(Badrtalei & Bates, 2007; Brahma & Srivastava, 2007; Cartwright & Schoenberg, 2006; Cools, Gell, Kengelback, & Roos, 2007; Firstbrook, 2007; Gopinath, 2003). (Mathew & Kavitha, 2008; Moitra & Kumar, 2007; Pritchett, Robinson, & Clarkson, 1997).(Schmidt, 2002). (Chreim, 2007; Inkpen, 2008; Junni, 2007; Riege, 2007; Schleimer & Riege, 2009; Stahl & Mendenhall, 2005).
aLangdridge (2007); bPhillips and Burbules (2000)qualitative research may suffer from postpositive research paradigm, a term coined by Phillips and Burbules (2000). Postpositive means that the researcher cannot be positive about the results of their studies when focusing on human behavior or actions. Studies are often a reduction of the reality and leave out certain important variables for different reasons—variables that may be important to understand the system (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Watzlawick, Beavin-Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967)
PopulationOverall, the enterprise software industry employ around 2.6 million people or 1.95% of all occupations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Fulmer (1986) extrapolated that 20 - 25% of the US workforce were affected by mergers whereas Buono and Bowditch estimated that number to be at around 10%.Sample SizeSmith et al. (2009) recommended keeping the number of participants between 3 and 6;Dukes (1984) recommended to study between 3 and 10 individuals;Riemen (1986) used 10 individuals;Langdridge (2007) mentioned that most phenomenological research projects have no more than 6 participants;Wolff (2002) recommended 8 to 12 participants;Miller and Salkind (2002) and Bligh (2006) suggested 10 or fewer;Leedy and Ormrod (2009) suggested keeping the sample size between 5 and 25 individuals;Gordon (1992) and Clayton (1997) suggested a sample size of between 15 and 25 participants.
SupportFoos, Schum, and Rothenberg (2006) recommended fostering an environment of trust for the tacit knowledge exchange.McCaskey (1982) stated that unclear, multiple, or conflicting goals created ambiguous situations.
SupportWhile direct communication with employees had the biggest influence on their work attitude, indirect information from customers or the press could influence work attitude as well (Beard, Boyd, & Fix Conti, 2007).
SupportDixon (2000) stated that there was a surprising variety of processes aimed at knowledge transfer and that one size does not fit all. Girdauskiené and Savaneviciené (2007) stated that knowledge management should be an integrated part of other strategies to make knowledge transfer a transparent routine and not an added task.
SupportGalpin and Herndon (2007) stated that ideas, successes, and failures should be shared openly for learning and validation.Parkes, Hasegawa, and Manjunatha (2010) proposed an approach to validate data before data was transferred.
SupportGalpin and Herndon (2007) stated that “sharing the [integration] experience with newly acquired employees is a good way to build trust and to facilitate knowledge transfer.”Youngjin, Lyytinen, and Heo (2007) stated that the influence of managerial decisions on knowledge management has not yet been adequately addressed.
SupportZollo and Meier (2008) found that only 1% of M&A research focused on knowledge transfer during integrations.
SupportBuono and Bowditch (2003) stated, "By focusing on relevant behaviors and interactions, managers can begin to shape the outcomes they desire by setting explicit expectations and performance standards, rewarding appropriate behaviors, and providing channels through which people can contribute to goals and objectives.“ Aronson (2007) stated that changing behavior is one of the most effective ways to change beliefs and values.
SupportWenger, White, and Smith (2009) stated that communities of practice connect individuals and groups with each other through synchronous and asynchronous tools, and foster participation through activities, conversations, and reflections.
SupportLevi Strauss put the rehiring approach to the extreme and forced everyone to reapply for work based on the principle of "can you add value to the firm" (Windsor, 2003).
SupportPritchet et al. (1997) observed that during M&A integrations, employees and managers created hidden agendas for self-protection. As a result, “Employee behavior is founded much more on emotion and obscure motives, less on apparent logic or rational thought” (Pritchet et al., 1997, p. 42). Galpin and Herndon (2007) recommended that “defining clear lines of authority can mitigate the politics and create a ‘back to business’ attitude” (p. 64).
