News & Insight
May 2003

Making Corporate Integrations Work

Studies have shown that roughly half of all mergers and acquisitions fail to deliver what was expected of them, and one big factor is management's inability to build trust with employees assimilating into their organization.

"For corporate integrations to be successful, leaders have to model the behaviors they want their people to follow," says Carolyn Ott, a member of the WJM Associates coaching faculty, who has helped companies assimilate new executives and employees into their organizations following acquisitions. "Management has a limited window of opportunity to develop trust and respect when new people join their team. If they don't focus on these issues from the start, they'll have a hard time making the deal work."

Ott cites one company that identified some 30 behaviors -- many dealing with trust, respect and a willingness to listen to differing points of view -- that were very important for members of the senior management team to demonstrate to the new employees coming in to their organization. To ensure that everyone modeled these behaviors, the company conducted quarterly surveys of all employees to measure the effectiveness of its approach.

"The company received fairly dramatic results," says Ott. "At a time when everything was changing for the employees who were assimilating into their new organization, it was refreshing to have a senior team whose trust and respect scores went up."

What can leaders can do to make integrations work? Ott offers the following suggestions:

Be sincere and honest in all dealings with your new executives and employees. Communicate frankly. Share what information you can and let people know that other developments will be announced at the appropriate time. Let people know there is a master plan so that they don't think the organization lacks direction.

Listen to your new staff. Acquired teams are often passionate about the work and processes they have developed. It is difficult to abandon those efforts in favor of another way of doing things without having the opportunity to present ideas and perspectives and have them valued.

Present a clear vision, and invite middle management to present ideas on adapting to the new culture and the new parent's expectations. Be consistent in your communications so all audiences receive the same message.

Enable success by drawing people into decisions. Make time to listen to people's ideas, concerns, fears, expectations, and ambitions. Help them reflect on their strengths and potential for the future without making any "false promises" about jobs.

Find linkages where the new and the current are not so different. Shared visions, values, processes, attitudes, and styles will make the unknown seem a bit familiar and potentially less threatening.

"If people believe there will be a place for them in the new organization where they can contribute, they'll walk across the bridge you're trying to build," says Ott. "If they don't trust or respect you, you'll never win them over."

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