Knowledge Transfer During Mergers and Acquisitions


Our client, a pharmaceutical company, made a 6 billion dollar purchase of one of its competitors. The client organization decided to make a quick transaction, merging the two companies over seven months, which was the fastest pharmaceutical merger of that size to date. It was also decided that based on their assessment of the two organizations, many of the researchers in the acquired company would be let go. These researchers held experiential knowledge not written down about the drug compounds the acquiring company was most interested in for the transaction. Therefore, transferring deeply held, nonpublic knowledge around the various drug compounds would need to happen as quickly as possible after the transaction. We created training that dealt with effective knowledge transfer and included discussion of the various emotional aspects of change to prepare both groups to respectfully transfer deeply held knowledge even during emotional upheaval. We also trained a group of client organization researchers as facilitators and note takers to ensure group knowledge transfer was as effective as possible and that codification was standardized whenever appropriate. More than 400 researchers were trained to ask questions respectfully so as to elicit the deeply held or tacit knowledge of colleagues in the newly acquired company. The first two weeks of the acquisition were designed to facilitate the acquisition and to integrate the elicitation of knowledge.


The business value of the knowledge transfer became apparent as the client company gathered information about the assets it had acquired and could make better informed decisions about the portfolio. In fact, the decision was made to retain many of the discovery-based researchers who were to have been let go and to lease the building in which they were working to ensure less disruption to the work they were doing. On a human level, the researchers who were trained had a common language to articulate with their colleagues the emotional aspects of change. The common language helped build bridges during a time of change.

Lessons Learned

It was essential that consultants did not do the knowledge transfer for the client. Because the researchers themselves were transferring knowledge with their colleagues, the body of useable learning grew and could be reapplied almost immediately. Ensuring that knowledge transfer was integrated into familiar business processes made the uptake of the new behavior more palatable for the organization.

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