Taking a stab at a calendar for executive assimilation
The first couple of months have three constituencies, your family, your team and your boss. Not to say these are complete after two months. Far from it! But this is when there is a lot of heavy lifting with these key groups.
Getting things straight at home comes first, hopefully before you start the job. A position that creates turmoil for a spouse or children begins on a shaky foundation. You accepted the reassignment to Beijing without considering how your 5-year-old son will cope with his asthma? You might not be long for the job, and your company might not be too understanding about you reneging on your commitment.
I was offered a position running my company’s business in Argentina. My wife and I checked it out over a Thanksgiving weekend and came away with the belief that the culture was a bad fit for our kids. I returned to the States to tell my boss, “No, thanks.” It was the right call for the family, even if it meant closing the door on opportunities within our international business unit. Within two months I had a new position in the North American business that I could commit to, without disrupting our family life.
Having a series of conversations with your supervisor when you start is critical. Are your expectations of the job consistent with the reality you face? Can you set rules of the road in terms of communication and decision making? Often, we feel like we are expected to make an impact, when a boss still expects us to be learning. I think the real value of “quick wins” in the vernacular of Michael Watkins is, in part, to get the boss off your back temporarily, while you continue to learn. It’s probably more effective to have an open conversation with the boss about what how long they expect you might need to get up to speed before making decisions of consequence.
I’ve spoken to successful CEOs or divisional presidents who made it clear that they were going to resist imposing their will on the organization until they felt like they had a sufficient understanding of the issues, the people, the processes, etc. Their first two months on the job entailed a crash course on the market, the organizational competencies, etc. And letting others make decisions was unnerving. Leaders make decisions. Not doing so is against their nature and contrary to what they think is expected of them.
You cannot always get away with this strategy. Crises demand action, and leaders have to own that action. Sometimes there is no getting around it; you may have to act even in your ignorance.
Management involves getting things done through other people. The people you will count on the most are the ones who report to you. So, the first 2 months involve getting to know them and having them become acquainted with you. A one-day facilitated session made popular by GE three decades ago is still state of the art. It addresses these questions:
Once your team is better acquainted with you, get to know them individually. How can they help you? What are their strengths? Who needs to be developed? What dynamics must you be sensitive to?
Your reports will pay much more attention to you than you will to them. They are looking for little cues from you. When you say “we,” are you talking about this team, or your former employer? What evidence do they see of you delivering on commitments? How can they determine if you have their backs? How do you demonstrate adherence to cultural values? What won’t you tolerate? This is an ongoing process, and it changes as your team changes. But this begins to gel in the first two months.
While you continue to work on relationships with family, boss and team, Months 3 and 4 add two other groups of constituents, colleagues and outside stakeholders.
For the first couple months, you have met your colleagues, interacted with them and tried to mind your own business. As you feel more secure in the first ring of relationships, it’s time to get more involved in the interaction with your peers. This can be in the form of building alliances through reciprocation, asking questions and finding opportunities to move from professional to personal relationships. Be aware that your ignorance can be a point of leverage, allowing you to ask naïve questions without an agenda. At the same time, your ignorance has you at a decided disadvantage in organizational politics. If your peers feel you are oblique in a way that builds your own power base, don’t be surprised to get towel-snapped.
With enough confidence in the critical internal relationships needed for success, many leaders begin to turn their attention outside of the organization. There may be vendors, strategic partners or customers that demand attention your attention. A sales leader whose success depends on direct relationships with customers can’t wait until Months 3-4 to focus on them. For most executives, this ring of assimilation recognizes that people who work for you own the primary 3rdparty relationships; forging external bonds comes after you make progress on the relationships with your own people.
The next ripple out brings a focus on building links to board members and on the broader employee base beyond your own team. It’s important for the organization to know who a leader is and what their priorities are. Being public about your intentions will make it easier for your team to get traction. But your team deserves that your communications have credibility. Credibility requires you to be steeped in the business and the culture. And it’s not just your credibility at stake, but the credibility of all those whom you lead. An early pronouncement that shows your ignorance hurts those you must rely upon to succeed. Don’t dig a hole for them; be judicious about what you say and when you say it.
In many businesses, board involvement is a quarterly affair. So, a C-suite leader’s first exposure to the full board may be sometime in the first ninety days. Your “rookie” label provides some insulation, assuming you avoid significant breaches in etiquette. Listen carefully, offer opinions or information when requested and don’t be afraid to admit to ignorance.
The second board meeting, sometime between Months 4 and 6, is a different matter. If you don’t have information to answer a question, it is wise to address how you will get it. If a suggestion had been made in your first exposure to the board, prepare a report on actions you’ve taken. If you decide not to act on a board member’s request, communicate that to the individual board member before the next meeting takes place. If there is bad news to report, get it out, take responsibility and provide the planned remedy. Look for opportunities to interact with board members before the second meeting. Ask for their perspectives on issues you face or introductions to their connections who may provide value.
Over Months 7-12, assimilation and relationship-building continue across all of these groups. You are able to manage greater complexity. Your familiarity with the system and with the people will allow you to assert yourself more. You can take more risks in challenging others, expanding your influence and making change happen.
As you become more comfortable in the system, you can no longer use being new as a “get out of jail free” card. A year in, questions you ask are no longer viewed as naïve. Motives might be questioned. This is when the careful groundwork of your early assimilation will pay off. Peers, supervisors, direct reports and other stakeholders have had a chance to take your measure, to learn who you are and how you add value. You no longer are given the benefit of the doubt. Instead, you have earned your place.
In my parents’ day, kids learned how to swim by being thrown in the deep end. A violent thrashing that resembled treading water, a dog-paddle to the side and, along with a bit of sputtering, confidence grew that you could conquer the pool.
Today, infants and toddlers get comfortable in water before they are toilet trained. Kids routinely learn aquatic skills and stroke fundamentals before they learn to read. It seems like we’ve come a long way.
Then I consider how so many companies handle the onboarding of new employees. They might as well throw them into the deep end! The surprise is that so many companies just expect qualified people who have succeeded in the past to succeed this time. “They’re senior, they don’t need the help, right?” Ugh!
I thought I would pass on some observations on why so many onboarding programs suck, and steps that can be taken to make them great.
When does it happen?
KornFerry research showed that an overwhelming majority (74%) of companies see onboarding as a key factor in employee retention. Even more companies (83%) have onboarding programs in place. Yet most companies’ onboarding programs last for one week or shorter, and almost ¾ of companies have onboarding programs of a month or shorter.
