Ok, so maybe the Beatles reference was a bit much…
We were two companies, someone decided merger was a good thing… then just one big, happy family… right??
Bain Capital. McKinsey. Deloitte… don’t take just my word for it; the single biggest reason for merger or acquisition failure is NOT costs, lack of synergy, shortage of capital, incompatible strategy, etc.
It’s people. Failure to integrate cultures, directions, leadership and communities within an organization result in more failures than any market disapproval could muster.
Pay attention here; you’re paying big bucks for – usually – more than a simple asset. Realistically, even simple “asset purchases” are hoping for more than a simple Return on Asset; we’re always hoping for bigger, better returns that can only happen through the newly combined workforce talent. Again, “people.”
Let’s get right to it. I’m assuming you’ve competently determined that the merger or acquisition is a logical addition to your business. The technical part is fairly simple… a bunch of spreadsheets, a month or two of due diligence to verify the lofty promises, assurances, and statements from management. Now, let’s work on the more fickle side…
The most important thing to remember is communication.
Frequent, informative, helpful communications. The initial merger time is the most critical, since many of the employees in the acquired company will “overthink” the event, and may believe they will be summarily replaced. Or, more important to key performers, that they’ll lose their “key performer” status.
Frankly, you may actually WANT to lose some of them, but don’t you want the opportunity, at least, to have some input to who stays and who goes?
If you intend to make cuts, announce them and do them quickly. The longer it takes, the worse the retention results. Be sure, if staff cuts will occur, that they occur on both “sides” of the merger equation, if you really want a successful post-merger story.
Read this closely: the longer you take to make the “who stays and goes” determination, the more high performers you lose. It really is that simple. Mediocre and poor performers simply fret endlessly, duck for cover, and hope to go unnoticed.
High performers don’t look at life – or their careers – that way.
And they have no intention of waiting around to see if you’ll give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. These people are infinitely employable, have probably got feelers out already, and in the absence of anyone helping them do differently, will look out for their own well-being.
Even to your detriment.
Next, assess the acquired company’s culture and strengths, and make the determination on what “works” for you, and what doesn’t. Once you determine what the “combined” culture will look like, no compromise — on either “side.”
Read that again. No Compromise. On the bus or off the bus. No one rides along for sightseeing. No one – particular if influential and/or in leadership – gets to publicly buck the “new deal. Like the three musketeers, it’s “All for One!”
Remember — and this is ultra-important — there can only be ONE culture. Anything else will lead to fragmented actions, loyalties, and lack of direction.
Finally, be frank and open with the process. The worst thing that could happen is that the acquired employees lose trust in your integration process – they already ‘suspect’ you may not have their best interests at heart.
If my concepts above aren’t specific enough, here’s some detail on crafting a successful integration:
Create an employee integration plan immediately. It takes hours, not days, don’t dilly-dally. Communicate that plan to others (both ‘”sides”).
Execute to that plan immediately, quickly, and strongly. Patton was correct: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”Time is not on your side here. The longer it takes, the worse the outcome… guaranteed.
Decide where you’ll compromise — and where not — and hold firm.
Communicate, communicate, and over-communicate. Rinse and repeat. Even “nothing new to report” is better than silence.People fill ‘unknowns’ with their own “knowns,” and they are generally not the information you’d prefer them using to make decisions.
Clearly define roles, accountabilities, reporting relationships, and performance expectations. It’s the very core of the employee agreement.
“It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Don’t declare integration ‘victory’ too soon.Prematurely hailing success has killed many an integration, as a couple of key people/groups look around and say “not from where I sit, bubba.”
Good luck. Fun but challenging stuff.
Come to think of it, most of this applies to any substantial organizational change effort as well. I’ll be damned; surely must be just a coincidence…
So, just got that big promotion, eh? Now, you’re “It.” Big Shot. Grand Poobah. Boss Hog. El Jefe. Shiznit. The Big Cheese. Uppity-Muckety-Muck. She who must be obeyed. Kahuna.
Sounds great, right? Finally, you’re a CXO, with all the rights, privileges, honors and benefits occurring thereto.
So I say, Congrats! Finally, you have all that extra money, private elevator, fancy business card and a big, honkin’ corner office… you big LOSER!
Wait, what?? If I have just been promoted, why are you calling me a Loser?? What the hell have I lost?
Funny you should ask. I hate to be a buzz-kill, but you may want to put down that promotion drink for a second. You see, when ascending into senior-most leadership, you do lose some things.
You lose the ability to solely determine your success. Your success now depends almost entirely on others’ efforts and successes. Hint: this should be a clear indicator that their success is now your #1 priority.
You have lost the ability to suggest. Unfortunately, at your new lofty stratum, suggestions sound more like orders than random ideas. Surprisingly, nearly all your suggestions will be implemented, post-haste. Complete with “I thought that’s what you wanted.”
