Mergers and acquisitions too often start on the wrong foot because your workers, uncertain of how changes will affect them, are in self-protection mode, prone to seeing what’s missing. This attitude will lead to making circumstances and/or people “wrong.” The disease of wrong will turn your merger into a them-against-us proposition that drains productivity and replaces it with the political paralysis of a power struggle.
I remember a large advertising agency merger that got well out of hand. It brought together a great strategic match on paper between a sizable and well-established general advertising agency and a leading direct marketing firm. One agency culture was mentoring and supportive, and the other was seen to be more self-driven and absorbed.
The politics made everyone wrong. Talent flew out of the general agency as the direct marketing firm, whose offerings were cutting-edge and taking the lead in new business, created havoc. The combined revenues shrank considerably, and valuable client relationships became severed because no one enjoys working with unhappy, anxious people.
This story is more the norm than the exception, especially in advertising mergers. People worry about who will come out on top, causing a disconnect from the value of trust. People waste time second-guessing others’ every move and motive. Productivity and innovation become victims of the warning bells of stress, which include anger, confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration. The disease of wrongness can be spread by anyone at any level, like one bad apple in a barrel, affecting everyone.
Over my many years of working with companies of all strengths and sizes, I have seen many mission statements and values lists intended to help a company identify who they are and what they stand for. Values such as integrity, honesty, and innovation grace their walls and websites, informing clients, staff, and visitors what motivates the firm to action.
When I ask people in an agency merger what these value declarations mean to them, I hear different priorities and definitions. What is missing is a universal agency understanding. When you explore the matter more deeply, you often come to find that value inspiration is not clearly defined or agreed upon across all levels of the staff.
“Your values are your destiny,” the saying goes. Values dictate your rules of conduct. When you are honoring them, your work is inspiring.
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Focus on Relationship Chemistry
The most important aspect of a successful merger or acquisition is developing the relationship chemistry that is necessary to unite a partnership. Strategy and finances typically lead the decision to merge, while the cultural merger is often an afterthought. Maybe your C-level executives understand where they stand in the hierarchy, but everyone else is left in the dark, uncertain of their future and how their work and careers will change.
Uncertainty can breed distrust, leading to a merger that is not as successful as it could be. To ensure this opportunity for heightened success is not lost, as a first step, each agency would need to develop its vision for the combined agency and explore its long- and short-term goals. The results of this exercise would then be shared between both agencies to discover what they have in common, where they can agree to disagree, and where they differ. Having a clear picture before the merger will make the transition easier for all.
For a prosperous transition, I recommend you encourage all staff to contribute their thoughts, either in groups or separately with management, on how they see the merger succeeding. Great ideas can come from those least expected to help when they are encouraged and given the opportunity to participate. Plus, inclusion is a powerful tool in retaining the talent you want to keep. When they feel like part of the process, they are more likely to be engaged in the success of the merger.
You increase your likelihood for success when both sides in a merger support each other’s ideas rather than working to protect their own. Contributing crazy ideas should be encouraged. There are no wrong answers at this stage! Instead, celebrate a reinforcing attitude that energizes more creative thinking.
The Being and Doing of Relationship Chemistry
Each staff member should be tasked to understand how they define the values of the agency as well as other values that are important to them. When employees know themselves better, it is easier to discover where they connect with others and where they do not. Their ability to consciously empower the values they have in common with others while avoiding those they do not share is a crucial element to successful relationship-building.
The second part of relationship chemistry is what I call “the Doing.” When all your employees know their responsibilities and the steps to take in managing them, they will better understand how to respect working with their coworkers and staff. This second part is where a great deal of turmoil can occur if responsibilities are not clearly understood early in the merger. Responsibilities and processes are subject to constant change in a newly formed agency, so employees should regularly check to make sure they are still on the right track.
The better all staff, from C-level to intern, understand a merged agency’s goals, defined values, and the processes that inspire their actions, the greater chance that company will not only succeed but flourish beyond expectations.
Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.