Beyond the limited duration of most onboarding efforts, there is some variation on when they are conducted. Small companies might begin to onboard individual employees on their first day. Medium and large companies might have regularly scheduled onboarding programs, allowing HR managers to group employees together for efficient processes. The problem here is that new employees might have to wait some time before getting the benefits of an onboarding effort.
I submit that the best time to start onboarding is before an employee starts the job. There is no reason why materials can’t be given to people when they accept an employment offer but before they start work. This doesn’t eliminate the need for a Day 1 program. But giving pre-employment homework makes employees better informed when they walk in the door, and it creates a more meaningful on-site orientation.
And I’d suggest that onboarding extends beyond a week. In fact, it extends beyond the 90-day period often discussed in literature. People are often still referring to their former places of employment as “we” after 90 days. People often don’t see the most significant problems they have to deal with until month 6 or 8.
What gets covered?
Gloria Sims of Insperity pointed out that onboarding often gets confused with orientation. If your onboarding lasts for only one day, as KornFerry reported among 23% of companies, you are conducting a new employee orientation. This will tick off the boxes:
In essence, the one-day program gives an employee the equivalent of an organizational GED. Onboarding should provide greater depth through a series of events that show people how to be successful in their jobs and how their contribution fits into the bigger organizational picture.
For many junior or mid-level positions in a company, roles and responsibilities are well defined, and processes are documented. This should be covered in the earliest parts of onboarding.
More senior positions are often characterized by their ability to manage ambiguity and to define their own role. Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but is it possible for an executive to document what they do, keeping a journal or diary of their onboarding process? Here are two obvious benefits:
Who gets it? Who conducts it?
Among companies that offer onboarding programs, over 80% provide them for everybody. That is appropriate. Each new employee needs help making it from the middle of the pool to the side. The problem is that overtaxed HR departments adopt a “one size fits all” approach, often delivering it in a classroom setting. Two problems here… one size does not fit all and HR departments shouldn’t carry so much of the burden that good work gets short-changed.
The need for onboarding is not limited to people who have just joined your company. That is what an orientation is for. When your existing employees find themselves in a new role, what process do you provide them to help them succeed?
Proper onboarding requires an individualized approach, because what it takes for an IT manager to be successful is pretty different from the success criteria for a Sales Vice President. For onboarding to work well, a portfolio of stakeholders must participate. It cannot be the sole responsibility of an HR function. The new hire’s supervisor gets involved in helping to set expectations and to provide frequent feedback. Direct reports can participate in a new manager initiation program, where they voice what they want to know about the new boss and what they need from them. And colleagues can provide perspective of how collaboration will happen.
Most of onboarding can self-guided, but the new hire needs a road map. Even if you think a senior hire can figure things out on their own, you have to admit that it is not an efficient way to bring them up to speed.
Where to go with questions?
One of the critical parts to successful onboarding is providing the new employee with a mentor, somebody who either is a peer with relevant experience or who has senior ranking and can provide perspective on the culture, people and politics.
The value of a mentor is dramatic. Sun Microsystems found that employees with mentors had 72% higher retention rates (a side benefit is that the mentors’ retention rate was 69% higher than employees who were not part of the program.) So, if you are wondering why your investment in onboarding doesn’t seem to pay off, the lack of mentoring is a likely culprit.
The mentor might take the new hire out to lunch early in his tenure or facilitate their introduction to other people in the organization. Regularly scheduled meetings should be arranged, at least monthly. And the mentee should have an open invitation to reach out to the mentor when questions or concerns pop up. Relationships between mentor and mentee are open-ended. They don’t stop once the new employee is comfortable in their role. They potentially last for years.
Organizations with formalized programs that offer training for mentors, that establish objectives up front and that monitor when meetings occur are at the head of the class. Other companies just do match-making between mentor and mentee, and they leave the pair to their own devices. Informal mentoring can result in employee satisfactions scores on a par with formal programs, while outscoring satisfaction levels of employees with no mentors (Chao and Gardner, 1992). A large advantage of formal programs is the level of commitment that both parties bring to the relationship. It is harder to break an appointment if you are reporting on your meetings together.
Mentors are a critical part of learning the unwritten rules of the organization. This acculturation is at the heart of successful onboarding. There is enormous value gained by being coached on who can help, who won’t help and how to get things done.
A mentor’s institutional knowledge is important. But the traditional mentoring relationship often is quite personal. It succeeds when both parties can make themselves vulnerable. This vulnerability might be impractical for a senior mentee working with a peer or with their boss, the CEO. But there are alternative paths.
The new hire in a senior position might try reverse mentoring, where the mentor is somebody junior in the organization. The goal of this relationship can be for the new executive to learn about the culture, to learn about some specific aspects of the company or the market served that comes from a junior employee’s expertise. As with peers, there might be limits to the psycho-social relationship with reverse mentoring. But often the benefit goes beyond simply socialization into the company.
Finally, the new senior employee might avail themselves an external mentor. The mentor may have retired from the company and gives back by passing along their knowledge of the company to new leadership. More often, the mentor has no background with the company. Their experience in similar roles is valuable, and their distance from the company provides perspective and assurance of confidentiality. Using a portfolio of mentors, an internal reverse mentor coupled with an external mentor, can be the best of both worlds.
If retention is an issue, it's likely that your onboarding sucks. Consider when you start onboarding new employees, how long the process goes on, how personalized it is and where the new employee can go for help. Easy fixes can have a major impact on your employees' smooth integration.
Earlier this year, I had lunch with a friend I’ll call Phil, who was looking for a new job. Phil had a successful 15-year run with his last employer, and he was well positioned for a COO or CEO position. Two weeks after our discussion, a headhunter told me about a position he was trying to fill.
The client, M&C Inc., had been a leader in its field for close to twenty years. It was still in a market leadership position, but the industry was only a fraction of its former size. It was purchased out of bankruptcy by Mason, who ran it for about 5 years. Mason spends most of time in Singapore, and he realized that taking M&C to the next level required more time with the business in Minnesota than he was willing to give.
I introduced Phil to the headhunter, who presented him to Mason. Mason and Phil met in early March. Within a few weeks, Phil was named CEO. A couple months later, I was preparing to present to a group of executives in transition, when I got a note from Phil. “I didn’t want to surprise you in your presentation, Steve,” Phil said. “But I will be among the executives you will be presenting to tomorrow. Things didn’t work out for me at M&C Inc., and I am looking for a new opportunity.”