SupportHoll and Pickering (1991) stated that M&A deals are successful if the rate of return (discounted cash flow) from the acquired firm is positive, and if the acquisition increases the market value of the firm.
SupportBruner and Bruner (2004) recommended setting M&A goals and benchmarks.
SupportSenior executives regularly explain their strategies and decisions to corporate boards as they have to bear more responsibility. The boards are driven towards more transparency through increased accountability (Moeller & Brady, 2007).
SupportThere are many benefits of merging a sales force; for example, cross-selling, cost saving, and communication unity (Lajoux, 2006).
SupportThe most significant point for M&A integration success is leadership (Stahl, Mendenhall, & Weber, 2005).
SupportPeople are willing to share their knowledge, which can only happen if the new company has the capacity to absorb the knowledge (Szulanski, 1996).
SupportYoungjin, Lyytinen, and Heo (2007) stated that research has paid little attention to how managerial decisions influence knowledge management. Vlaar, Van den Bosch, and Volberda (2006) recommended to research how communication effects sense-making in collaborative relationships.
SupportBarnevik stated, "You don't inform, you overinform (Taylor, 1991).Covey (2004) stated that effective communication is based on the principle "seek first to understand, then to be understood" (p. 235).
SupportOne key trend in M&A is to acquire a company to access their knowledge workers and to obtain the intellectual property (Sherman & Hart, 2006).
SupportJob security and the quality of a reward system are important, because these tools lower employees’ resistance and increase the chance of retaining key employees (Stahl et al., 2005).
SupportGalpin and Herndon (2007) explained the process of appointing subject matter experts to the integration team.
SupportLittle attention has been paid on the leadership capabilities to improve the M&A process (Sitkin & Pablo, 2004).Computer system integrations and their impact were discussed by Adolph, Pettit, and Sisk (2009).
SupportLajoux (2006) provided a checklist of knowledge management related tasks for mergers; however, many of the recommendations are generic to knowledge management or on a system level.
Why Qualitative?(Cartwright & Schoenberg, 2006) 30 years of research has not yet found the right M&A success factors(King, Dalton, Daily, & Covin, 2004) future research should focus on identifying the “right” set of variables as predictors of performance.(Stahl, Mendenhall, & Weber, 2005) recommended that future studies should apply a more holistic approachLangdridge (2007)-The descriptive phenomenology is widely used in psychology and nursing and not deep enough; -The critical narrative analysis (CNA) uses a sophisticated predefined process of narrative data analysis and is a newer form; -The interpretative phenomenological analysis focuses more on hermeneutics and interpretation. Langdridge (2007) -The IPA approach is popular among health and other applied psychologists. Newer approach most work in the UK (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). -Template analysis uses coding frame constructed prior to collecting data, narrows approach (Langdridge, 2007). -Hermeneutic phenomenology involves the thematic analysis of data and has grown in popularity in applied science. (hermeneutics = The branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation)
Thomas Blumer - Knowledge Transfer in M&A
Best Practices for Knowledge Transfer
in Merger & Acquisition Integrations:
A Phenomenological Study
Dr. Thomas Blumer
April 15, 2014
Dr. Thomas Blumer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Director of Knowledge Management at QAD
Specialty: KM, Systems Integrations, M&A, KPIs
DBA in Business Administration
MBA in Technology Management
BS in Business Administration (Finance)
• Research Study Background
• Data Analysis
• Implications for Companies
• Implications for Leaders
• Approximately 50% of M&A destroyed value for shareholders of
the acquiring company(a)
• Knowledge has become one of the main assets for the
enterprise software industry (b)
• Less than 24% of companies achieved access to talent or know-
how through M&A (c)
• Little research exists on how M&A process influences knowledge
transfer, which is crucial for acquiring, understanding, and
incorporating newly purchased knowledge (d)
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to
identify and explore best practices for knowledge transfer in
mergers and acquisitions integrations in the U. S. enterprise
How do people successfully transfer knowledge during a merger
or acquisition integration?