You lose the ability to consistently rely on a decision-making safety net. This one is tougher to realize before you’re there. Until in the seat, most of us don’t really understand the comfort we get from having others above us in the food chain to prevent our sheer stupidity from making the 6 o’clock news.
You have lost the ability to hold a grudge. Sure, remember how people perform and behave, but you must now be willing to forgive and forget. Or at a minimum, forgive and empower (again).
You lose the ability to vent outwardly to a crowd. No more temper tantrums when something breaks. Not that you should have been having them before, but…
You lose the ability to have a bad day. At least the ability to display that you’re having a bad day. Your followers need — and have the right to – you at your best.
You have lost the ability to not recognize that whenever your door opens, you’re on stage. The world (as you know it) is always watching; act accordingly.
You lose the ability to be “off-stage” with anyone with the same paycheck. I’m not saying you can’t hang out (though I do advise restraint), but while hanging out remember you’re still on stage. Some things done cannot be undone, nor can things seen be unseen.
Language—you lose the ability to use any of the following phrases:
S/He’ll get over it.
Titles don’t matter.
Just handle it.
Make it go away.
Because I said so.
I can’t deal with that right now.
That’s not the way we did it at XXX Company.
Finally, you have utterly lost the ability to take credit for anything that happens on your watch, unless you were the sole human responsible for every single step of the way. In which case, you’re being paid too much. Don’t feel too bad about this one; you’re still 100% accountable for all of your purview, including the screw-ups, oopsies, and “my bads.”
And yes, yes… before anyone picks one or two of these and comes up with the clever “…but Bill Gates doesn’t have a degree” exception, I do realize that some of these may not be as absolute a prohibition as I’ve described. Let’s agree, however, that overall some of our up-to-now behaviors must go the way of the dodo bird (or cash, customer service or fifty-cent coffee) when we achieve senior-most leadership levels.
This top-10 list isn’t meant to be discouraging or restrictive; it’s simply a fact that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Some of those responsibilities can be displayed as much by what you don’t do, as by what you do.
And take heart… the list of things you get to do is incredible. You get to influence careers and lives; you get to have a personal impact on people and organizations; you get to make meaningful decisions so that others may succeed… there are lots more, but we’ll save them for a sequel article.
Bob’s a client, the chief executive of a fairly large company in the Northeast. His name is not really Bob, but he really is a client, and a recent experience prompted me to share this (with Bob’s permission).
At the beginning of my coaching engagement with Bob, I conducted a 360-degree survey so we could get an idea of how others see him in his day to day activities and interactions. If you haven’t had a 360 survey—a real one—done for you, you should. It’s almost always eye-opening. And sometimes a bit scary.
But no one dies in the process, so you’ve got that going for you…
Anyway, while doing the 360 survey on Bob, I was privileged to meet and speak with many of the direct reports on his leadership team. Without getting into details that would make Bob (if he’s reading this) squeamish, the results were insightful and indicated he’s clearly respected. Mostly good things, and nothing really out of the ordinary.
Until I spoke with Jim (again, not his real name). Jim offered that Bob was direct, decisive, and had a low tolerance for incompetence. No real shocker, given Bob’s role. Then, he gave the “pièce de résistance” (that’s a copy-paste, I had no idea how to write that).
“Bob fires assholes,” he said.
So, that had me putting my pen down. “Do tell,” I replied.
It seems that even more than incompetence, Bob has a crushingly low tolerance for anyone, particularly in any sort of leadership role, “being an asshole.” The culture of this organization doesn’t support that kind of behavior, and given their size, the ripple effect of a single jerkazoid in the mix causes all sorts of problems. Problems that can easily, and more effectively, be avoided by just firing “the asshole.”
Admit it – you’ve read this with a slight grin and a knowing nod of the head. You know the assholes in your world, the people causing problems, discomfort and stress for others, and you know the ones that should be whacked.
So whack ‘em.
Performance challenges we can deal with. We coach, mentor, advise, bring resources to bear to help someone well-intentioned up their performance game. That’s as it should be, so don’t stop that.
But behavior issues, particularly in leadership, should be dealt with sharply, definitively and immediately. The impact is just too big on the organization. You know that already, so suck it up and do what needs to be done.
Nobody really likes them. Yes, some are better than others in dealing with them, but they are likely not high on our most-favorite interactions list. Tough conversations make us uncomfortable. Maybe we even don’t know what to say or how to say it. We don’t always know how to handle them without either damaging a currently-positive relationship or escalating a crappy one.
Either one, our druthers are to not have to deal with them. Unfortunately, that’s seldom an option. Unlike fine wine, good scotches and well-kept cigars (I’m simply listing my relevant vices), the conflict behind the need for those conversations does not get better with age.
