Cheryl offers: As practitioners of change leadership, our focus is not so much on the change management process itself as on what kind of leader is required to really create change that lasts. We love John P. Kotter’s book, The Heart of Change because it touches all aspects of change, including the need to get employees emotionally invested to create the energy needed to change. With the new “normal” of our economy, one thing I fear will not change is that as markets dictate consolidation, the percentage of Merger and Acquisition failures will remain constant. You see, acquisition happens. One company is bought by another. Seldom does a merger happen. Oh, assets get combined, leadership is chosen and redundancies eliminated; and the real heart of change that makes M&A’s worth the price paid is the MERGER of cultures. Most leaders pay more attention to the organization chart, press releases, and employment contracts than the real need to enroll employees in the changes. The fact is, about 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail. Almost 100% of the failures can be traced to not asking everyone to pay equal attention to the M as well as the A. Communication is the leadership’s responsibility in times of change; it becomes their legacy.
Sara adds: I was with IBM when it acquired Lotus. I coached a number of people on the Lotus development team and was struck by how victimized they felt. The acquisition had occurred, but for them, there was no merger. In the shadow of those memories, I turned to Adam Kahane, author of Solving Tough Problems . Kahane is known for his work in helping create unity in places like South Africa. He states, “There are two ways to unstick a stuck problem. The first is for one side to act unilaterally – to try imposing a solution by force or violence.” That’s how I read the press release in mergers like IBM acquiring Lotus or Oracle acquiring Sun Microsystems. Kahane goes on to add, “The second way to unstick a problem is for the actors to start to talk and listen in order to find a way forward together.” My opinion? Acquisitions are financial agreements to acquire assets; mergers require people to work with other people intentionally and creatively.
Sara says: Cheryl and I teach graduate students and we’ve discovered that many don’t write well. It’s a rampant problem and when we mention it, some students get a real “deer in the headlights” look. They don’t have a clue where to start. Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about today’s youth not being able to write. It’s about a leader’s responsibility to good communications. The quizzical look from our students, whether it means “I don’t know what you are talking about” or “I don’t know what to do about it” is not a sufficient response. A leader’s job – right up there with delivering results to the shareholder’s – is communicating. Leaders must always be on the lookout for 1) the most effective ways to communicate and 2) the number of ways they can deliver the message.
Lou Gerstner who wrote about the turnaround of IBM, wrote in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, “Personal leadership is about communication, openness, and willingness to speak often and honestly, and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener.” I heard Gerstner tell an audience of IBM executives that, “you cannot over communicate. You are responsible to communicate your vision in every memo, every conference call, every interview.” If change in a company fails, look first to the leader and their ability (and tenacity) in articulating the change.
Cheryl offers: Our friend and ally blogger, Bob Morse, posted this question only a few days earlier in June: Q #184: Has the ability to write well become obsolete? Bob’s answer was “No, and I am convinced it never will.” I agree with Bob and Sara. The responsibility to teach, practice, and role model good communications reside with leadership; be it the school system or in corporations. “Have you ever thought about the fact that the great philosopher Socrates had a student named Plato, and that Plato had a student named Aristotle?” This comes from the book, “If Aristotle Ran General Motors” by Tom Morris. Morris goes on to say, “Given the right context of intimate and sustained association, greatness gives rise to greatness.” If that doesn’t inspire a teacher or leader to invest the time to teach their students/employees the value of clear, concise, and grammatically correct communication, I’m not sure it can be done!