• Self-collected data
- Bias towards managers and executives
- Phenomenology is subjective (a)
- Postpositive when dealing with human behavior (b)
Postpositive means that the researcher cannot be positive about the results of their studies when
focusing on human behavior or actions. Studies are often a reduction of the reality and leave out
certain important variables for different reasons—variables that may be important to understand the
system (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Watzlawick, Beavin-Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967).
• Focus on enterprise software industry
• Focus on United States
• Focus on people with M&A and knowledge
• Focus on the M&A integration process
Sample Demographics (n=22)
New Work Location
Sample Population Criteria
• Enterprise software industry
• M&A experience
• Knowledge transfer experience
• Sequential sampling (a)
(Maximum variation until saturation)
aGhauri & Gronhaug (2005)
Category Theme Sources Percenta References Percentb
M&A 1. M&A Integrations 22 100% 407 21%
Knowledge Management 2. Communication 22 100% 442 23%
3. Knowledge Transfer 21 95% 180 9%
4. Lost Knowledge 21 95% 95 5%
5. Information Ambiguity 18 82% 60 3%
Organizational 6. Management 22 100% 227 12%
7. Organizational Culture 22 100% 189 10%
8. Information Systems 21 95% 164 8%
Personal 9. Trust 20 91% 97 5%
10. Feelings 19 86% 97 5%
Total 22 100% 1958 100%
15Note. aRepresents the number of participants compared to the whole sample (n=22); bRepresents the number of references
compared to all the references within this category (n=1958).
10 Core Themes by Importance
Define and communicate
Executives had to explain the strategic M&A goals to integration
managers, line managers, employees, and IT.
One of the dilemmas as stated by Participant 5 was that
executives did not want to share goals clearly and honestly up
front because of the fear that valuable employees who were
needed for integration work might leave the company too early
unless they were given a strategic function. However, manager
should communicate the goals clearly to secure the strategic
Executives should ensure strategic success by communicating
M&A goals clearly and openly with the risk of creating tactical
integration issues for non-critical business units rather than doing
Deliver consistent messages
It was important to synchronize internal and external
Participant 5 mentioned, "And they [communication from
management] have stayed very consistent. And they are
not saying something to the press and then something else
Holistic view on communication including reputation.
Select the appropriate transfer channel
for the knowledge
There are different kinds of knowledge, and each requires a
different transfer approach (e.g., IT knowledge, business
knowledge, and M&A knowledge).
Participant 4 stated, “In a merger situation, the solutions
for, making knowledge management a smooth affair is actually
outside knowledge management, on the strategic level.“
• Business process ensures knowledge transfer.
• Knowledge management ensures that the right knowledge is
preserved during integrations.
Avoid knowledge transfer traps
The knowledge transfer trap is a situation in which the
knowledge or the data was transferred, but it was useless.
• Participant 1 mentioned that the data from their knowledge
base was transferred into the new system; however, neither
customers nor support engineers could find the content
anymore because the search engine was overwhelmed.
• Participant 18 stated that the complexity of the acquired
product required employees with a PhD to work in customer
support, although the patents were successfully transferred.
The possibility of successful transfer without value.
Manage perception differences
Everyone interpreted the situation through his or her frame of
reference, which caused information ambiguities.
• Different information depended on who you talk to. Different people
in different positions have different viewpoints (Participant 14).
• This difference was often big between the acquirer and the acquired
company. The issue is that effective knowledge transfer requires
understanding (Participant 6).
The true meaning of the M&A impact cannot be fully understood by
studying M&A or by managing an integration, but by going through an
adapt-and-go integration as an acquiree.
Back up knowledge transfer
Management decisions had a direct impact on the M&A integration and on
knowledge management. It all boiled down to having access to
resources, getting budget allocations, and gaining sponsorship for the KT
• Participant 15 elaborated on how senior management allocated time for the
knowledge management initiative and stressed the importance that the
commitment has to go beyond lip service.