The group discussion the next day was on how things might go wrong for executives as they integrate in their new roles. Phil was very open on how things went down. I think it was an eye-opener for everybody in the room. And the painful lessons Phil shared are important for both new executives and hiring companies.
Mason, being sold on the good fit of the adjacent business, freelanced in the search process by contacting executives of Phil’s former company. Not only did he query people on what they thought of his candidate, but he attempted to get several of those who took his call to consider the position.
Of course, all of this behind-the-scenes maneuvering got back to the candidate. Undoubtedly, this left a bad taste in Phil’s mouth. But his interest in finding a new position and getting his first-ever CEO spot led him to look beyond. He remained undeterred as he progressed in the search. And he was offered the position, which he quickly accepted in March.
2. The owner and the CEO could not make a long-distance relationship work. I know a lot of CEOs who succeed working for owners who live thousands of miles away. But a Singapore-Minneapolis axis, with thirteen time zones in between, is hard to manage. There has to be a commitment to 6am or 7pm phone calls, and even the International Date Line can get in the way.
Even a thirteen-hour time differential can work if the CEO has sufficient autonomy. That is hard to accomplish when (1) it is the first time the individual has held a CEO role, (2) the owner successfully held the role of CEO prior to this search and (3) there are no set communication times.
Working well with remote ownership requires establishing rules of the road on what needs prior approval, what needs to be reported after the fact and what can just get done. In this situation, establishing those guidelines had not happened at the get-go.
3. The role of an incumbent COO created confusion. A passed-over executive in a situation like this can be trouble for the recently hired exec, especially if they thought they were in line for the position. In this case, Phil believed that the COO was cool with an outside CEO, and he had been told by Mason of a division of labor between the COO and himself.
But as soon as Phil was in position, the COO received messages from Mason to take the initiative on areas assigned to the CEO. Maybe this was a continuation of past activities, when the owner served as a largely-absent CEO. Maybe this indicated lack of confidence with the new CEO. Whatever the cause, it created ambiguity of roles and responsibilities between the two people in charge. And the CEO did not feel empowered to countermand the owner’s directive and to straighten things out between himself and his COO.
4. The organization’s immune system confronted the CEO from the start. They liked the COO, and they liked the owner, who had bought the business at a point of crisis and had stabilized it (albeit at a point well below its heyday) and set it up for growth.
Phil brought with him a promise and maybe a threat of change. Early on, he was impressed with the institutional knowledge of his reports, less impressed with their functional expertise. It’s unclear whether the organization felt it was being judged, but that is a good assumption. And Mason sold Phil on a mandate for change. Without selling the organization on “What’s in it for me,” a new direction would not seem like a popular course of action.
I never asked Phil if his departure were voluntary or not. Enough things had gone wrong for him to want to bail out early on. Maybe the owner quickly developed buyer’s remorse from afar. Whatever the dynamic, this is a painful tale for all involved. For Phil, his search for the next step in his career was sidelined for months, and he probably didn’t receive the full severance that a spot in a less entrepreneurial enterprise would provide. The whole experience may have led to a little PTSD, which will make it harder for him to jump back into the fray as fully engaged as he was when I first met him.
For M&C, the harm may be even greater. They end up having to conduct a second search. They have been without consistency in leadership for a half year, which might end up more like a full year. They take a blow to their reputation that might hurt them in their next search. The cost involved in getting this right will total hundreds of thousands of dollars, without considering the results of the turmoil on employees or consumers.
My focus is usually on strategies new executives can use to have a successful integration. And I will offer some suggestions. But before that, I’m compelled to make it obvious what an employer could do to make this difficult hire a success.
2. Spend time needed to be clear on expectations. Spell out what are the limits of the employee’s authority. Make clear how his responsibility differs from those of his second-in-command.
3. Bestow your endorsement on the new hire. Make the organization understand that he has your full confidence. Do not participate in or condone any efforts that undercuts the authority he has been given by you.
So, what could the new CEO have done differently?
1. Don’t expect you can succeed without a clear mandate. I think there were enough warning signs here that the best play may have to turn the offer down.
2. Ensure that the commitments you make with the owner on responsibility, reporting and autonomy are explicit. Talk them through. Write them down. Get the owner to make an endorsement of you across the employee community. Make sure any issues on a division of labor with your subordinates are just as clear. Copy the owner on written roles and responsibilities.
3. Hold to these commitments. You’ve just gone through the trouble to “make a contract” on responsibilities. Resist any early attempts that reduce your scope.
4. Control the communications. Given the difficulty in managing time zones, I would assume that directives from the owner to the COO came via email. Any email to the COO from the owner should have the CEO cc’d.
5. Start building the relationships that you need with employees to be successful. Speak with authenticity. Listen to them. Demonstrate how you value them. You need them on your side to accomplish your goals.
Phil’s brief tenure at M&C provides lessons galore for both the executive and the company. An owner needs to stay in his own lane to give a high-risk situation a chance to succeed. An executive must stand firm in response to inappropriate action from a superior, and he has to get a good start in building bridges with employees. I don’t mean to imply that Phil would have succeeded had he and Mason taken different tacks. But without these actions, a slim chance of success quickly became none at all.
I am a Minnesota Vikings fan. To be a Vikings fan is to know heartbreak. They’ve lost all four Super Bowls they played in, the most recent 42 years ago. Nothing epitomizes the franchise’s futility more than a string of blown field goal attempts at critical moments in big games, including a couple historic fourth quarter misses in playoffs.
So, it was interesting to learn that the Vikings had hired a coach specifically for placekicking. His name is Nate Kaeding, and he was a pretty good NFL kicker in his time, making over 85% of his field goal attempts in a nine-year career. Kaeding’s record in post-season play is a different matter, hitting only 8 of 15 attempts. In three playoff games, his misses were the margin of defeat for his team.
Why is Kaeding a good choice to coach the Vikings’ kicker? I submit that it’s because he had a track record of success at the highest level, AND because he has the scars of failure. Scars are the imperfections that make people interesting. They are the proof of perspective; what was a wound has now healed. With that healing comes the ability to analyze what went wrong and what corrective actions could have been taken.
It is far less painful to learn from others’ mistakes, rather than your own. If my missteps can provide a cautionary tale, you can learn from them and save yourself the trauma. Kaeding understands better than almost anybody what the consequences of a breakdown in mechanics or of getting psyched out by the moment can mean. If Kaeding can tell the Vikings’ kicker that his plant foot was too close to the ball on five of his playoff misses or to be prepared if the laces are facing him, that is wisdom to embrace.
