Maintaining the status quo is rarely an option for leaders these days. Mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances are all more common than ever. Effective leaders understand there are times when these integration efforts are the only way for their organizations to survive, much less thrive. Yet, leading such a change is no easy feat. Consider the following leadership lessons that can help:
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t have that answer yet.” Sometimes leaders confuse being candid with making up a specific response when they don’t even have one. The irony is that candor and honesty sometimes calls for the leader to say, “At this point, we haven’t resolved that issue, but as soon as we do, we will hold a public forum, announce it and have an open discussion with all of you.”
- Assign one of your top people to handle the day-to-day operational details. As the leader driving the integration effort, never assume you will be able to handle the day-to-day minutia and still keep your eye on the big picture. Rather, pick one of your best operational “get it done” people for that role, with a direct line to you, and ensure he or she gives you regular updates on where things stand.
- Draft players based on skill set and merit when building your new team. Avoid putting people in key leadership positions based on politics and “horse trading.” These leaders are often miscast and do not perform particularly well. Instead, look at your talent pool in both organizations from the beginning of the integration process and put the best people in the right seats on the bus based purely on qualifications and skill set.
- Acknowledge that two very different organizational cultures are being asked to come together. This is, in many ways, unnatural. Smart leaders decide to establish one “new culture” that blends the best of what each team brings to the table and start to foster that culture from day one—not just in words, but also in deeds. The leader’s actions must reflect this new culture in meetings and in decisions, as well as in the way the organization is branded internally and externally.
- Hold very open and public forums. Give employees the opportunity to ask questions on any topic related to the merger, acquisition or integration. This helps cut down on the spread of gossip and misinformation.
The more you are seen as upfront and out front, talking openly, honestly and with confidence about these changes—even when you don’t have all of the answers—the more the people within the organization will sense that there is nothing to hide. In turn, this will help build the kind of trust necessary to move forward.
Now, your turn
What do you think is the key to leading a successful integration? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.