• C-level support was important to ensure knowledge-sharing goals were set
from the top all the way down to kick-start a knowledge-sharing culture
Literature has paid little attention to knowledge transfer during M&A (Zollo &
Meier, 2008), and the same is true for the influence of management (Sitkin &
Pablo, 2004). This research provided some practical examples.
Focus on behavior, not culture
In addition to the mental changes in the behavior, this study found
instances where systematic processes were introduced to enforce the
new way. Participant 2 summed it up like this: “And guess what? The
systems don’t allow you to do it the old way.”
The program was called KM stars and rewarded people for knowledge-
sharing activities. By creating this program and financially rewarding
people for sharing, this initiative sent the message to employees that
senior management found knowledge sharing important (Participant
The research provided practical examples on how to overcome
knowledge transfer challenges in M&A integrations.
Foster interactive systems
Technology, like public instant messaging, enabled knowledge
transfer before IT people started integrating systems.
There are many interactive systems available and Participant 6
mentioned, "Fundamentally no one of them is critical. But the
collection of them together."
Participant 22 mentioned that communities of practice enabled
new members to participate quickly in role-specific discussions
company-wide and to be recognized as experts within weeks
Literature did not focus on the additional challenges for
communities of practice during M&A integrations, such as
budget allocations for migrating systems or onboarding of new
Improve the organizational socialization
This study revealed the importance of organizational socialization; the
integration teams should first focus on managers and then employees to create
a trusting culture, which companies need for knowledge transfer.
• Participant 6 stated, "You’ve got to be re-recruited.... And if you don’t feel as if
you’ve been brought in and that you’re an important part of the team, you’re
going to drift away."
• Participant 13 stated that employees chose the companies they worked for
before a merger; however, in a merger, many employees move into the new
company simply to have a job—it is not a cognizant decision to join a
Organizational socialization goes beyond learning the new tools: it includes
learning how to navigate in the new organization efficiently and effectively.
Remove negative emotions and political
Managers made a difference in integrations, shaped organizational
cultures, selected information systems, built trust, and influenced with
their actions the feelings of the employees.
Participants 10 and 22 mentioned that communities of practice
highlighted professionalism and removed the politics, which helped to
overcome barriers to knowledge sharing. This was particularly true if
sharing was incentivized, linked to a promotion path (Participant 10), or
embedded in standard operating procedures or computer systems
The difference to the existing literature is that this research provided
practical best practices on how to overcome these kinds of challenges.
• Define and communicate M&A goals
• Deliver consistent messages
• Select the appropriate transfer channel for the
• Avoid knowledge transfer traps
• Manage perception differences between
• Back up knowledge transfer with decisions
• Focus on behavior, not culture
• Foster interactive systems
• Improve the organizational socialization process
• Remove negative emotions and political barriers
Ensure sustainable profits
The following implications for companies all support ensuring
Mastering the integration process does not guarantee financial
• Participant 11 mentioned that 6 years after the
acquisition, 50% of the workforce was reduced.
• Participant 18 mentioned that the financial outcomes of M&A
deals were kept secret because the financial goals were
Knowledge transfer is required to set realistic M&A goals and to
ensure ongoing profit. Sustainable profits require a sales force
that knows how to sell the acquired product and an R&D
organization that can leverage the acquired intellectual
property to build the next generation of the product.
Set the right M&A goals
The M&A deal price often determines the financial M&A
goals, which are often unrealistic.
• Participant 18 recommended engaging in OEM deals first to
get a good understanding of the potential of the company.
• Participant 18 elaborated on the connection between M&A
deal price and M&A goals. If the M&A goals are too
low, shareholders may not approve a deal; if the goals are
high to meet the deal price, they become unrealistic.
• Participant 13 mentioned that the integration teams should
have actively communicated which of the initial M&A goals
they could accomplish and which goals would change.
Enhanced understanding of (a) the conflict between the M&A
deal price and the M&A goals and (b) the communication
challenge of the true M&A goals.
