Leading a team through a company merger or acquisition is like being the ship captain when a hurricane hits on the open seas. But you better get prepared. Almost all the large companies where I work as a consultant and executive coach either experienced those tumultuous changes last year or are currently undergoing them. The good news is that if you know how to lead through challenging transitions, you are leadership gold in the eyes of today’s organizations.
When I served as a Fortune 100 senior executive, I led through eight different major mergers and acquisitions, and we didn’t just survive…we thrived. I’ve been in those reorganizational trenches and understand the tight-lipped confidentiality required (loose lips sink ships). But when you need a trusted confidential partner, I also know how to navigate through rough waters with accelerated results and winning productivity.
I work with organizations and their senior executives, in diverse industries, to ensure smooth sailing. Here are a few of the insights I share with them when they are preparing to venture into unchartered waters.
1. Over-Communicate, Over-Communicate, Over-Communicate
When you first announce that the company is going through a reorganization plan, employees fear that their job or department will be eliminated. They wonder if they will be in the unemployment line when it’s all said and done, and how they’ll provide for themselves and their families. They may believe that the senior executives aren’t sharing all the information they know, but are keeping it a secret to avoid a loss of morale.
But the truth is that most times when companies announce a merger, the actual plan has not yet been hatched. Even the C-Suite is still in the dark about the details. Be forthright and communicate all you can without breaking any rules of confidentiality. Keep the lines of communication open and use them repeatedly and frequently.
Take time to listen to your employees concerns, and stay positive about the road ahead. Be clear from the start about the reasons for the reorganization. Let employees know that it is necessary for organizational growth, competitive strength, and successful DNA to ensure a sustainable future.
2. Let Forward-Thinking Innovation Lead the Way
During reorganizations, you will probably have to adapt to new tools and resources. The culture of your organization may change, and the old ways you led may not work in your new leadership role.
But the great benefit of going through a reorganizational plan is it teaches you how to adapt, be flexible, and show your strengths as a confident decision maker. Preparation will ensure that you are unafraid to take strategic risks and inspire others to solve unforeseen challenges.
That requires steady focus and panoramic vision of the big picture. You have to embrace and encourage innovation and collaboration. After all, “merger” means combining of different ideas and resources.
3. Inspire & Require Team Loyalty, from Every Player
It takes employees time to make the mental and emotional readjustment after news of a merger. That’s natural. But the biggest mistake I see leaders make is that they remain overly sensitive and tentative for too long. Meanwhile naysayers on the team spread negative vibes and a mindset of noncooperation.
You’ve got to proactively address those destabilizing forces. Otherwise they will undermine your leadership and do permanent damage to your team’s DNA. Give people time to adjust. But you cannot afford to wait until everyone gets on board – because some never will.
You’ve got to be strong leader and draw the line in the sand and let your people know that a spirit of high-energy teamwork is a must. Every quarter that goes by that you don’t confront the naysayers is one that undercuts your bottom line results. Those results will reflect badly on everyone, including you.
4. Challenge Performance Beyond the Comfort Zone
As the leader, you have to put aside your own doubts and fears, especially during reorganizational change. You have to adopt a mindset that buys into it wholeheartedly. Otherwise you cannot genuinely and convincingly lead, persuade, and inspire your teams.
You’re at the helm as their guide and role model. For them to stretch beyond their comfort zones, you have to do so first. Communicate to them (and to yourself) that this is a once-in-a-career opportunity to expand your capabilities and skills and prove your value. Nurture a risk-taking entrepreneurial attitude.
I have seen transformational things happen during mergers and acquisitions that catapulted leaders and their teams to the forefront. I hear stories from my clients about how what they thought was impossible became doable. They were invigorated. Their teams became more aligned and engaged. They gained power and conviction that boosted their careers and their confidence…and served them well for years to come.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve gone through a reorganization, you know how vital it is to have reliably capable leadership DNA. Change is difficult. But it is the symptom of healthy growth. That’s how you and your employees will reinvent yourselves and your organization, for a sustainably successful future. Plan ahead so you’ll be a positively changed and greater leader when you reach the other side…with a battle-tested loyal team to support you.
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