Brigid Bonner is one of Executive Springboard’s mentors. She has a remarkable resume blending IT and marketing, having served as General Manager at Target.Direct, Chief Information Officer at United Health Technologies and VP of Digital Marketing for Schwan’s Home Service. She is now Chief Experience Officer for CaringBridge, the first social network set up to communicate and support loved ones during a health journey. With all her successes, she impressed me most when she told me that the greatest value she could bring as a mentor would be in showing her scars.
I think Brigid’s generosity in sharing her failures is critical in a mentor. And it is one of the biggest differences between an executive coach and a mentor. A coach has expertise as a listener, with great value coming from the questions she asks . A mentor has been in the arena. With that experience comes credibility and wisdom that is relevant to a mentee.
Organizations don’t often deal with failures well. A data breach might cost a CIO his job. And it can be difficult for him to land her next position, because the hiring company uses past as prologue instead of considering how much learning this person has gained. Finding a way to tap into this wisdom, this experience gained from facing a situation you hope you never encounter, can pay enormous dividends.
As a Viking fan, hope springs eternal. Maybe, just maybe, a kicker in purple can boot it right down the middle in the waning moments of the big game this year. Here’s hoping you can make a difference, Mr. Kaeding!
I want to thank Andy Halley-Wright for his recent advice on how to improve my website. Andy is a brand expert, having worked for years as a strategist at Young & Rubicam. I am a brand expert, as an executive or consultant developing dozens of brand strategies over the years. Andy was complementary about the values of generosity and wisdom that were evident in my website. He likes the name, Executive Springboard. He was also very clear that my website, in total, was not getting my own brand message across. He asked, “Who designed your website?” I answered, “I did,” and I could hear the cringe on the other end of the phone! He offered some tangible steps to fix my messaging. I fully intend to build Andy’s advice into my website. But not right now. I don’t have time right now.
I’m bringing this up not to invite thousands of people to add their comments about our website (go ahead, I'd love the feedback!) But because it says a lot about an important aspect of succeeding in corporate life --- being coachable.
We see this a lot in our practice. I had a conversation with a CEO about whether offering up coaching or mentoring to an executive came with an implicit criticism of the exec’s ability to do the job. “Are you not fully confident in me? Is that why you are offering this?” It’s a little self-serving of me to say, “Well, give every executive a mentor and then nobody will feel singled out as needing coaching when others don’t.”
Our consultancy has lost out on mentoring engagements, because new executives could not find the time to fit in a mentor. I am sort of relieved not to take on these engagements, yet saddened to think that the unwillingness to be coached is indicative of future problems.
“Not enough time” is somebody’s way of saying that they have more pressing priorities. We all have the same amount of time in our calendars. Some may work 14 hours a day, some might game or exercise or make time for family activities. Some might think their own career development is a priority. Others may not. Even among mentored executives, we recognize a high incidence of cancelled sessions. The calculus is that an executive places higher priority on the day-to-day issues that require their time than the investment the company intends to make in their development.
I can relate. Upon reflection, there are few things that hit me at my core more than for somebody to think I am not competent. So, I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to ask for help that will improve what I do, or even to accept it when it is offered.
Here’s the hard truth. When 20,000 hiring managers were asked in a Center for Creative Leadership 2011 survey what were the top reasons why an executive hire failed, here were the five leading responses:
So, this unwillingness to heed advice, much less admit it is needed, is the biggest single source of failures among executive hires. What might feel like insecurity looks like arrogance and ends in disappointment.
For those of us who might not find being coached a natural thing, here are five steps you can take.
Given how often coachability plays into an executive’s success or failure, maybe there is extra motivation to recognize when we are being coached and when our responses can color how we are viewed. With this in mind, Andy, let me tell you that I take your comments on my website seriously and that I fully intend to take on several of the suggestions he made. But just not yet!
MC Escher, 1956, Swans
I remember the morning my CEO made the announcement to the headquarters team that we were acquiring a competitor, but that the acquired company’s management would run the combined business. “Well,” he said, “We are all about to be made redundant.” That was not very accurate. His position (and mine) as part of the leadership team would be eliminated. Not so for the rank and file.
Thus began a bizarre 10-month period or retention bonuses, integration meetings and depositions with the FTC. All’s well that ends well. In this case, the combined business is still healthy today, despite the rocky start. (Maybe this is because our CEO was not involved in the integration!) That’s not how things usually go. Over 70% of mergers and acquisitions don’t attain the intended results.
There are two broad areas that lead mergers to fail, numbers and people. First, the numbers... Careers are seldom furthered by telling a CEO that the acquisition they’re contemplating is a bad idea. M&A people sell deals internally. They are incentivized to do deals, not for the deals to prove successful. And there is seldom a consequence to overstating the synergies. After all, how often is the deal maker asked to become an operator in the Newco?
Beyond a rosy bias on the benefits of an acquisition, there are numerous issues involving how employees react to mergers. Companies focus on the deal, not on integrating the team tasked with delivering the plan. Consider the following:
Get the M&A leader to own the results of the deal they propose.
Give them significant responsibility in the new entity. When I was on the leadership team of the international division of a large food company, we had an acquisition in Australia and New Zealand. The lead dealmaker ran the combined business for a two-year period. The results after the acquisition were not stellar, until the head of sales succeeded the deal guy as President. But subsequent acquisitions had a very good track record, in part because the M&A group added a note of caution consistent with the possibility that they would be asked to run the target of their recommendation.
Get the CHRO involved during due diligence and beyond.
They can conduct a culture assessment of the two organizations, understanding how work processes, communications preferences, folklore, decision-making and valued behaviors might align or clash and determining appropriate action. These are the parts of corporate culture that count more than whether jeans are allowed on Friday or what a value statements say. The process of integrating culture requires an open look at what each organization does well, to understand what is needed for success and to involve the new leadership team of the merged entity.
They can develop a communications plan. Communications need to start early and continue frequently, saying what is known and being transparent by fessing up to what remains unknown. Very early on, contingency communications should be developed, in case the deal is leaked. This would not address the specific deal, but it would ibe general about the company’s M&A strategies. It’s important to get ahead of gossip that can keep people from the important work that needs to get done. And, after the deal is announced, integration milestones should be provided with regular reports issued on how you do against them
They can project the needs of the new organization and determine who, if anybody, in-house can address those needs. They can use an objective approach to determine who will be the leaders of the merged entity. This often involves reviewing the business objectives of the acquisition and identifying the competencies required to deliver them. They can determine who needs to be retained, what that might take and, as importantly, who needs to go quickly.
