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11 strategies for a successful merger

March 15, 2016
by David Guth and Jeff Richardson
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It’s no secret that both consolidation and growth are occurring at a rapid pace in behavioral healthcare. The dynamic has resulted in more acquisitions and mergers that create value for not only our patients, communities and investors, but also our boards and staff. 

When two entities come together in a merger, partnership or reorganization, it always just “feels” better than an acquisition. The latter can feel like a zero-sum game with a winner and loser, with one company’s will being imposed upon the other.

We know what it feels like to merge, and we think there’s a better way. It entails thoughtful collaboration with the other company rather than one assuming the role of dominant power. Here are 11 key things needed to make this new approach work.

1. Captivate your people

There’s more than enough work to go around, since so much must be accomplished in critical areas that include management, IT, culture and more. Captivate the best and most capable people to be part of the new singular goal, mission or vision. Competition for great talent is stiff in this changing environment, and having quality, engaged staff is the only way to succeed.

2. Understand the difference

In the book, “Strategic Unions: A Marriage Guide to Healthy Not-For-Profit Mergers” (Guth: January 2015), it’s pointed out that mergers of not-for-profit organizations are really mergers of governing boards. Try to retain every single board member interested and committed to the mission.

Those boards should be informed by the emerging drivers in our industry and be ready to implement a responsible plan of action. A family of closely aligned and balanced governing boards is ideal, in which mutual accountability trumps an all-powerful parent board.

3. Engage your board

This group must embrace the greater goals that lie ahead without worrying about protecting the local name or brand at the expense of serving clients. They must understand the value proposition of the merger: making services more available and efficient, and improving outcomes.

Anyone who wants to maintain the status quo shouldn’t be asked to board the bus. True, not everyone will come along for the ride, so be happy about those who do and are excited about the prospects.

4. Be honest

In a merger, you don’t put lipstick on a pig and pretend it’s something it isn’t. When conflicts and disagreements occur about company direction—and they will—have brutally honest conversations about that early on. Don’t whitewash issues around the merger and let them linger and cause problems later.

Start with the basic elements of a plan and don’t gloss over them. Build that foundation. Look each other in the eye and say, “We’re together on this.” If you don’t, the deal may not work and you’ve wasted precious time and resources.

5. Bend a little

A CEO who survives a merger is somehow in an elevated position. What’s required now is a willingness to be flexible and, if necessary, to change how the job is done.

Those you’ve worked with may have a high comfort level with you. Remember that your functionality helped get you to this point. Bring it with you to this new group of people who need your talent and expertise.

6. Accept the discord

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