Posts Tagged communications

435 — Smoother Mergers and Acquisitions — Participation Brings Higher Success Rates

Six out of ten acquisitions fail to meet their financial goals. Usually the operational and financial plans are realistic, but they don’t meet expectations because people and cultural issues prevent proper company integration.

Manage Uncertainty

When properly managed, a good merger process will strengthen both cultures, retaining key people and yielding the hoped for synergy that sadly eludes most acquisitions. Culture conflict is particularly acute when the two cultures are quite different, for example in size, centralization, openness, and formality. Even though details of what will happen cannot be known in advance, the process for merging the cultures and managing uncertainty can be clear.

The merger process will be unique to every merger but typically includes: scheduling regular update meetings, a dedicated process for posting and answering questions, and a way to include people who want to be involved in decisions. Post this decision process and invite comments for improvements. Participation is the key to success.

Communicate, Inform, Involve

Frequent and open communication reduces water-cooler talk — that is often misinformed and reinforces fears. Explain simply and clearly the acquisition’s purpose and goals. Make sure that people can personally identify with the combined company’s vision and mission.

Whether in reality, or in people’s imagination, acquisitions affect everyone. Involving those affected in the acquisition decision process — without slowing or complicating it — takes some skill, but is not as difficult as it might first seem. People want to know how they will fit into the new structure. Too often the merger team rushes to define the new structure, rather than involving employees in setting the new structure and direction, particularly how each person will fit into the new structure, his and her role and tasks. Involvement ensures a stronger plan with everyone committed to their new roles and to making the merger work. Ideally you have one person (or more) on the acquisition team who is focused on culture issues. This person, not consumed by the financial, legal, and logistical problems, provides feedback on the people side to the technical experts.

Example — The Acquired is Participatory

Managing any complex company is filled with uncertainty. This problem is magnified for managers facing a newly acquired company, of which they know practically nothing. Ideally they get help from the place of most knowledge — from the managers in the acquired company. Here is an example.

I was working with the Northern California division of Fortune (name changed) when it was acquired by a competitor, Allied (name changed). Anticipating what would happen if they did not act, I urged the Fortune managers to take control of the merger process before the Allied team came on-site. The Fortune management team was very apprehensive, “What could we do? Do we have the authority to do anything? What if we do something and they change it? Who should we ask for permission? etc., etc.”

The Acquired Managers Take Control of the Process

The Fortune team was a sophisticated leadership group that over three years had built open communications and strong relationships at all levels of their Division. Their early discussions of the merger, often about operational details, evolved into a realization that they could best serve the merger process by acting as facilitators between the two companies. So they planned a series of meetings and invited the leadership from both companies to meet, identify issues, and make decisions. They also decided to present the same open and inviting stance they had learned, not the defensive or protective one they had left behind, that still characterized other Fortune divisions, and also the acquiring company.

When the Buyer is Autocratic

They knew Allied had a centralized leadership style, concentrated in their mid-west headquarters. Allied middle management was used to taking orders and giving orders. They did not use, nor understand, participatory decision-making. The incoming Allied management team accepted the Fortune manager’s invitation to meet, but at the initial meeting I could tell, from the Allied manager’s words and faces, that they found the experience confusing. Understandably they had expected to meet people like themselves, managers who acted defensively, withholding information, jockeying for position, and highly deferential to superior authority. Instead they met a deliberately relaxed, friendly, open, candid, and non-deferential management team.

I was concerned by this, because I know that authoritarians usually interpret open behavior as weak. It tempts them to go for the jugular. Indeed a few of the younger managers from Allied were provoked by what they thought was vulnerability in the Fortune managers, and became openly hostile and aggressive. It was almost embarrassing to see these young managers strutting their stuff. But the Fortune managers knew better than to react to this. While they were concerned about the hostility, they controlled their impulses and maintained the open dialog, which, over several meetings persuaded most, though not all, of the Allied team to act similarly.

After several meetings I felt that the Allied vice president recognize the maturity of the Fortune managers, the sophistication of the process they had initiated, and the major benefits it was bringing to the merger.  But he had another problem. Above him was Allied’s top management that tolerated no challenge to their decrees. He rightly saw the dialogue of the joint meetings as a potential problem if it moved in a direction that conflicted with directives from his bosses, or with his own plans.

These joint planning meetings, conducted over several months, had many rough spots but when the dust settled the Allied vice president said that the Northern California Division merger process had been the smoothest and most successful of the many Divisions under his authority.

Example — The Acquirer is Participatory

A Texas chemical plant “A” was under threat of closure. We worked with the managers helping them build a participatory workplace that dramatically improved productivity while rebuilding the self-confidence of the A management team. When an adjoining chemical plant B declared bankruptcy the A managers propose to corporate that they acquire and merge the two plants. Though surprised by this local initiative, corporate agreed.

A was a vast international Corporation with sophisticated, detailed procedures. B was a standalone plant largely operating from the seat of its pants. Managers at A planned to bring order and stability to B. Managers at B feared stifling and suffocation from the order and procedures of A. While the A managers held most of the cards they did not know the plant B equipment and they wanted to retain if possible the experienced plant B employees and managers. What followed was a merry dance that lasted many, sometimes excruciating, months.

