Conventional wisdom is often derided—even though much conventional wisdom is supported by facts and research. However, a lot of it is almost right—and terribly wrong in certain circumstances. The realities of M&A are far more nuanced than conventional wisdom might suggest.

Even under the best circumstances, the M&A process is a high risk undertaking. In uncertain or turbulent business climates, M&A becomes even more challenging. It might be tempting to believe that best practices are so well-documented as to be the default, but much expert guidance is only half-true.

As the body of literature on M&A expands, so too does the volume of inaccurate information about what does and doesn’t work. You can’t just read a few books or articles and then successfully navigate your way through the process. In fact, the more confident you are about your knowledge, the more likely you are to make a terrible mistake. Overconfidence undermines the ability to see nuance and think critically—two skills you need in abundance during the M&A journey.

Here are some half truths you might believe—and the whole truth they conceal:

  • To grow, buy a company with proven growth and profits. The truth is that, while a proven winner is often the safe bet, a flailing business with the potential to grow under new management or disrupt the status quo may offer more value.
    Acquisitions are the best form of ownership. The reality is that the right form of ownership depends on your strategic goals in making an acquisition.
  • To satisfy your investors, an acquisition must quickly confer big gains. The truth is that investors are impressed when you deliver on your promises. So promise less and deliver more.
  • The right acquisition is the key to shareholder value. The reality is that it’s not what you purchase that builds value, but what you weed out. Getting rid of businesses that can thrive somewhere else is equally important.
  • A focus on the strategic purpose of a deal ensures that the vision will come to fruition. The truth is that the vision must include actionable goals, and steps to reach them.
  • A master plan is critical to successful integration. While you do need a detailed plan, you must be willing to be flexible, revising the plan as you go.
  • As the merger cycle progresses, responsibility shifts. While some roles change over time, the whole team must be part of the process from start to finish.
  • At integration, you must retain key staff and managers. While it’s true that you must retain key people, don’t allow this to distract you from other key constituencies, such as customers and suppliers.
  • Continuous communication prevents fear-based departures. You need more than just words. You also need leaders who represent the values and goals of the new organization. Otherwise your communication attempts will ring hollow.
  • Achieving the right synergies requires continuous effort that begins early. The goal in the early stages should instead be to keep sales from being undermined by the transition. Work to avoid harm instead of increase revenues. Synergies come later.
  • The first day should be free of issues. That’s not possible. Focus on a good first day, not a perfect first day.
  • The first day is the end of the beginning. The truth is that the first day is just one milestone. It’s not the end of the process. The ultimate success of the merger depends no what comes after this first of many key days.