Ongoing reorganizations and management changes make
M&A accountability difficult. This is particularly challenging as
the success of a M&A deal is not visible for many months or even
“After two or three years after you see results, very few people will be in
that room comparing the results and understanding what did work and
didn’t work” (Participant 18)
The study illustrated how M&A goals are set and why
accountability and transparency are difficult.
Maintain a strong sales force
A strong sales force ensures reaching the M&A goals;
however, transferring sales competencies is difficult. The sales
force is often not interested in learning new products or does not
have the capacity.
• Participant 5 mentioned that the existing sales force seldom
wanted to take on new products and that special incentives
had to be set.
• Participant 18 agreed and stated that after years of losing
market share the company realized the importance of
keeping the acquired sales teams together (separate) and
focusing on their core products.
The research questioned the advantage of a combined sales
force because of the increased complexity and the missing
passion. If merging sales forces is required, timing, training, and
compensation are crucial.
Implications for Companies
• Ensure sustainable profits
• Set the right M&A goals
• Establish accountability
• Maintain a strong sales force
Knowledge transfer is driven by leaders through their
understanding, actions, and decisions.
• Engaged leaders aligned and motivated their teams
and removed roadblocks to speed up the integration
process (Participants 4, 6, 18, 19).
• Disengaged, self-serving leaders jeopardized
integrations, delayed the integrations, and created
additional stress (Participant 17).
Leaders have to be aware of their feelings and the
feelings of employees during M&A integration. After
leading several acquisitions, Participant 16 realized what it
meant to be acquired once his company got acquired.
M&A integrations can be improved
Integrations can be improved by following the best practices for
knowledge transfer; for example the ones discussed in this
The research identified lost opportunities, particularly around key
knowledge holders. For example, the sales force is not just
important for maintaining the prognosticated revenue; the
knowledge from the sales force is difficult to transfer and existing
sales people are often reluctant to take on new responsibilities
(Participant 5, 18, and 20).
The research showed the complexity of M&A integration, the
political struggles, and the challenge of determine the right
integration points for the different departments. Each
integration is different; however, clear communication—
particularly around the true M&A goals and applying the
discussed knowledge transfer best practices—is universal.
Communication and decisions are
Communication built the foundation for knowledge transfer by
informing employees, building trust, and engaging employees.
Decisions need to reflect what was communicated because
contradictory, direction-changing, or secret decisions jeopardized trust.
• Changing the integration approach midstream from a symbiotic
approach, where people are excited to work on a new solution, to
an adaption approach, is detrimental (Participants 6 and 19).
• Participant 2 elaborated on his frustration regarding a foregone
conclusion for the new development platform.
The conducted interviews provided extensive insight into the
communication process, the communication systems, the
communication methods, and the different sources of information. In
addition, knowledge transfer relies on the manager selecting the right
integration approach, the right integration teams, the right tools, and
the right process adjustments.
Implications for Leaders
• Leadership matters
• M&A integrations can be improved
• Communication and decisions are
During an M&A integration, managers have to use every communication
channel to reach their employees and to inform and engage them.
• "I mean the key to M&A is communication." Leaders do not just have to
communicate—they have to over-communicate (Participant 19).
• Participant 6 confirmed that only 10% of the communication gets through to
people and that communication depends on a good understanding by the
The research highlighted that several participants were not clear about the true
M&A intentions. The combination of open communication, frequency of
communication, understanding of the parties, and selection of the right
communication channels will improve the situation.
Identify and secure knowledge
Participants 4 and 18 stressed the importance of identifying the
strategic knowledge holders.
• When managers had to reduce their teams during M&A
integration, managers often selected the tactical specialists to keep
operations running, and the strategic people were dismissed
• Participants 17 and 18 mentioned how certain products could not be
supported without one or two key specialists.
The research highlighted the challenges for managers between
ensuring continuity of the current operation and ensuring future growth.
As a result, a company needs to secure knowledge from a strategic
point to ensure the next generation of the software can be developed.
Instill job security
During M&A integrations, managers and integration teams have to instill job
security for the resources the company needs.
