Organizational Design and Talent Planning are Key to M&A Success

Organizational Design and Talent Planning are Key to M&A Success
Mergers and Acquisitions

07 of 11

This insight is part 07 of 11 in this Collection.

May 4, 2023 18 mins

Organizational Design and Talent Planning are Key to M&A Success

Organizational Design and Talent Planning is Key to Mergers and Acquisitions Success Hero Image

M&A deals are among the most challenging events a business can navigate. Effective organization design and talent planning are critical to ensure a smooth transition.

Key Takeaways
  1. A vital people-related workstream during a M&A deal is organizational design and talent planning.
  2. Since the process of assessing talent, preparing future leadership and monitoring cultural alignment is complex and time-consuming, companies should prepare early.
  3. By focusing on effective organization design and talent management, businesses can navigate the complexities of M&A and emerge as stronger, more competitive entities.

Mergers, acquisitions and divestitures are among the most challenging events for business leaders to navigate. People-related topics connected with the M&A deal need to be addressed quickly and effectively if business leaders are to avoid negative business consequences.

One of the most important ways to do so is to focus on organizational design and talent planning — including skills gaps and synergies among the combined or new workforce. Regardless of the size of the deal, planning touches all job functions, levels and geographic locations.

Companies that don’t look at how the skills and corporate culture of their own organization combine with the other company involved in the transaction risk jeopardizing the deal or its long-term success. For example, employees that perceive a lack of opportunities going forward or don’t understand the directional changes in corporate culture may eventually leave or become less productive while they adjust.

Quote icon

Preparing early and aligning with the business, such as creating a cross-functional talent management office, leads to better outcomes for designing the future state of the workforce and the talent needed to energize business results.

Craig Martin
Partner, Human Capital Solutions, Aon

3 Principles for Effective Organizational Design and Talent Planning

Organizational design and talent planning can be daunting. Putting the work into three top priorities can help.

1. Establish a Governance Framework

Having clear business roles and responsibilities for addressing various areas of organizational design and talent planning will promote clarity and help prevent duplication and mixed messaging. Determine who will be responsible for the overall process or workstream, what tools will be used to manage data, who will make decisions and how employee communication will unfold throughout the process.

2. Create a Planning Framework and Infrastructure

It is important to think through the end-to-end process and ask the following questions to develop a framework:

  • Are activities and deliverables planned and sequenced in a way that is realistic and likely to lead to success? For example, the entire process of interviewing and selecting candidates may take longer than expected.
  • How will those involved get the information needed to make decisions?
  • When does the work need to be completed? This may vary for multiple reasons. For instance, how long it takes to integrate systems or the fact that the combining companies share customers.
  • How will changes be communicated to not only impacted employees, but also the workforce as a whole?
  • What systems or processes will help facilitate and accelerate work? Leaders need current data on employees, but it is difficult to synthesize HR data with organizational and talent planning data.
3. Understand the Strategic Goals of the Deal and Relate that to Planning

The strategic imperatives driving a transaction will significantly influence the prioritization and planning approach needed. For example, combinations that necessitate higher levels of business integration will have a greater demand on planning resources.

How Business Goals Influence the Planning Process

  • How Similar are the Combining Businesses?

    If a deal combines two competitors in similar geographies, the impact on employees in certain roles — like finance — may be more significant. Potential results include shifts in responsibility or layoffs due to overlaps of capability.

  • Improved Market Access

    If the goal of the transaction is to obtain a bigger customer base by gaining access to customers or new markets, then key focus areas will be in onboarding the combined sales force and exploiting additional distribution channels and market opportunities.

  • Future Intent on Divestments

    If there is a chance that parts of merging businesses might later be divested, less integration is likely advisable to mitigate the impact of separating later. Consider the possibility of deploying employees with certain skillsets to other strategic initiatives. For example, application development teams can be used to help drive digital transformation initiatives in another part of the business.

