Generally speaking, the bigger the corporation, the harder it is to reset the culture. The massively complex interrelated systems that evolve over time resist interference from outside as well as within. The key is to seize upon the rare moments when systems are already in flux—namely, in the wake of a merger or acquisition. The timing might seem inconvenient, and there might be a tendency to wait until things “settle down,” but the state of uncertainty is the point. The destabilizing effects of mergers and acquisitions present companies with a stark choice between passively allowing the process to unfold and consciously setting the tone for the new entity.
It is these moments of significant risk that offer up the greatest opportunity for strategic and behavioural alignment. Which isn't to say that it isn't scary. The risks are real, but the return far outweighs them.
When a planned merger imposed a new context on a large UK-based technology company last year, IG's engagement began with a short, directive group session with the board. We made sure we were on the same page for the short-term goals and overall vision for the deal. Partnering with the senior team, we established a routine for one-on-one coaching sessions, every 3-5 weeks, with the chief executive and each of his direct reports, along with high-potential individuals deemed critical for the success of the merger. The process resulted in breakthroughs that probably wouldn't have come about if it had commenced at a time when life at the firm was more stabilized.
Our work with the executives focussed on transition management and coaching, not corporate therapy. We addressed personal issues insofar as they affect productivity. Participants had license to explore their feelings with an objective, neutral party - someone with a sophisticated understanding of the business but no stake in how leadership decisions shook out.
M&A's are more than business transactions. They inevitably unleash emotions and latent psychological issues in successful executives who stake their personal worth on their professional status. When the status is threatened in a tumultuous M&A context, the emotions are not always pretty. It is far better, however, to air them in a trusting, confidential dialogue than to keep them bottled up and ready to explode.
Our work took what was going on unconsciously and brought it into the conscious space, addressing such topics as:
- Coping with the sense of loss that accompanies the end of a known company and the start of an unknown one
- Wondering how to persist and work in a period of transition
- Figuring out strategies for leading teams with strategies are in flux
These frank conversations enabled leaders to make deliberate choices about their behaviours and responses. It was a time of collective and individual change, but after about eight months, we saw greater alignment and a growing sense of collaboration. Establishing a strong foundation for the new organisation enabled long-term effectiveness that continues to pay dividends. Team members felt supported. Team performance was elevated.
IG has seen executive teams come out the other side stronger and more resolute, and each time we gain greater confidence in the admittedly messy process. If you and your company are contemplating M&A or are in the midst of a transition, we welcome you to reach out to me at email@example.com and learn more about our approach and experience.