They can assign an HR resource to the integration team and get their Learning & Development people involved. Having HR closely involved throughout integration keeps the process on track. Capabilities among the broad Newco leadership cohort can be built through a series of workshops, where priorities, metrics, expectations, decision rights and values are debated, and where trust-building exercises are enacted. And with people in new roles interacting with new colleagues, Newco leaders should have access to coaches or mentors to help them succeed.
Get beyond a winner/loser perspective. It only perpetuates unhealthy tribalism.
Think of a merger as a marriage. Ideally, there is not a winner and a loser, just two parties that are better off together. Envision the end result of successful merger. There is only one team.
When building that team, where do the best leaders come from? Is there anybody inside the organization who can handle the scale of the combined businesses, or do you have to go outside the combined employee base to find the right leader?
Those organizations most adept at acquisitions use a playbook for integration that can be used from one deal to the next because they utilize an insight: the same issues tend to present themselves at the same time.
A good way to get beyond tribalism is to bring in a merger integration specialist as an interim leader. Have them run a core integration team that is roughly balanced between the two entities. The integration leader is a neutral honest broker who is an expert in facilitating the merger process. This role might be even more important if you don’t do mergers often enough to have developed your own integration playbook. Maybe this resource resides in one of the merging businesses; maybe you need to invest in consultant to play this role.
We think that mergers result in cost reductions as some people are viewed as redundant. We think that the personnel answers are currently residing in one of the two organizations about to be merged. That’s a bad assumption. You might find that new positions are created, and there is nobody internally to fill them. Or that the scale of some responsibilities is too great for an incumbent. If current employees don’t fit the needs of the new organization, don’t be afraid to go outside.
It is easy to get seduced by the promise of an acquisition, to concentrate on the potential for value creation and to gloss over the risk, especially the people issues that get in the way of success. But the risk is real, in your culture, in your dealmakers, and among the people who will live with the new reality. By providing the M&A team with consequences, getting HR involved in integration activities and focusing on the future organization rather than the legacy components, a merger has a much better chance of succeeding.
You might go through succession planning exercises, segmenting your talent into “ready now” or “wait 1-3 years,” etc. I’d like to provoke you to think about the “what if,” when a leadership position opens and the people in the succession plan are not immediately ready to take the helm. At first blush, the obvious solution is to go outside for leadership talent. That’s the path in over 70% of positions filled. If only it were so simple!
Look Before you Leap
Going outside involves a search, which can take six months to complete, at a cost of $100K. The newly hired candidate generally comes in at a salary that is 20% higher than what is typical of promoting internally. If the newly hired executive is male, and the internal candidate is female, you have a potential gender equity issue on hand.
Add the time it takes to get the newly hired executive up to speed and making the anticipated impact. A study by Egon Zehnder reported that 57% of new leaders felt they have very little impact before six months on the job; for 20%, it might take up to 9 months to make a significant contribution. And, on the way to creating an impact, the new executive needs to develop a sufficient understanding of the culture, peers, subordinates and relationship with their superior to set themselves up for long-term success.
The risk of a failed executive hire from the outside is 50% in the first 18 months. It is far greater if the external hire is actually being promoted into this role, i.e., they do not have experience with this level of seniority before.
The hard costs associated with a failure include the initial search and a second search, comp and benefits for the time on the job and a severance package… all told, about 3 times salary. There are soft costs worth considering. Did this hire result in talent leaving the organization? Did the exec’s style lose business? What about management time involved in two searches, due diligence in a decision to terminate, legal costs, etc.? It’s easy for the soft costs of a failed hire to reach 10 times salary. So, if you are bringing in an executive at a salary of $300K, it is even money that things won’t work out and that this adventure can cost you $3M or more.
How about promoting the internal candidate who is not considered ready? There is no search and its associated costs, unless you run one simultaneously to considering internal choices. The internal promotion carries less risk from cultural misalignment, because there already is familiarity with your formal and informal processes. The familiarity with the customer base, the industry and other stakeholders are major advantages that the internal candidate has. And in an era of full employment, your competitors are interviewing those in your succession plan for equivalent positions to the one you have open!
Consider the Time to Impact
It seems to me that the comparison between the unknown executive from the outside and the not-quite-ready internal candidate misses a key component. Yes, your current employee may not be ready now, but how will they do a year from now, when you can expect the outside exec is beginning to make an impact? If you coached your inside option up, where might they be in six, nine or twelve months? If you have reason to believe they can be making a similar contribution, shouldn’t you consider a lower risk option?
Here is a graphic look at the options.
The blue line represents an inexperienced internal promotion. The employee could be promoted and coached or coached prior to getting the promotion. In either case, they have a gradual improvement in impact, until they are meeting expectations around Month 8. Once they have reached an acceptable level of managerial competence, they can leverage their organizational knowledge and continue to grow.
The red line shows potential paths of an external hire. For six months, there is no impact, as you have a vacant position until they are hired. Once in, there is the learning curve per Egon Zehnder. At this point, I suggest three scenarios. The lower dotted line, in about 50% of cases, has the external leader failing, either leaving the company or just limping along. Two other scenarios are more promising, with the external hire matching or surpassing the internally promoted leader.
The key takeaway from these scenarios is that an internal candidate is a better short-term choice and, as often as not, superior in the long run as well. A couple other variables:
When Buying Beats Building
I have stated my bias for home-grown solutions. There are times when an external hire is absolutely the right thing to do. Here are few of those situations, and the actions you might take:
A Closing Controversy
If you ask a team member to fill a leadership role for months and you are considering them for the position permanently, give them an interim title.
Even if you are conducting an external search, the interim title acknowledges your employee is under consideration for the position. It reflects the level of work they are doing. If they don’t get the big job, they revert to their former title, and it’s clear that you believe somebody else is more qualified.
Meanwhile, they will have the interim title on their resume, which makes them more marketable, inside or out. The value of that enhanced external marketability does not add to the risk of flight. Rather, it is an expression of the trust and value that you place in your employee, which can enhance retention.
A colleague and I were given the unpleasant job of firing a long-tenured advertising agency. The decision had nothing to do with performance; the agency was just the victim of a consolidation of vendors on our part. Our meeting with one of its partners was set for Monday morning. Coincidentally, the firm’s other partner invited my colleague (let’s call him John) and me to a dinner at his house over the intervening weekend. Saturday night came, and John and his wife were a late scratch.