• As a manager, it is important to ensure job security for the important
knowledge assets. Retention plans, compensation, and career opportunities
have to be aligned with the message of who is important to the company
(Participants 1, 3, 5, 6, 12, 14, 17, and 18).
• In addition to retention bonuses, three participants (Participants 12, 14, and 18)
recommended keeping successful teams together.
Transparency, good communication, and applying the right HR tools such as
retention bonuses have to be aligned. Employees have to be aware of the true
M&A goals to ensure themselves of their importance.
Carefully select integration team
Integration team members should be subject matter experts, have
worked in M&A integrations, and preferably know both companies.
• Appointing the right experts to the integration teams is not easy for
political reasons; the managers are often neither integrations experts
nor subject matter experts (Participants
1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, and 20).
• In addition, four participants recommended employing third-party
M&A experts, at least as mediators (Participants 4, 13, 15, and 20).
The study revealed the political challenges of finding subject matter
experts. For example, certain managers participated in high-level
discussions for self-serving purposes and excluded themselves from
lower level process work, while the integration teams had to go through
several iterations of potential subject matters until the true ones were
Adjust systems and processes
The true value of knowledge comes from sharing the knowledge across the company
by adjusting the systems and processes to support the transfer.
• Participant 4 mentioned that knowledge transfer should be embedded in
processes and systems to ensure that changes are sustainable.
• Sustainability was an important aspect for M&A integration and was highlighted by
13 participants (Participants 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 20).
• Participant 10 proposed that knowledge-sharing activities should be
tracked, communicated, celebrated, and a prerequisite to promotion.
Knowledge transfer requires adjusting existing business processes, which often requires
adjusting computer systems to enforce the change.
Influence the KT culture
Managers can and should actively influence the organizational culture
and kick-start a knowledge transferring culture after an M&A
• Participant 4 suggested kick starting the knowledge-sharing
culture, setting clear knowledge transfer goals for the leadership
team, and creating mixed teams for enhanced knowledge transfer.
• Managers should balance their teams with employees from the
acquired and the acquiring companies (Participants 4, 12, and 13).
Not only does such a decision create trust, it also helps propagate
knowledge. Separate teams had minimal interactions with each
other and knowledge was hardly exchanged (Participant 11).
• It is important to differentiate which teams to migrate quickly to
improve knowledge transfer and which teams to keep separated to
ensure an uninterrupted revenue stream (Participants 18 and 20).
The interconnectedness of soft components, processes, and systems
during M&A integrations.
• Identify and secure knowledge
• Instill job security
• Carefully select integration team members
• Adjust systems and processes
• Influence the KT culture
- Selection of participants
- Preference for pragmatic approaches
- Every participant could contribute something
- Dissonance between self-view of acquirer and
view from acquired company
- Underestimation of the importance of the sales
Theory meets Practices – NVivo 9
• Continue qualitative exploration in different setting
- Different companies
- Different industries
- Different countries
• Test findings with quantitative approach and build
- Establishing effective integration teams
- Building a new organizational culture
- Organizational socialization process of existing employees
- Sustainability of career opportunities
- Influence of extract, transform, load (ETL) tools & web
Dr. Thomas Blumer
(805) 452 5731
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Data Analysis Process
• 10-step method combines
- Moustakas (1994) based on his modified
• Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen methoda
• van Kaam methodb
- Langdridge (2007) method
- Smith, Flowers, and Larkin (2009) method
69aStevick (1971), Colaizzi (1973), and Keen (1975); bvan Kaam
1. Conduct researcher self-description of the
phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994).
2. Identify suppressed or omitted data points
(Langdridge, 2007; Smith et al., 2009).
3. Create meaning units (Moustakas, 1994).
4. Eliminate repetitive, overlapping meaning
units (Moustakas, 1994).
5. Cluster meaning units into themes
6. Repeat steps 1-5 for all participants.
7. Fine-tune and reorganize overarching
meaning units and themes
(Langdridge, 2007; Moustakas, 1994).
8. Add verbatim text examples
9. Compose the essence of the experience
10.Reflect on the process (Moustakas, 1994).