When forgetting is the key: the value of unlearning activities during post-acquisition integration

There are many drivers encouraging organizations to consider mergers and acquisitions (M&A): expanding into new territories, increasing the scale of operations, and, not least, the transfer of knowledge. An extended knowledge base can lead to significant advantages over competitors and increase speed to market. Yet, 50%-80% of companies report that performance falls short of anticipated goals. Why is this? Failure is often due to a misfit between the two organizations which are merging. For example, misfit manifests in differences in management style or organizational systems.

This article focuses on the importance of unlearning activities during post-acquisition integration to reconcile organizational misfit. Managements often have a naïve approach as to how they treat the transfer of knowledge from one organization to another in an M&A situation. Research indicates this is a key step – the substitution or deletion of obsolete knowledge deserves more attention if integration success is to be achieved. Unlearning can free up limited capacities and pave the way for new learning.

The article details the different forms of unlearning which should be considered depending on the level of organizational misfit. Three organizational misfit dimensions, which could have a detrimental effect on integration success, are highlighted: artefact, behavioral and cultural. These are defined and examples provided. The article also draws on recent research which supports the importance of unlearning, and suggests some managerial implications which organizations might consider when planning post-merger integration.

The complete article was written by:

  • Sven Kunisch
    Researcher at the Institute of Management of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
  • Carola Wolf
    Researcher at the Institute of Management of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
  • Johannes Quodt
    Researcher at the Institute of Management of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Download the full article pdf (pdf, 808 kb)

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