My wife and I had a wonderful dinner at the agency principal’s house that Saturday (he and his wife happened to be among our best friends.) Monday came, and my friend’s partner joined John and me in John’s office. John looked at me and didn’t say a word. The task of giving the bad news fell entirely on me! I stumbled through, and the agency principal was more gracious than I expected or deserved. That night, my agency friend and I drank a couple scotches together. I reiterated what I said to his partner that this did not reflect their good work. He reiterated that this would not impact our friendship.
And John? He went on to lead marketing organizations and business units. By all accounts he has had a successful career. But I noticed he was vocal in earnings calls when there was good news to report, silent when news wasn’t so good. I wonder if this inability to deliver bad news got in the way of John even going farther in his career.
The SPIKES Protocol
Leaders have to learn how to give bad news. Being absent is not an option. Yet, I don’t remember being taught this particular skill at Wharton. My education on the subject was primarily through trial and error. And the errors can be painful for all parties.
There are professionals who leave school well versed in delivering bad news. Maybe that’s because bad news from an oncologist is often more devastating than bad news from a marketing Vice President. Baile, Buckman, et. al. (2000) provided the definitive "how to" in The Oncologist journal. The particular process they provided the medical profession is called the SPIKES protocol. Here are the elements:
S: SETTING UP the Interview. Find the right time. Arrange for privacy. Include significant others of the patient. Sit down. Make connections. Manage time and interruptions.
P: Assessing the Patient’s PERCEPTION. Ask before telling, such as, “What do you understand about why we conducted these tests?”
I: Obtaining the Patient’s INVITATION. Ask whether the patient wants all the details, or just the bottom line.
K: Giving KNOWLEDGE and Information to the Patient. Start by saying you have bad news to share. Use non-technical language. Temper how blunt you are.
E: Addressing the Patient’s EMOTIONS with Empathetic Responses. Check for the patient’s emotional response. Identify the emotion. Consider the reason for the emotion. Give the patient time to express their feelings. Connect with them by saying something that shows you understand what they are feeling.
S: STRATEGY and SUMMARY. Ask if the patient is ready to discuss a treatment plan. Share options with them. Share responsibility for treatment plan with the patient. Work to ensure patient understands the efficacy or purpose of treatment options.
I think the SPIKES protocol should be applied by business leaders in thinking through how to deliver their own bad news. Let’s consider two different audiences that might receive news: (1) subordinates, either direct or indirect reports and (2) bosses, including boards of directors, analysts or shareholders.
Sharing Bad News with your Employees
Perhaps you can hide behind your HR resources, and have them give news of terminations at an individual or group level to your team. Maybe you’ll just let news leak out that a decision has been taken by the Exec Team that is contrary to the position you took to support your people. Maybe employees can read in Fast Companyabout the fine paid out by your company that will mean no bonuses this year. And maybe you will lose the respect of your team by not being authentic with them.
The SPIKES protocol for delivering bad news to your employees is very similar to what doctors have to do:
S: Set up a meeting with urgency. People have the right to know as soon as possible. You may have a small cabinet of direct reports who get an early “heads up.” And they may have useful comments on your communication to a larger group. But it’s important to get your message out as soon as you can, or in coordination with communication by colleagues.
P: You can ask if people are aware of an issue. It invites them to speak up, which might be useful later on. And this can remind them of previous communication you’ve had with them.
I: Generally, obtaining an invitation to provide information is skipped. While you should be respectful of people’s desire for information, there is a message that must be received whether or not you are invited to provide it.
K: Explain how a decision was made. If you took a position contrary to a final decision, explain what won the day. People will know what your position was. They will now find you supporting a decision that was different than you had espoused. There has to be a reason why. Provide the justification.
Speak up to your audience. Doctors might dumb down their message to avoid medical speak. Talk to your audience in a way that matches its expertise. Prepare your comments. Be direct with your message. Ensure that people realize the decision taken is final.
E: Be frank about your own reaction, but avoid saying, “I know how you feel.” You still have a job; the people you are talking to might lose theirs. Practice your presentation well enough to avoid a written script. Ensure that your body language matches your verbal message.
Allow time for people to vent, but not to appeal the decision. Listen to what they have to say. It might feel like this is directed at you. Most of the time this is just how people process bad news and begin to think about how it will affect them.
S: Provide a glimpse into the future. Will the staff be asked to put in significant overtime for the next month? Will HR be contacting individuals to tell them about their future with the organization? Will the proposed acquisition mean that people need to turn over all documents to lawyers?
You may think that people will be numb after your announcement and may not absorb next steps easily. Give them more credit than that. How does this office calamity stack up to the patient who finds herself discussing treatment options with her oncologist immediately after receiving a diagnosis? Nobody wants to be left hanging after receiving bad news. Provide the remedy, or at least the options that might be taken to get to a better position. Get people to start focusing on the future.
Summarize, document, follow up and follow through. End your meeting with a concluding statement of the problem and the immediate next steps. Send a note that memorializes the discussion. You can acknowledge the emotions that were shared in the discussion and include the steps that will follow. And commit yourself to the process, to make sure that commitments you make or are made by others happen as intended.
Sharing Bad News with Bosses
Things don’t always go as planned in business. And sharing negative variances with the CEO, board members or shareholders is part of the job. In fact, it may be more career defining than offering good news. A variation of the SPIKES protocol works well to organize the discussion.
S: Set up the interview: Go to the boss’s office. Say, “I need fifteen minutes of your time. Is this a good time to talk?” Don’t pick a time when they have one foot out the door or are stressed from another significant issue. Don’t wait so long to bring up the issue that your delay becomes an issue of its own.
P, I & K: Assessing the boss’s existing perception, giving knowledge and obtaining an invitation are all mashed together. First, you need to command attention. Tell the boss, “I have some bad news on the Jones account.” No sugarcoating. Pause long enough to ensure comprehension. Follow up with a question to gauge perception or to remind them of previous warnings of potentially negative events: “Are you familiar with the negotiations we’ve been having with them?” The response may confirm familiarity (“Yes, I remember the issues you were having.”) Or if the boss admits to a lack of familiarity, you have set up an opportunity for them to invite you in (“I don’t think I am up to speed on that. What has been going on?”)
Follow up with information, at the level of detail that best addresses your audience. Some people want hard data. Others need to understand the process and timeline. Some just require the big picture or want to understand your perceptions of the client’s state of mind. You may not have to get to the root of the problem; addressing the symptoms may be all that is required. Be prepared to get to the heart of the issue, but as often as not, the boss will just want to address the immediate problem. The root cause can be addressed another day.
