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Is your HR M&A playbook up to par?

By Gabe Langerak | December 6, 2023

Highly experienced serial acquirers share their strategies to ensure your playbook is fit for purpose.
Mergers and Acquisitions

Human resources (HR) mergers and acquisitions (M&A) playbooks were the focus of one of our M&A roundtable discussions in Europe. The conversation among highly experienced serial acquirers provided insights into how companies worldwide, in various industries, use HR M&A playbooks.

We learned that the most effective and instructive playbooks are tailored to organizations’ needs, governance structure and culture. They help new and experienced members of an HR-deal team—including HR business partners tasked infrequently with due diligence or integration—understand their roles and guide them step-by-step through each phase of the deal.

Here are five key takeaways from our roundtable conversation on HR M&A playbooks:

  1. 01

    Digital HR M&A playbooks are the future.

    Say goodbye to the traditional (seemingly) thousand-page hardcopy (or pdf) playbook, which caused a combination of overwhelm and fatigue for even the most dedicated M&A professional. Who’s going to page through an entire book or pdf to get to the content they really need? Interactive digital playbooks, with relevant dropdowns, robust search functions, clear roles and responsibilities, links to tools and templates and FAQs enable users to easily find specific content or explore deal phases useful to them at a specific point of time during the deal.

    Embedding videos and links to tools and templates that are customizable and frequently updated provide a consumer-grade, familiar website experience. The digital format ensures consistency across geographies and devices and enables real-time updating for all stakeholders (no more version control issues). Accessible on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones, digital playbooks are highly user-friendly.

  2. 02

    Leading acquirers update their HR M&A playbooks annually.

    Of the roundtable companies that have HR M&A playbooks, 80% update their playbooks annually. Organizations must acknowledge that keeping the playbook up to date can be an “industry unto itself” — time-consuming and resource-demanding. Some organizations devote time to updating their playbooks when the pipeline is slow. Others have a set time of year when they update them. And others revise them when circumstances change.

    For example, a technology company orchestrated a spin-off that changed the structure of the core company. In such transformational situations, it’s critical to assess and then revise the playbook so it reflects the current organization. If your M&A team has been re-organized, you must ensure the playbook reflects the change in staffing.

  3. 03

    Playbooks need not include all the “bells and whistles.”

    You don’t need to write a playbook with every conceivable potential scenario. But you need to focus on the most relevant/frequent scenarios in your organization or industry.

    Thoughtful organizations keep their playbooks “lean” so they’re not a dumping ground for everything that could happen during a hypothetical deal. Successful acquirers tend to have one broad general playbook that details areas applicable to all scenarios, with deep dive models for very specific topics relevant to the deals they typically engage in (and sometimes prioritization of elements within each topic depending on deal size and complexity).

    One roundtable member recommended “reflecting on the great work your people are doing, rather than the work they could be doing.” Some of the larger roundtable organizations have specific checklists for divestments, acquisitions, carve-outs and integrations. We discussed deep dives for office integrations and HR operations teams, aligned with but separate from due diligence.

  4. 04

    HR M&A playbooks are an exceptional foundation for onboarding.

    One organization uses its playbook as a mandatory read for onboarding specific groups of employees who will support M&A activities. There were various discussions as to whether such information is best shared in written format, or through live or recorded training sessions, with many organizations agreeing that the preference is quite personal.

  5. 05

    New approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are a must.

    Do not only approach DEI, an imperative at all organizations, as a stand-alone initiative, but rather as a lens through which to look at all elements across all HR topics. For example, your employee assistance program (EAP), wellbeing program and pension plan design should all be reviewed to ensure they are non-discriminatory. Your human resource information systems (HRIS) is another area that should be viewed through a DEI lens.


If mergers and acquisitions are like marriage, the playbook is your master of ceremony’s instruction list, dependent on your organization, its needs and wants (and attune to the capabilities of the person executing it). Several things stand out from our conversations with large companies, and that is there is a tendency towards ensuring policies, practices and governance aspects are consistently, accurately and thoroughly covered—and that learnings are documented.

A playbook needs to be fit for purpose and, as such, you will need to tailor it to your specific situation and identify what good, better and best practices are for your organization in any given deal.


Senior Director, Western Europe Leader for M&A Consulting at WTW

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