IT training during an acquisition: The support phase

Support is possibly the most crucial task for IT trainers helping new employees after an acquisition. Alicia White explains how she organized a central help desk and designed documentation to make this phase of the transition go smoothly.

By their very nature, acquisitions are difficult for employees to deal with, but a good training plan can make the transition pains more manageable.

After getting through the planning stage, the advance training, and the actual changeover, support of the new employees is crucial. In this last installment in the “training during an acquisition” series, I will look at the challenges of supporting new employees during an acquisition.

Now the real work begins
The acquired employee is trained, sent back to work, and soon thereafter the acquisition takes place. Think about it—the acquired employee went to training; went back to doing things the way they were before; and then, in a 24-hour period, became a new employee in a new environment.

Since there was no equipment for the new employees to practice on when they returned to the office, most of this systems information was not retained and acquisition anxiety had set in. Keeping this anxiety under control is the main challenge for the acquisition team during the support phase of the transition.
I work at a bank in the Southeast and my company has been in the business of acquiring other companies over several years. I was a software-training manager for the bank before becoming a business analyst. My role in the acquisition process was to make sure everyone could use the branch automation software. Retail branch automation is software and hardware that automates teller and customer service functions.This article is the last part of a three-part series about training before, during, and after an acquisition.
The support phase
Since we had lots of new employees in many locations trying to remember a huge amount of information, we had to create ways to support the offices from a remote location. As training manager of a particular piece of this process, I helped out in these ways:

During the acquisition, starting on a Thursday afternoon and going until Friday of the next week, my staff and I worked at help desk central. Our purpose was to support the software application only. Since branch automation is imperative to office operations, the branch automation support lines had to be staffed from a half-hour before the office opened until the last branch balanced and checked out. This made for long days, but this level of support was required.

The acquisition team saw to it that each office had at least two branch buddies. Branch buddies were experienced personnel who were put on site to provide assistance for at least the first week of the acquisition.

If the acquisition was large, branch buddies were recruited from other market areas. We had the same problems with the branch buddies as we did the borrowed trainers we used earlier in the process. If they were from another market, they brought their way of doing things into the acquired market area.

We corrected this by sending alerts to each office. Alerts were used to share important information, such as defining a policy or procedure, correcting miscommunications, or providing warnings about system glitches. Alerts were created and faxed by a dedicated member of the acquisition team. To reinforce the information again during one particular acquisition, a mid-week branch buddy meeting was held to clearly define the policies and procedures in the acquired market.

Creating easy-to-use documentation
To help with information retention, I created an acquisition booklet for the branch automation system. This booklet contained the basics, such as how to sign on to the system, what to do if the system went down, what to expect the first weekend on the system, and how to handle special situations, as well as a list of important help desk numbers. There were screen shots of step-by-step processes needed to complete each task. I made sure that the support booklet had a clear cover, was spiral bound and was printed on hot pink, neon green, neon orange, or bright blue paper. If someone called with a problem that could be fixed by using the booklet, I could easily direct the caller to the answer in the reference booklet. This booklet, along with the central help desk and the ongoing usage of the system helped us make it through the weekend. During the next week, calls for standard system issues were minimal.

Lessons learned:
  • If you create a helpful hints booklet, use colorful paper and color code each section. This design makes the various sections easy to reference.
  • Provide on-site support during acquisitions if possible. If this is not possible, create “help desk central.”
  • Provide support for more than a couple of days. A week of support should be the minimum.
  • Branch buddies should be trained on the policies and procedures of the specific market they are assisting.

Acquisitions, mergers, and consolidations are now a part of our daily business lives. I hope I have provided some information to help you make it though the transition!

Alicia White is a former training manager for the branch automation project at a bank headquartered in the Southeast. She is currently a business analyst for branch automation application. She is also an IT instructor at a local business college.

Have you had to train newly acquired employees? Have you combined training staffs from two companies? Send us your stories from the field about training and acquisitions.

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