A Story of Three Mergers

Alpha Group merged with Liquid Assets, Inc. Beta Industries acquired Eager Business. Epsilon Group merged with Omega Managers. Immediately, leaders and managers in the six original organizations felt uncomfortable. Like the rest of us, change upset them. They enjoyed the culture of their original organization and didn’t like adapting to a new and unknown culture in the new organization.

April, the CEO of Alpha Group, recognized that everyone in the new organization needed to change their outlook, attitudes, and beliefs and to stretch. Everyone: executives, managers, and staff.

April heard the speech by the Dean of Hass School of Business: a company that isn’t thriving needs to analyze the gaps in its culture. She knew a company that does the analysis and telephoned it — AchieveCorp. After discussing their offerings in detail in face-to-face meetings, she decided the new Alpha Group needed to begin with all three levels of analysis AchieveCorp provides (each with its own specific tool): the enterprise itself; silos and the two groups of members from the old Alpha Group and from the old Liquid Assets, and several of key work groups and individuals from each former company.

The experience of doing the questionnaires for the analysis helped everyone feel they were moving forward. They had input into the new company and its new culture. The gap analysis led to meetings and workshops with experts from AchieveCorp on the issues the groups and individuals wanted to improve. Within a year, the new Alpha Group was thriving.

Burt was the CEO of Beta Industries. He recognized the distress of people involved in the merger. He was able to handle the problems of the executive suite and top management by paying for those people to talk things with others, some in the organization some outside, colleagues with ability to handle others’ emotions, former mentors, professional advisors, or psychologists. The issues need to be talked through.

Burt also recognized that everyone in a merged organization has the same need to talk. He knew a facilitator who was trained in a technology of consciousness and would be willing to run a series of open meetings for everyone, especially the staff for whom there weren’t funds or time for one-on-one counseling. The facilitator had skills and tools to hold a neutral viewpoint and be supportive. Burt hired the person to chair meetings and facilitate discussion. Everyone was able to vent their fears, frustrations, and suggestions and to know that everyone else hears them. For this reason key managers and executives were present, although they only spoke to respond to the staff. The facilitator supported the managers’ creativity so their responses were pertinent, encouraging, and respectful. Patrick Lencioni illustrated this kind of all-hands meeting in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.

External conflicts, the ones between people in the merger, had to be resolved quickly, especially when the conflict affected the attitude or behavior of a key member of the organization. The same facilitator agreed to help with these.

Details were critical. What were the cultural differences, the old comforting beliefs? What were the new beliefs the merger ideally would have, its new culture and structure? What personalities were involved in the outward clash? How willing were they to change their perspective, their viewpoint? If reluctant, could they be coached or inspired to consider change? Using skills of consciousness, neutral attention, being empathetic without being drawn into others’ emotions, and support everyone’s creative efforts the facilitator got them willing to experiment, to consider trying a suggested approach for three to six months, and then to have everyone decide.

It took time and effort, but eventually the new Beta Industries got through the crises of merging and moved forward.

Edna, the CEO of Epsilon, took a hard-nosed view. She had Epsilon bury the conflicts. She put motivational posters on all the walls. She urged her managers to get the most they could from every team: to work them, manipulate them, pit one person against the others by subtly playing favorites now with Betty, now with Sam.

The executive committee argued instead of functioning. Managerial teams met but didn’t produce. Absenteeism at Epsilon rose to more than 30%. If an outsider observed the staff at work, he would have see “presenteeism”: people repeating work, daydreaming, and gathering at water coolers and copying machines to vent complaints no manager heard and Edna never addressed. Productivity fell to less than 20% of pre-Recession values.

Tom, Bill, Helen, many good employees became disengaged. They no longer cared for the institution in which they once invested hope and eager work. Angry chides from managers upset them, stopped their creativity, and made them indifferent, even antagonistic, to Epsilon’s goals.

Sid, Elizabeth, and Henry lucked out. Their LinkedIn profiles were up to date, attractive, and private from Epsilon’s management. As each got an opportunity to go elsewhere, anywhere else, each jumped ship.

Epsilon continued to fail.

So where is your organization on this spectrum? Alpha and Epsilon are extremes. Where are you?  Lawrence Hebberd of www.gravitatedesign.com (LinkedIn) and Gallup Polls’ State Of The American Workplace report that absenteeism from stress cost the US $30 billion last year, “presenteeism” – being at work but unproductive ‒ $200 billion, active disengagement about $500 billion. What are these problems costing you?