  • Acquiring Technologies, IT Specialists or IP

    In these situations, the acquiring organization will pay special attention to retaining key roles involved in the technology or intellectual property. In addition, corporate cultural challenges might surface, especially if a larger organization is acquiring a smaller entrepreneurial company.


of companies consider culture, employee value proposition and DE&I key to a successful talent strategy

Source: Aon’s 8th Global HR Pulse Survey, January 2022

Putting the Principles into Practice

With the three key principles in mind, it’s time to begin the actual work. Here are some practical tips for advancing this part of the planning process to close a successful transaction.

General Integration Approach. It is not always possible from a time and cost perspective to begin with a blank slate when designing organizations. Companies will often adopt a “best-of-both” approach and use the top methods of each legacy organization. In addition, the acquiring corporation might operate in a very specialized structure (e.g., highly matrixed) that needs to be maintained to operate a complex, global business. In this case, the acquired entity might need to be blended into the existing matrixed structure and guidance would be given around how integration should work.

Fair Treatment of Employees. It’s human nature to select talent that you know versus looking across legacy organizations to find the best candidate for each role. However, insisting on a fair selection process is imperative. It will uphold a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, reduce risk of unconscious or conscious bias and increase the likelihood of retaining key talent that might not otherwise wait for the process to complete. Not addressing this topic properly will negatively impact employee engagement, leading to other productivity and performance issues down the road. In a worst-case scenario, high performers from the acquired company might leave if they see limited opportunities going forward.

Design for the Need — Not the Person. It is tempting to develop an organizational structure based on a leader’s strengths, capabilities and weaknesses. Design a structure that is agnostic of who will fill the role. Companies should assess the skills and leadership qualities they need to run the new organization. Without assessing this for both entities in the case of M&A, companies might miss out on the talent they need.

Talent Pools. Companies often provide guidance on who can be included in a talent pool. This might relate to the inclusion of external candidates, what happens if an employee is not selected for their existing role or level, as well as other selection scenarios where comparative decision making is not required (e.g., one incumbent/one role or outright position elimination).

Case Study: Supporting a Fortune 500 Client With a $40 Billion Acquisition

We recently worked with a Fortune 500 client to manage the full end-to-end organizational design and talent planning process of a $40 billion acquisition. Using Aon’s tool TransAction ManagerTM, along with data from numerous HR information systems, we were able to take the following actions:

  • Workforce planning to quantify headcount synergy plans
  • Use of analytics to support spans and layers optimization
  • Organizational mapping and staffing analysis
  • Talent selection, including managing over 1,500 employee pools for comparative decision-making
  • Rewards harmonization preview and cost estimate
  • Creation of offer letters and reduction in force (RIF) support

These tools and data analysis ensured a smooth and efficient completion of the transaction process, helping our primary day-to-day contact to win the Chairman’s Award for the project’s positive impact on business results. Seeing the benefits, the client asked us back for several additional projects including two other major acquisitions and a restructuring.

Making Progress During Regulatory Approval Period

Organizations tend to defer major HR decisions, such as talent planning, until the final closing of the transaction. But doing so wastes precious time. In many larger transactions, there is often a protracted period between announcement and final regulatory approval. During this timeframe, it is advisable to accelerate integration planning so that once regulatory approval is received, the business is positioned to quickly close and begin the process of integration. It is also important that the top leadership structure is put into place and employees understand the new structure.

In deals that receive a high degree of regulatory scrutiny, so-called “clean rooms” or “clean teams” may be necessary. These are separate entities, consisting of (external) advisors and/or representatives from both companies involved in the transaction. Using an external partner is a good strategy for embarking on the planning progress while avoiding the sharing of sensitive information too early in the process. Doing the analyses and preparing the integration planning during the sign-to-close period may speed up the process by months.

Focusing on these key areas for organizational design and talent planning, coupled with solutions like Aon TransAction ManagerTM, allows companies to effectively navigate the complexities of M&A. Ultimately, they will emerge as stronger, more competitive entities, significantly accelerating value creation for the deal.


employee records processed with Aon TransAction ManagerTM

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The information contained herein and the statements expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information and use sources we consider reliable, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

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