Come together, right now… over me!

— The people side of merger integration

 

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:

  1. Create an employee integration plan immediately. It takes hours, not days, don’t dilly-dally. Communicate that plan to others (both ‘”sides”).
  2. 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.
  3. Decide where you’ll compromise — and where not — and hold firm.
  4. 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.
  5. Clearly define roles, accountabilities, reporting relationships, and performance expectations. It’s the very core of the employee agreement.
  6. “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…

 

 

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Congrats on the promotion, LOSER!

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.

For instance:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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…
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  1. 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.

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Who’s Got Your Six??

As the leader of your team, who’s got your back? Are the people who work for and with you watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?

A few years back, the “Got Your 6” campaign launched to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to “create opportunities for our military veterans to successfully convert their leadership and operational training into positive civilian roles.” They had some great public service announcements that explained how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.

The PSAs also reminded me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep the enemy from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into office politics: the blind spot where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.

“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. In aerial combat, wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy to apply that as an analogy in the corporate world: who’s going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of self-sufficiency and watching out for yourself?

Your teammates, that’s who. The ones you’ve built trusting relationships with and know you have their backs as well.

When leaders are intentional about creating an environment of trust and collaboration in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed, and they don’t want to see someone they care about get hurt. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.

I think it’s harder today to build trusting relationship in the workplace. Not impossible, but certainly more difficult than in the past. Because we all have so much information available about EVERYTHING, many have lost trust and confidence in historically reliable institutions like the news media, government, politics and popular culture. As we regularly question others’ ulterior motives (and others question ours), creating an environment of trust can be quite challenging.

Trust = integrity x compassion x competence

You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence). You instill trust only if your actions are consistent with your words – assuming you have good intentions, of course.

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it here. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you are also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice a coworker for your benefit or to avoid blame, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.

By now you’re thinking I must have grown up with rainbows and butterflies all around me. Far from it… I know competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations. And I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” But in my experience, not having someone you trust to cover your six can be fatal to your career… figuratively AND literally.

Creating a culture of trust isn’t a passive activity; you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. If it’s not already a habit, you have to be intentional about getting out there and doing your best to make others successful, trusting them the way they trust you, and having their six.

So, who’s got your six?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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Integrity Isn’t Flexible

I wrote about this a couple of years ago, but it seems like things are getting worse, not better. I’ve had a number of conversations with transitioning military veterans recently, and a common issue among them is adjusting to the perceived lack of integrity out in the “civilian world.” I’m not going to get all preachy and start throwing stones, but I can honestly state that I’ve run across more liars and cheaters outside the military than in.

Or maybe I’m just more sensitive to it because integrity-bashing is so pervasive in our media today. It seems like in business – and politics – we tend to throw the word ‘integrity’ around without giving much thought to what it means. Probably because it’s obvious to us if someone has it or not.

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, the blinding flash of the obvious is hurting my eyes,” take just a minute to write down the definition of integrity.

Not that easy, huh.

You see, integrity has as many definitions as leadership, and that’s as many as the number of people you ask. Integrity, like leadership, is in the eye of the beholder. To quote the late Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” (He was, of course, referring to hard-core pornography, but whatever).

Among the many definitions of integrity found via the Oracle (aka the internet), honesty and strong moral and ethical principles are most often used. The problem is that morals – the principles of right and wrong – are individual and depend on a person’s belief system. And ethics – principles of good and bad conduct – depend of the group or culture they attempt to govern (i.e., bribery is not unethical in some parts of the world).

My point is that, as a leader, your integrity is judged by others, and they use their own definition. And what’s most important to one person isn’t necessarily that important to someone else. Honesty and truthfulness are obviously part of integrity, but so is following through on commitments and doing what you say. And uncompromised principles and consistency of actions and values. Having integrity is a character trait, and while you might think you have it, if it’s not demonstrated so people can see it – through your words, actions, decisions, methods and outcomes – you will be judged by others as not having it.

TRUST = INTEGRITY X COMPASSION X COMPETENCE

We know that trust is a product of integrity, compassion and competence; if any of the three are missing in our leadership, we won’t be trusted. We can be forgiven for occasionally being less compassionate than usual, and our infrequent screw-ups don’t necessarily make us incompetent. Integrity, however, is black and white, all or nothing, so having flexible integrity – like situational ethics – makes a person untrustworthy, and that’s a death knell for leaders.

2019. New year, new you. Integrity is demonstrable. If you think you have it, you need to be intentional about displaying it. Be intentional about what you say, how you behave, and how you make decisions. Make sure they reflect your values and beliefs.
And most importantly, recognize the impact of how you display your integrity has on others. They’ll know it when they see it.

It’s up to you, leaders.

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Integrity, Courage & Inigo Montoya

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)…

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Leadership 2019: A new year, let’s do it right!

2018 is in the can, finished. Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

A new day has dawned. 2019 is here, we’re over a week into it already. Soon, we’ll be discussing how fast January flew by, then Q1.

Have you made plans? Personal goals are great. Business objectives are super. But do you have specific plans to “do” leadership better in 2019? No? Why not?

Many of us create detailed plans for the new year. We spreadsheet various categories like personal, family, business, spiritual, health, etc. But we need to add one: Leadership. What can you do differently this year to improve your leadership impact? “Get better at it” sounds great but is woefully unactionable. (more…)

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