When the Acquired is Autocratic

Just as in the previous example the autocratic managers from plant B interpreted the openness of plant A managers as weakness. Plant B managers quickly became aggressive, thinking they could gain the upper hand. Plant B managers were confused when plant A managers did not fight back or fold but simply held their ground, restating their position, mostly about bringing more order and predictability to plant operating procedures and how the plants would be physically joined.

The confusion reached a head when the general manager of plant B resigned. He failed to see how plant could be run without his familiar top-down control style. His view of the participatory decision process was that he was being stripped of authority, that is, he was being asked to resign. When the plant A management team refused to accept his resignation he was totally confused. From his experience how could he run a plant if he didn’t have complete authority.

He wasn’t alone. Most of the original managers and supervisors could not understand participation. To help them learn, the plant A management team assigned some of their lower-level managers and supervises to act as “buddies”, working side-by-side with their counterparts at plant B. As these buddies develop stronger interpersonal relationships most of the plant B employees began to see that they were not being rolled over but were being welcomed. But it took a painfully long time for this to happen.

I was most impressed at the fortitude of the plant A managers in tolerating the kind of disruptive, sometimes childlike, acting-out behavior from plant B. I put it down to the sophisticated maturity of the plant A team that they kept the long-term goal clear — “Use the merger process to demonstrate the values that renewed our plant and made it so successful.” The A management team demonstrated participation, trust, openness, teamwork, tolerance, compassion and true leadership.

Though physically the merger of these two plants was extraordinarily complicated, merging the people side was more so. In the long run both cultures merged beautifully, almost doubling plant capacity at a very low cost. Corporate was delighted.

cc 435 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — Operations

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424 — Managing Your Boss

darthvader faceIs that your Boss? Your Dad? Your Mom? Darth Vader? Or a person like you?

Morphing your boss from giant — or mom, or dad — back to person, boss-human being, can be a liberating experience. Doing it can build a valuable skill to carry into future jobs. And doing it doesn’t require cooperation.

Our feelings about our boss come largely from childhood, when we experienced our first bosses, our parents as all-powerful giants. Burdened with this old baggage, it’s sometimes hard to see some authority figures, maybe our boss, as a person like us — with hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, problems at home, and self-doubts. But presidents, media celebrities and bosses are not giants — they also put on their shoes one foot at a time. Fortunately there are some actions you can take to build a more casual rapport with “your boss.”

Open Up…Start Talking

Lets start with one fact. Managers often feel isolated, left out of the loop on what’s happening below them. This is an acute problem for CEOs at the top of the authority pyramid. This isolation happens when employees don’t feel comfortable initiating casual conversations — they leave it up to the boss to make the first move. This limits upwards communication and the flow of information.

Senior managers are hungry for improved relationships and information, but often don’t know how to change things. Some were taught not to have personal relationships with subordinates because it might make inhibit giving honest negative feedback or might be seen as favoritism.

If you are an employees, improving the relationship with your boss does not have to be a big event. You might just smile and say, “Hello” in the morning, mention your son’s baseball game, or ask how his or her weekend was. One small comment might open the way to a conversation, and lead to a more responsive boss. Here is an even more proactive way.

I taught management courses at the UC Irvine campus to budding supervisors and managers. In the week between each all-day Saturday class, the student assignment was to apply class work to their job. One assignment was to practice “The Cultural Interview”. Each student had to “Interview” a person they worked with but did not know well personally. The results were always striking. Here’s one.

Mike was a mid-20s first-level engineer in a 12 person consulting company. He felt distanced from the firm’s owner, who Mike said, “Spent too much time in his office.” Mike decided to invite the owner to lunch and “Interview” him. He was apprehensive but the class was encouraging. The following Saturday Mike said that the interview went well and that the day after the lunch the owner walked around the office talking with other employees. “It was the first time I had seen him do that.” Two years later, at a professional conference, Mike sought me out to excitedly report that he had been promoted to office manager. He said his promotion began with that Interview. It changed their relationship.

Do Something Together

A more ordinary, and a very effective way to build a relationship, is to do something together. This might be working together on a business project or it might be something informal, like playing together on the unit’s softball team, or working on a United Way drive.

What if Your Attempts at Bridge-Building Fail?

Some managers use their role to isolate themselves and avoid intimacy. These managers find relationships too difficult, preferring to keep employees (and others) at a distance. In that case your attempt to improve relationships upwards may fail.

If your repeated attempts to establish better communications with your boss are getting nowhere, you may just have come up against one of these well-defended (fearful) managers. In that case there is little you can do. If the lack of a strong relationship is actually a problem your best solution is probably to find another position, hopefully with a more open person. Surveys show that poor relationships with an immediate supervisor is the number one reason people resign.

cc 424 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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502 — Bullshit Bingo

Author, Anonymous, circa 2000?
(I put this article on the website for your entertainment and enlightenment. This is not a real suggestion.)

Sometimes topical or fashionable words block real communication.