E: It is uncommon to get such an emotional response from the boss that you feel compelled to press the PAUSE button. But it can happen. So, read your audience, in case they are flipping out. And if you are facing a very emotional response, you can suggest that the solutions you’d like to share can be held for another time, after everybody has a chance to reflect.
There is another part of the empathy and emotional assessment to consider when talking to your boss. Think about your own emotions. Don’t make light of the situation. If it is not to be taken seriously, why would you bring it up to your boss? Don’t panic, either. Your boss will wonder how things got so bad without you saying anything before. Just the facts, ma’am!
S: In this case, when the boss is open to the discussion, suggest multiple solutions. It is fine to have a recommendation. If the bad news is ongoing, can affect achieving budget, hitting launch dates, etc., the boss might want more degrees of freedom than just agreeing to the action you plan on taking. Provide your assessment of probability of success and cost of each solution. Reach a decision with your boss and document that solution. Is there something that the boss has to do? Steps you or your team need to take? Summarize them and send a follow-up memo. In closing, if the situation is your fault, own up to it, apologize briefly and state the actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If solutions are being shared with parties not in an executive role, providing options may not be appropriate. You don’t want your board of directors to decide on a tactical course of action. Simply share the chosen course of action, keeping other options in your back pocket, along with the rationale of why they are not the preferred solutions.
A Closing Thought
Neither my colleague, John, nor I ever went to medical school. But we both should have learned the very important skill of delivering bad news. Adopting the SPIKES protocol to the business world ensures that difficult messages are received in a timely manner, that information is concisely communicated, that emotional reactions are recognized and acknowledged and that steps are taken to put things back on the right track.
I once presented my business’s innovation pipeline to a company president at an R&D facility. As he commented on what he had seen, the president started combing his hair. While continuing his monologue, he looked down at his comb and began picking something off of it. The cleaning of his comb went on for about 15 seconds, an interminable length that left everybody else in the room disgusted and unable to focus on the feedback he gave us.
You might say that shows a lack of self-awareness. And a lot has been written about the connection between self-awareness, emotional intelligence and leadership. Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence, defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions.” Something else was going on at the R&D center, something that is another part of emotional intelligence and maybe more related to successful leadership. It’s really “social awareness.” Think of it as empathy, or at least the ability to understand both the needs of others and how others view you.
Organizations are social inventions. As important as self-awareness might be, you might know thyself and still fail unless the social element is mastered. I offer ten ways social awareness can play itself out when leaders find themselves in new roles. What’s important is consideration of how you look in the eyes of your stakeholders, while remaining true to yourself.
The single largest reason hiring managers give for somebody not working out is that they were not coachable, i.e., they did not listen to criticism or advice and adjust their actions accordingly. Leaders can demonstrate that they are coachable by explaining how the actions they take reflect the information they have received. Even if you are acting contrary to advice received, acknowledging the advice and explaining how it played into your thinking helps.
We generally don’t have a good language to talk about culture. It is often something more that you feel than you can describe. If you are joining a new company, or even if you are moving from one business unit to another, you will become aware of elements of culture. Even when there is a language for culture, it is often just plain wrong. Companies often have lofty lists of values, like Integrity, Results Orientation and Teamwork. What is actually valued, what behaviors are rewarded, might be making deep cuts during restructuring or only taking action with very little risk. Demonstrating published cultural traits will keep you out of trouble. Squaring your own authenticity with the real climate you face is critical to success.
Consider how frequently you communicate with your team and with others in the organization. It’s hard to do it too often. Consider how you communicate. Do you send emails, because that’s easiest? How about what is easiest or most effective to receive instead of what’s easiest to transmit? Maybe it’s a video of you in casual dress. Maybe it’s a voice mail blast on Friday afternoons. Maybe it is a series of town hall meetings or just walking around with minimal agenda. Don’t feel the need to tell people stuff all the time; ask questions. Let them tell you stuff instead!
Competence is the ability to do something successfully. Somebody was impressed enough with your skills to put you in the position you hold. How can you share those skills to make the organization more effective? If you are new to a culture, you may not understand what laws of physics apply in this environment. Learn how the organization solves a problem and consider if your own way might be an improvement. Rushing out and executing as you have succeeded before is great for an individual contributor, not for a leader. To come full circle, it’s unlikely you are capable of doing any significant task successfully in a new organization, unless you do it through other people, people who have their own way of doing things.
There is uncertainty in any new role. Still, you were selected to fill the spot. Somebody felt confident in your ability to deliver. You’ve impressed people. You should feel confident in your own abilities. Let’s consider how confidence applies to your team. Do they share your confidence in yourself? Do they think you have confidence in them? Your job might be to assess the team’s ability to do the job today and in the future. Fair enough. But does it help you for all of the people you count on to feel as if they are on a development plan? Taking a “hands on” approach can be important for you to learn the business. Taking authority away from people for an extended period of time will lead to reduced employee engagement and retention.
You need to deliver what you say you will. The University of Minnesota once hired a head football coach named Tim Brewster. Before his first year, he said there was no need to rebuild; his team was ready to compete for the Rose Bowl right now. That initial season, Minnesota’s record was 1-11. While he lasted 3 ½ years as coach, Brewster was a dead man walking after that first year. The moral: be careful what you promise. Don’t accept what you are being asked to deliver. This is your only chance to get a re-set. Call out the bullshit. Level-set goals. In doing so, you earn the respect of those who hired you and the support of those you will count on to meet your goals.
You may feel “all in” Day 1, but people in the organization who have been through tough times and stuck around, who can share inside jokes with each other, who have their shares vested, are not yet convinced. You can’t change that immediately, but you can convince people of your commitment over time. Create alignment by saying “we,” not “I.” Put in the hours in the early days. Be visible. Find opportunities to get together with people outside of work. Get involved in activities in the community that represent the business.
People across the organization are looking for evidence of how well you work and play with others. When you start a new role, you have ignorance and naivety as powerful assets. You are allowed to ask questions that will seem stupid later on. You can assume positive intent before it is demonstrated. And the quickest way to get colleagues to willingly support you is to provide them with something of value. This might be your expertise, your consideration of an option that your predecessor rejected or your investment in others accomplishing their goals.
Trust comes with the certainty that you won’t take advantage of my vulnerability. The people who work for you are at a power disadvantage to you, just based on the status of your positions. If I share something with you that can put me in an unfavorable light, or if I blow the whistle on a wrong that has been committed, I am taking a big risk. Respect the courage this action takes. Establish rules on what information can be safeguarded and what must be shared.