Unfortunately, until AI makes us all obsolete, people are in the mix; if people are in the mix, there will be conflict. If conflict is in the mix, we’ll be having difficult conversations.
So then, what to do? Books are written and workshops are held to address how best to have these discussions. Various glossy hardbacks are rife with advice on how to conduct these particularly onerous chats. What if, instead of getting better at them, we figured out how to not have them in the first place? Try this instead:
Avoid difficult conversations by having difficult conversations.
Say whaaat? Kevin, your aforementioned vices are causing you to say crazy things… if I don’t like having those conversations to begin with, why the hell would I intentionally create them??
Simply put: brief, preemptive discussions can prevent having to deal with those bigger, difficult conversations.
A story… I was doing a C-level 360 survey recently, and in following up on an earlier comment I asked the person I was interviewing “So, how well does this executive deal with really tough conversations—you know, serious conflict?” The person paused for several seconds, which is usually a precursor to something bad or negative. Instead, he surprised me…
“Actually, he does a really good job of avoiding having to have those difficult conversations.”
Well, I must say that caught me a bit off-guard. “So, he simply avoids having them altogether,” I asked?
“No, he avoids having to have them,” he replied.
Well, I’m just a public-school graduate from south Texas… I told him to please explain. He went on to explain to me, in thoughtful detail, how this executive has the near-term, immediate conversations with others that prevents things from escalating to unhealthy conflict or those dreaded difficult conversations.
“When performance or behavior is off, or some expectation is unmet, this executive deals with it then, while it’s simply feedback. Instead of waiting until things build up and emotions come into play, he just has those simple, brief conversations—positive and negative—on a regular basis.”
In doing so, he seldom must deal with what most people would call a difficult conversation.
He doesn’t avoid having them, per se… he avoids having to have them.
Hmmm, avoiding a problem instead of dealing with it after it’s created? That’s some cutting-edge thinking right there.
Kevin Ross is my best friend and my partner-in-crime at Triangle Performance (how cool is that?) We frequently have discussions on various leadership topics; sometimes over the phone, sometimes via text, sometimes in-person over a cigar (and perhaps a wee dram or two). Makes for an interesting dialog, to say the least.
Recently, we discussed Integrity. We have forever simplified “integrity” to mean “do what you say you’ll do.” And frankly, for a generalized foundational definition, that works well. For more sophisticated, nuanced conversations… well, it sucks.
In looking at leadership from an application standpoint – something we absolutely strive for here – integrity shows up as a factor in so many things. As much as I love simplicity, some things are necessarily complicated. Dammit. I’m none too happy about that, but reality is what it is. You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.
So, we’re digging deeper into the reality of integrity. And we realized that integrity can’t be simply telling the truth. “Whaaat??” you say? Let me explain… (finally get to use my Princess Bride reference…)
You see, there’s more to integrity than simple honesty.
So, time for a new definition. Integrity, it seems to me, is simply demonstrable moral courage. I’m still keeping it simple, but for leaders, it involves more than simple honesty. It includes honesty to self—the courage of your convictions. I’ve used courage now twice in describing integrity, so you word-counters must know it’s important. It is. Our folks want to see us leading… from the front… even when it hurts.
The hurting that you feel? It’s just demonstrable courage bursting through. And no worries, it only hurts the first time or two; after that, you get used to it. Like scotch, it’s an acquired taste.
Soon, we’ll do an entire newsletter devoted to courage (it’ll hurt a bit, trust me). Until then, if you’re trying to figure out how you can demonstrate moral courage today (remember, we’re all about applying things, not just theory):
Be transparent. This means, of course, being honest. It also means providing insight into the sausage-making we call decisions, and helping people understand why we do what we do. The “why” is the singular most important piece of delegation, empowerment and change. It’s only right that it be a cornerstone in our newfound courageous behavior.
Be accountable. When you screw up (note the “when,” not “if”), apologize, sincerely and without qualification. Show remorse and commit to do better. Then shut up and move on. Take complete ownership of all you do, good and bad. Take your share of ownership of more corporate decisions, even (especially?!) if you disagree with them.
Be responsible for results. Take inputs, listen to them closely, and change course if that’s the right thing to do. Don’t stay hooked to a course that was wrong from the beginning. However, If your first decision – even with your new knowledge – is still correct, own that as well. Tell them you’ve considered their inputs, but for whatever reason (insert here), you’ve decided to continue that course. Your job is to listen to inputs, consider available options, and discern among options. Own it, do it, make sure others see it.
Integrity is an important leadership competence (I know… “D’oh!”), but learning how to demonstrate that competence is what matters. People have to actually see us doing what they need and expect—it’s not enough for you to just know it.
Here endeth the lesson (another great movie line)…