During an integration, time is of the essence. With every day that goes by, the cost synergies that formed the rationale for the integration dissolve as a newly formed leadership team struggles to build the level of trust required for optimal decision making, and revenue opportunities are lost as the organization turns its focus inward. Organizations often address this by setting up a Program Management Office to capture the cost synergies and set up the new organizational footprint.
In our experience with large organizations, what is often not done well during integrations is creating an effective future state vision and rapidly aligning a leadership team around it. This work is folded into the “change management” workstream and gets only “check the box” attention. If you are an executive in charge of an integration, here are three items that represent an insurance policy to hit integration goals.
- The creation of a new leadership team brings excitement, but also new concerns. If unaddressed, these create a drag on the dialogue that is critical to fast, effective decision making. Progress slows because decisions are made without addressing the real issues. We often use Dilbert-like visualizations of what people are really thinking as conversation starters for items that were once addressed only at the water cooler. Addressing these issues up front keeps them from resurfacing when talking about the business strategy and builds a foundation of trust with new leaders.
- New leadership teams can struggle with a set of norms that define appropriate conversations. As the team is formed from different management styles, leaders may be overly cautious in sharing their perspective. A set of Integration Ground Rules can ensure that strategic issues are addressed and help form a new team dynamic. A ground rule such as “The group will support all decisions after we leave the meeting” is an example of an observable behavior that can accelerate execution. A team shouldn’t have more than 8 ground rules, and the required last one is that team members will hold each other accountable to their commitments.
Many teams provide feedback on these ground rules and the “behavioral metrics” in tandem with the financial.
- We have found that most executive teams struggle to articulate or even understand the holistic story of the new organization. Individually, the many pieces make sense, but how new customers, offerings, and processes create compelling possibilities together is not well understood. Without a story, there is more focus on tactics, often cost-related, rather than revenue-generating opportunities. A set of generic vision and mission statements usually fail to inspire employees. Then, as offer letters go out and acceptance rates are lower than projected, leaders wonder why employees don’t see the same bright future that they do.
Starting with a picture of the future can be a powerful way to get a team to see new possibilities. Try asking small groups to draw your differentiated value proposition with customers in the future and comparing it to today. This forces systemic thinking, reveals strengths and weaknesses, and moves leaders away from rhetoric and business jargon that isn’t clear.
The rapid creation of a compelling future state and the ability to have authentic dialogue as a leadership team are a critical insurance policy for hitting integration goals on time. If you apply these techniques, you may avoid classic integration landmines. You can also create a more aligned leadership team, making the journey of an integration more fun, successful, and fulfilling.