Often when the topic of M&A is discussed, the people side of the deal tends to be ignored until the end, says Dana Borchert, Ph.D., SVP and Colorado Market Leader at CMA Global Inc.

Similarly, the discovery process is usually thought of in terms addressing the numbers in a deal. But there is a lot of critical information that can be uncovered through talking and interviewing people to understand more about the culture, as well as what's happening at a target company.

"People tell you everything," Borchert said at the Denver Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. "It takes five minutes for people to tell you way too many things, actually."

She says in one acquisition, during the interviews they discovered a legal issue the company was having in a region that the acquiring company was able to write out of the deal, changing the price.

"The importance of having those conversations and really listening to people can save you money," she says.

When approaching the people in an acquisition target or newly acquired company, she says listening as a leader, and coming in with empathy are important traits.

"These are humans that you're asking to change," Borchert says. "And for many people, that is making them go into fight or flight mode, and they are scared. So, how can we listen to people, help put them at ease? Sometimes that means a little give and take."

She says, for example, when May Department Stores bought Marshall Fields, the acquiring company used Fields' language — saying 'guest' rather than 'shopper,' for example — to help those who came over in the deal feel more welcome.

"And by giving those little give-and-takes, and saying, 'You're now part of us. And we respect you so much we're going to adopt your language,' I think you really help people feel heard," she says. "So, I would like you to walk away with one thing — it sounds easy, but it's hard to do — which is really listen to people."

When it comes to a company's strategic plan for the implementation of human capital, she says the first thing is thinking about the talent on the other side of the table. That means assessing that talent to determine if the acquiring company wants to bring them over and then if they're brought over where might those employees connect and thrive and where might they butt heads and have conflict.

Also, during the due diligence, she suggests assessing and having cultural conversations to better understand the culture to determine if they can handle the transition into that new entity.

She also suggests celebrating.

"The Champagne comes out when the deal is closed. But on the people side, that's when it's just beginning. So, really thinking about how are we going to sustain cultural momentum and people integration after we've had that glass of Champagne?"

During due diligence, people are often nervous when in the cultural interviews. To help put them at ease, she says her external consulting team often find out why the acquiring company wants to buy them, "because I want to tell them all the reasons you think their great. I want to tell them there's a reason they're doing things well, they're successful for some reason. So, get that out there to put them at ease, as well."

She says there's a lot of survivor guilt that happens in these situations for those who are still with the company after layoffs.

"And so, we have to remember that the people we keep, we also have to help because they might feel like, 'I should have gone or I should help that person,'" Borchert says. "So, helping them through the transition, as well."