This is a big challenge and one that I don’t find to be related only to M&A’s but that is actually relevant for most change projects. Every time we introduce change people need time to adapt, fail, learn, succeed and relapse. Some changes are of course more difficult than others and will take more time. One thing you can do is of course to be upfront about the challenges and the expectation of this learning journey before initiating the change or the integration. Typically everyone will accept this as a fact (learning takes time and we will lose a bit on the efficiency while we learn, but we will bounce back even stronger) before the change is initiated, but as change always takes longer than expected, patience will run out and people will not be allowed to learn as much as they need to before we force them into execution mode. That is why I find that setting clear and measurable (SMART) success criteria before the change is initiated is critical to allow people the time to learn and adapt.
When we are still rational (before the change is initiated) we can define these, trying to account for the cost of learning. These of course need to be aligned internally and have the backing of senior management to be valid, but this way we can also show, that we have accounted for the reduced efficiency in this given time frame. The success criteria of course also need to include a goal – the “this is where we will be when the change is done in X number of months” to have legitimacy as no management team will just give a blank check to learn if there is no ambition to increase value at the end.