Building Trust during Merger Integrations

Sun, Dec 07, 2008

According to a November 2008 McKinsey study, 22% of over 1400 executives from a cross-section of industries, geographies, and functional areas anticipate that they will be seeking merger and acquisition opportunities. That is, those companies that are still in fairly good financial shape will take advantage of opportunities to purchase complimentary companies at a lower price than usual.

When times are tough, it is human nature to batten down the hatches. However, when business is reduced to just a set of metrics and numbers without consideration to the human side of business, growth and productivity are unintentionally squelched. Several years ago some colleagues and I were making a sales pitch to the CEO of a large chemical manufacturing company set to make major large-scale change. We argued that there was a need to manage the human side of the change in order to get the desired return on investment. The CEO remarked that his employees would just have to "get over it." Fortunately, we were able to persuade the CEO and CFO that they could not afford to be distracted by employees who were not on board and aligned with the desired changes.

Leaders struggling to successfully integrate two diverse cultures often unintentionally perpetuate a lack of trust.  Understandably, managers and employees are first concerned about the things that matter most to them. Will they still have a job? How much will they be paid? What about healthcare and other benefits? Will they receive stock options? They also wonder what will change under the new leadership. Employees who were successful in a company that has been acquired realize that some of the processes and methods that they used to get work done may change. Potential changes raise anxiety. Edgar Schein calls this survival anxiety. Will I survive? Can I learn?

The best way that leaders can build trust is to do the following early on:

1. Communicate the personal welfare issues (pay, benefits, stock) right away

2. Communicate a set of integrated, tiered objectives

3. Clarify charters, roles and responsibilities

4. Clarify and communicate the decision making process, that is who makes what decisions at what level and the  escalation path when there is disagreement

5. Be clear about desired values and norms and reward those who demonstrate them

Finally, it is often difficult for leaders to see the tangles, or human dynamics messes,  that they are creating. They are too close to the situation and it is nearly impossible to be objective. Further, leaders who focus only on the numbers risk losing their opportunity to fully engage all of their organizational talent in growing their business, particularly in economically challenging times. Investing in a professional assessment and integration process early on will ensure success.

Copyright Ruben Consulting Group, All Rights Reserved

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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