(Read More: Cramer: These 10 Companies Ripe for M&A)
If you seek operational synergies, think first about the people. Can you envision the integration? Can you imagine how key roles will interact and do you know which behaviors you will want to see to confirm the integration's success? In short, can you see the specific patterns of behavior that will comprise the culture of the combined organizations?
Then, imagine how you would construct the aspects of the work environment to support the changes you envision. Consider the eight key aspects of the work environment: organization, workplace design, task or work processes, people (especially, their skills), rewards (and not necessarily money), measurement, information distribution, and decision allocation.
With these elements in mind, you can effectively assess an M&A opportunity in three steps:
1. Carefully construct the scenes you would like to see post-M&A. For example, how might a supply chain middle manager operate across service lines a year post-merger? What does an HR consult to a line supervisor look like six months from now? How does an executive team consider enterprise wide capital allocation in the coming fiscal year? Who is part of the scenes? How does the work unfold? What role do the tools—be they devices for virtual teaming or types of databases—play in the scene?
2. Look at what aspects of the work systems will need to change (i.e., organization, workplace design, work processes, people, rewards, measurement, information distribution, and decision allocation) to make those scenes likely to occur again and again. Ensure you will be able to change at least four aspects of the work environment. Restated, can you change enough of the environment around the actors in those scenes so that the team will enact those scenes or something akin to them?
3. Finally, assess the return on investment. How much time, effort, and money will such specific changes cost you? Is it worth it? If not, then why do the deal? Why add your failure to those of others? If yes, then you have the beginnings of a strong implementation plan.
With proper planning and consideration, you can beat the odds at the M&A table.
(Read More: We Know M&A's Back—But Where's It Going Next?)
About the authors: Gregory P. Shea, PhD, is president of Shea and Associates, Inc. He is also adjunct professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Cassie A. Solomon is the president and founder of The New Group Consulting, Inc.