One of my early articles was on How Kenexa CEO Rudy Karsan Is Making the Acquisition Work. The main point was about the importance of putting effective leadership in place in to engage the new employees.

That article looked at how Karsan knew that financial returns were highly correlated with employee engagement. He explained to me that their studies had shown that the total shareholder return of the 25 corporations with the highest levels of employee engagement were +18% over the last 15 years as compared to a -4% return for the bottom 25 corporations. Further, employees with effective leadership were six times more engaged than those without effective leadership.

Thus, Karsan knew that he had to put effective leadership in place in to engage his new employees.

Job #1 is building trust

In many ways, Kenexa’s success with began earlier in the year when Karsan recruited Zahir Ladhani out of AstraZeneca and put him on Kenexa’s bench for six months. This gave Ladhani time to learn Kenexa’s culture while waiting for the right assignment. was that assignment. Karsan installed him as the new head of and let Ladhani lead the due diligence. This allowed Ladhani to get to know all the key players and practices within

As they got closer to doing the deal, Ladhani picked 4-5 people out of to be his core management team. They then used the month between the announcement of the deal and the closing to evaluate all the people. This set them up to tell everyone what their status was on Day one and which of three buckets they fell into:

1 – Stay for 90-120 days to help with the transition. Then exit.

2 – Leave today. (All the finance and G&A people were in this bucket.)

3 – Be part of our team. (200 of the 300 people)

It turned out the lack of games and posturing was a big trust builder.

Job #2 is recognizing people and making them feel appreciated

This had started with the appointment of Ladhani as head. On Day one, Karsan let everyone know that Ladhani spoke with the Kenexa management team’s voice. He was’s people’s “last level of appeal”. Ladhani then empowered his team and put them to work, recognizing their accomplishments along the way.

Job #3 is acknowledging you’re not perfect

Because the “leave today or stay for 90-, 120-day” decisions had been made before the actual acquisition, certain people were let go, including some that should not have been, and Ladhani and Karsan regretted this later. After the acquisition, once they realized their mistake, they brought those individuals back. This happened in 3-4 cases, and most importantly, they had the humility to accept their mistakes and correct them.

Job #4 is growth and learning

Karsan’s grandfather in Kenya used to tell him that “The day you stop learning is the day you start dying. You don’t have another choice.”  The same thing is true for organizations. Learning is a core value for Karsan and for Kenexa. He and Ladhani did not make this a choice for the people. They needed to adopt the Kenexa culture immediately. From Day one, the people that were invited to join the team were treated the same as the rest of Kenexa’s employees.

Of course, there were some bumps on the road. Certainly the people appreciated the firmness of the process. Though some of them would have liked to date before they got married, the results speak for themselves. Of the 200 employees invited to be part of the team, Kenexa lost only 3-4 “A” players. And in an employee engagement survey six months into the acquisition, the scores of the former employees and the rest of Kenexa were “indistinguishable”. Karsan went on to sell Kenexa to IBM a year later for $1.3 Billion.

Implications for you

The main ideas in that article still hold. The organizational and change management playbooks are two of the seven critical sub-playbooks of The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook. The strategic, commercial, operational, financial, and governance sub-playbooks are essential. But they are not sufficient. If you want to match Karsan’s success with, pay the same level of attention to employee engagement.

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