You might think you have a common touch, but the real common folk are nervous just thinking about climbing Mt Olympus to your office. People don’t want to hear you trumpet about your skills or your accomplishments in other environments. They want to be acknowledged as people who matter. They want to be valued for their achievements. They want to understand the “What’s in it for Me” of your agenda. Trade arrogance for humility. Keep your vision simple and your priorities few. Deliver your message directly and in person, if you can. Answer people’s questions with authenticity.
Ten aspects of social awareness are more than enough for anybody to remember. It’s easier to remember this: Being concerned with how you look is not always vanity. When it comes to how you look to the people you work with, it’s sanity!
Image by Bram Janssens
An executive’s skills come to the fore in a reorganization. While they make take on new responsibilities themselves, they face critical needs for leadership from those they serve. Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1600 executives from 35 countries, reflecting on reorganizations their companies enacted. Only forty-eight percent deemed their companies successful in their reorganization efforts. Here is a link to their findings and recommendations:
I have worked in corporations that had write-offs for reorganizations almost every year. Investors looked at my company as if it were Bullwinkle trying again to pull a rabbit out of his hat: “This time for sure!” They were not buying it. Instead of the bump in stock price often associated with the announcement of a reorganization, the downward spiral would accelerate.
As I researched the determinants of success or failure in reorganizations, it was clear that the focus has been on the front end rather than what happens when the reality of the chance sets in. Maybe this is appropriate, and my research is far less extensive than BCG's, but I want to suggest 5 mistakes the companies and leaders routinely make in execution that can lead to failed reorganizations.
1. The focus is on the “what” rather than the “how.”
OK, this is a not a specific feature of execution, but an overall statement of where attention is placed. Over 90% of the literature on reorganizations will be on conceptualizing the change. And a main takeaway is that it doesn’t start with an org chart. Craig Espelien recently wrote me about “a process that defines and aligns: current state, desired future state and how the work will flow. Once this is done, then an org structure will emerge.” Craig’s right. Structure should follow strategy.
There’s another part to reorganizations that gets little attention. These involve big changes, but the usual components of change management are not always applied. It is like using an award-winning architect and then hiring a discount contractor. Planning is important. Thinking through consequences and getting the plumbing right is vital. I’ll take good execution over great strategy any day.
2. The urge for secrecy means that the people who know how things get done are not consulted.
Why do we keep this secret? Because some people might get hurt by the outcomes, so we revert to behavior we learned in high school about breaking up with a sweetheart. Give out hints that something is amiss, send out a text saying, “It’s over!” and become invisible when they are around. In this way, leadership feels the least amount of discomfort.
Yes, some people inevitably lose their jobs in reorgs. News flash: the people who are told, “It’s over!” are often the lucky ones. They may feel hurt for a little while. But, usually, they receive a severance package. They find employment in a company that doesn’t have the problems that led to your reorganization. They get to choose what they do next, instead of being told what box they will fill.
How much does this hurt? Ask Steve Pearce. In late June of 2018 he was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays for a minor league player, after seeing limited action this year. That may have been a blow to his ego, but how bad is it to be traded to the Red Sox, where he hit 3 home runs in his team’s final two World Series wins, getting a championship ring in the process?
Back to why openness trumps secrecy… What is the harm in telling people that, because of a need for greater efficiency or to prepare for future growth, you need to look at structure and processes? Share with stakeholders the rationale for a reorganization and solicit input on the details of that desired future state and how to get there. More people will feel like they were part of the process, or at least that they were heard. You will get a better plan, greater alignment and a higher likelihood of a successfully executed integration.
3. The social aspect is overlooked.
This may be the single most underrated factor in determining success or failure of a reorganization. While efficiency is not the main goal of every reorganization, the net result is that some people will lose their jobs and other people will be moved into unfamiliar roles.
Consider that those who remain suffer from PTSD. They feel the loss of friends who are no longer with them on a daily basis. And they may feel a lack of competence in their new roles, and that takes a toll on their self-esteem. One of the key contributors to employee engagement is feeling that you work with your best friend. In reorganizations, these relationships can be sundered. The survivors will not be happy. Some will let you know it. Others will be more passive-aggressive.
It’s OK to acknowledge their hurt and to point out the sacrifices everybody has to make to eventually get to a better place. And it helps to give people some time to find their footing. Nobody in Cubeland is celebrating the day after the reorganization takes place. A big part of the healing, though, comes from people turning their attention to their new work and to the new social connections they need to make for that work to get done. Much of this will happen organically, but it helps to kick-start these new connections through facilitated sessions on any new processes, roles and responsibilities.
A leader's responsibilities might change as a result of a reorganization. You may have new direct reports and new teams that are uncertain about their relationship with you. It's important for you to connect with them. Tell them about yourself, what's important to you and how they fit into the picture. Be authentic; people are on high alert for BS.
4. Endings are not considered
In a poorly planned reorganization, those who remain inherit the work of those who left. Unless consideration was given to the nature of the work post-reorganization, the survivors end up with more work on their plates and no increase in compensation. That’s how you get the numbers to work. However, the change in the employment value equation turns those valuable people you want to keep into flight risks.
Why this oversight? Because nobody gave thought to what work needs to stop in order to create capacity for the fewer people who will be employed. Most companies are notoriously bad at endings, to declare what is no longer a priority or somebody’s responsibility. If you can let go of things that are not mission critical, you can find a lot of coins in the couch.
Columbia University’s Willie Pieterson and others have defined strategy as the art of sacrifice. Considering what not to do, even ceding business to competitors to focus on where you excel, can be a powerful precursor to any reorganizational design. There are few things more liberating for an organization.
5. Once the announcement is made, the communication is finished
Do people see evidence that the organization’s leadership supports the change? Is it enough to tell people the objectives of the organization at the time it’s announced, or do you need to reinforce the rationale?
People want to know why things are happening, what will happen and when. They need to know how they are impacted individually. They should be reassured of what will not change, like the corporate mission and values. And success will come when they are inspired to get behind the change.
If there ever were a time to manage by walking around, it’s when your people are trying to figure out their new reality. Corporate communications are important; personal communications equally so. There is no such thing as overcommunications at this critical stage.
Remember that communications are two-way. Stop talking long enough to listen. How do employees view the reorganization being executed? If problems surface, they can be addressed by providing additional attention, training or resources. Mid-course corrections are common, and the solutions are usually found in the people on the front line.
To close, as a leader in an organization, you make be closely involved in the development of a reorganization plan. For that reorganization to have a chance of succeeding, you have to be just as involved and even more visible in the hard work of implementation.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.