employees on your business software to changing decals on service trucks.
- Demonstrate that the change is permanent by making permanent changes, like sprucing up or remodeling an older facility.
- Assign a current employee as a point person to mentor their new colleagues and answer questions that may pop up as new employees assimilate into the new culture.
- Make the acquisition announcement to both your own employees and the acquired dealership’s employees in the same day to keep rumors to a minimum.
- Key customers of the acquired dealership should be notified almost simultaneously as employees, to let them know they’re important to you.
- Make sure employees know how to answer customer inquiries and are passing along the same message. At all costs, make sure employees are giving out accurate information.
- Get out to the customers for face-time. Communicating what the new parent company is all about, listening to their likes/dislikes and engaging them in the integration process will help ensure the don’t go elsewhere if there’s doubt or uncertainty.
- Hold formal “focus groups” with key customers ASAP. Groups shouldn’t be too big; 3-5 customers per group is best.
- A post-acquisition culture study can establish a baseline for how employee values align with the dealership’s core values.
- Dividing a growing dealership group into regions can keep oversight and communication manageable, while allowing for growth. Establish regional managers to serve as visible corporate touch points for employees and customers, who oversee operations for a 3-4 store group and report to ownership.
- Integration is a team-job, not one individual’s. Assemble a group who communicate, be accountable and work the problems down, not size them up, but having one integration manager is advised.
- The public celebration bringing together all employees and customers is more important than you might think. Don’t dismiss it as a “party planning exercise.”
- Have the newly acquired staff spend a week in an established location and vice-versa. Acquired employees will see the new operating system at work, and the established personnel will better know the paradigm of the newly acquired stores.
- Due diligence can only tell you so much. Inspect and verify, especially when it comes to processes, how they are followed, and the extent to which they are followed. The computer system may have wide variations in use.
- Don’t go it alone. Your fellow dealers, peer groups and management consultants can all help you identify common issues and how to be as prepared as possible to deal with them.