Do you keep falling asleep in staff meetings? What about those long and boring conference calls?

Here’s a way to change all of that:

1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call, prepare your “Bullshit Bingo” card by drawing a square — I find that 5″ x 5″ is a good size — and dividing it into columns — five across and five down. That will give you 25 1-inch blocks.

2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block (or include other fashionable but fuzzy words used in your company):

    •  Game changer
    •  Disruptive technology
    •  Bilateral
    •  Bandwidth
    •  Transparency
    •  Strategic fit
    •  Core competencies
    •  Out of the box
    •  Bottom line
    •  Revisit
    •  Take that off-line
    •  24/7
    •  Out of the loop
    •  Benchmark
    •  Value-added
    •  Thought leader
    •  Proactive
    •  Win-win
    •  Fast track
    •  Result-driven
    •  Empower (or empowerment)
    •  Knowledge base
    •  At the end of the day
    •  Touch base
    •  Mindset
    •  Client focus(ed)
    •  Ballpark
    •  Game plan
    •  Leverage
    •  Cascade
    •  Sequential or sequentially
    •  Multiple times

 

3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.

4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand up and shout “BULLSHIT!”

Testimonials from satisfied “Bullshit Bingo” players:

“I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won.”
— Jack W., Boston

“My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically.”
— David D., Florida

“What a gas! Meetings will never be the same for me after my first win.”
— Bill R., New York City

“The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited for the fifth box.”
— Ben G., Denver

“The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed “BULLSHIT!” for the third time in two hours.”
— Harry A, Chantilly

“Thanks Bingo creator for thinking outside the box and proactively creating this value-added knowledge base that is a strategic fit with my core competencies and current client focused mindset. I can leverage our existing process and exploit the inherent synergies to expand the knowledge base to cater to our result driven team members who will work 24/7 to put it on a fast-track. This cascading game-plan is what I call a truly win-win situation, a disruptive game changer.”
— Swami S, Sunnyvale, CA

cc 502 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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421 — Aligning Your People

magnet and iron filingsCulture is like a magnetic field aligning everything in it. If people are not aligned all you need do is change the magnetic field, i.e. the company’s culture, and they’ll all be aligned. That may sound overly simple, but it’s true. It’s the doing that’s difficult.

Culture and Leadership

Keep in mind that managing culture is a leadership issue. It cannot be delegated. If people are not aligned it means that when they look up and see the leadership team, or when they receive communications or information from the leadership team, they hear and see different things. Another way of saying that is, if employees all saw and heard the same thing, they would be aligned. That is the very nature of culture.

It is futile to delegate this problem of alignment to a “training” team or to an outside expert. Looking at the problem as, “WE need to align THEM” is looking in the wrong direction. Sadly many leadership teams deny that they are misaligned. They project misalignment onto the broader organization — though deep inside, each person on the leadership team probably knows that this is an issue in their own team.

It’s accurate and honest to look at misalignment as information about the culture, i.e. information to the leadership team that it should work on better communicating alignment. How can it do that?

Start with the Leadership Team

Assume that the leadership team is not aligned. If it were, so would everyone else. This doesn’t mean the leadership team needs to beat itself over the head. But it does mean that the team members need to have some heart-to-heart discussions about their own relationships and communications, where they are going, what values they believe in, and how they will show alignment by example to the organization. Discussions like this are difficult. They may need a third-party facilitator; or else one or two people could dominate the conversation; or the discussion might stay at a superficial level and not get to people’s true feelings and thoughts.

Take Your Time

This lack of alignment problem didn’t develop overnight and it won’t be corrected in one session. Even with outside help, it takes time for the leadership team to get comfortable discussing such sensitive areas. People need time to think over the discussions, get in touch with their feelings, look in the mirror, prepare to be more open — and hence more vulnerable — in a room possibly packed with alpha males. I know from experience that the first of these meetings may bring snarling, fangs bared, and hair raised on the back of neck’s. It helps when the facilitator knows what to do when attacked. Why is the facilitator attacked? Because the members cannot directly tackle the chief, the top dog. They deflect their aggression (and fears) to the newcomer. After this happens a few times you learn to look around the group and quietly ask, “Any other comments?”

Leadership, power, authority, competition and control are some of the most contentious and difficult areas for anyone or any leadership team to discuss — but they are often the most important. Don’t imagine that this means some kind of group psychotherapy or bare-the-soul discussions. It might mean simply asking, “How can we show greater alignment? What could we do to show we are all on the same page?” Often doing more things together, showing cooperation, will begin moving along the path to success.

Fortunately, as the leadership team becomes more comfortable discussing and showing its own alignment the managers at the next level see that a new wind is blowing, that the management team is becoming a true team, more cohesive, open, and less internally competitive. It is in the nature of people and of culture that this next level of managers will themselves start to think, feel, and act with greater alignment. And so it will flow down and across the organization.

Problem Solved

If the management team perseveres in exploring and experimenting with how it can show greater alignment to the organization, the problem, first defined as “People are not aligned!” will evaporate. Guaranteed!

cc 421 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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