Reading between the lines of an M&A leader’s timeline

Reading between the lines of an M&A leader’s timeline

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Done right, an M&A leader’s timeline aligns everyone on what’s being done by whom when at the executive level. Mergers and acquisitions never travel in a straight line. Different leaders will need to take advantage of different playbooks in different orders in different situations, adjusting as they learn. Subtleties and nuances matter. This is why it is so important to read between the lines.

An M&A leader’s timeline is the key to moving from theoretical elegance to practical usefulness. To download the best current version of our M&A Leader Timeline tool for free, click here. Now, reading between the lines:

The first three questions about why them, the investment case, and why you, touch on your motivation, the heart of the value proposition, and their motivation. Important things to think about before tackling anything else.


Up, across and down.

SEO all stakeholders you can think of is the first step. Then go beyond the list to identify the people who influence these stakeholders behind the scenes, in the shadows.


Everyone has the same question, “And me?” As a leader, your message is the lofty concept you will use to organize all of your thoughts to help you connect with people and move them in the right direction for themselves and everyone involved. Start with an external, compelling and personal platform for change. Help them imagine themselves in a better future. Give them a way to be part of the steps towards that future according to the investment case


Due diligence, contract, initial screening of roles and pre-closing meetings.

Note the initial Sorting roles is not about making definitive organizational choices. It’s about joining the leadership team to get you through the early days.

You’ll want to have pre-closing meetings with this leadership team to help them co-create the announcement cascade and first day plans. A few reasons for this: 1) They will have different perspectives which will improve the plans. 2) Tell them what to do and the best you can get is compliance. Inviting their contributions is better; but if they co-create, they will engage.

Cascading announcements and change management

Who hears what, when, how, in advance announcement; how the announcement is made; who hears what, when, how After announcement?

  • Those emotionally affected should hear one-on-one
  • Those directly affected can hear in small groups – so that they can get their questions answered.
  • Then those who are indirectly affected can hear in the more general mass communication.

This informs who meets with whom when for the first few days.

  • Host assimilation sessions for new leaders or new owners to give people the opportunity to ask new leaders or owners the questions that come to mind – all of which tie into “What about me?”
  • Organize a learning workshop so that each group can learn about the other’s businesses and current cultural realities

Strategic imperative

Unlike a normal strategic planning workshop, this is most likely to refine, refocus and scale the investment case. Be clear about what elements of the investment case are mandatory and what tactical adjustments the team can make to meet those obligations.

Operational initiatives

These will flow from the imperative. The key here is knowing which ones to focus on first to generate early wins to give teams confidence on their way to achieving more in less time, ideally producing a stick of reverse hockey results.

Organizational evolution

Now that you have refined your strategy and launched some operational initiatives, you are ready to review the organization. Go through all the talk from the consultant, figure out what organization you’ll need in the future, then work out and implement the steps to get there.

As Orwell taught us, all animals are created equal; some are more equal than others. Identify the very few roles that will have the greatest impact and fill them with the best people possible.

Follow to the end

Don’t underestimate the importance of dashboards and tracking systems. There are always discrepancies. Create a culture where people want to share potential problems as early as possible so you can give them the help they need to adjust.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this one is #843.)

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