Xenophobia, Humility & softer aspects in a merger

So, when two companies merge, the inter-personal dynamics of leaders – level 1, 2,3 is one of the major make-or-break factors for the success (or lack of) of the Merger. Are the leaders engaged in a turf war ? Is someone thinking that the more the info one shares, the more vulnerable will one become ? Are leaders thinking that if I don’t fight hard, my people will think that the other group is walking over their boss ? Post-right-sizing, is some leader still thinking that if he quickly builds up his empire, he will be safe from another round of right-sizing ?

The Top Leadership team needs to allay fears such as above, and step in on a continuous basis to ensure that Level 2/3 leaders don’t fall into any of the above traps. For this, the Senior Leaders will have to over-communicate with and counsel teams on the basics of “natural xenophobia” and humility. By natural xenophobia, I am referring to the notion that many (in fact, most of) the leaders have that whatever we were doing on this side of the merger was the only way to do this thing right…the other party has swung from a tree and come to the meeting room…all collective IQ of the world resides in my team, and we will whack the other team, with our hands tied behind our backs, and blind-folded…hopping on one leg! (OK, I concede…stretched things a bit too far:)).

This brings me to the surprising (for some) element in the mix to making mergers successful, and that is Humility. The Top Leadership Team needs to continuously coach their Level 2/3 leaders on the virtues of humility. It is very easy to sound arrogant, appear to be stone-walling the other side during the early days of the merger. Some of this may arise due to the xenophobia that I mentioned earlier. Some of this may arise from the feeling of “our side is better” syndrome. Most of the times I have noticed that people on both sides are inherently nice, but the initial behaviour is not friendly. This is mistaken for arrogance, high-handedness, and may lead to non-co-operation if not checked in time. Establishing oneself as the bigger leader many times leads to over-stating ones’ achievements, and may reek of hubris.

What should / could the Top Management do to avoid such a situation ?
• They need to monitor interactions in the sub-task-forces set up for post-merger integration. Any signs of “implied arrogance” have to be nipped in the bud.
• Should share CVs / linkedin profiles of function heads, sub-unit heads with each other, so as to introduce them to each other quicker – everyone has done some great work in the past to have reached this stage of life
• Should share personal profiles – extra-curricular interests, family details, hobbies, favourite music, achievements with each other, so as to build out the human sides of the Unit heads
• Sanction Unit-wise additional budgets for merged leadership teams to go out for dinner and drinks
• Send to leaders from each side Reports and Articles developed by the other side, to firmly establish intellectual capabilities of the other side
• Get co-branded gifts developed (bags, caps, T-shirts) for all leaders from both sides
• Send letters to families of leaders, bringing out the might of the joint entity, and thanking them for their support.

The sooner people realise that everyone around the table is nice and are “people like us” only, the sooner the walls of pretences, artificial barriers and snooty behaviour can be brought down…and people can get on with the merged business…and after having made new friends!! It’s all in the collective minds of the teams…but sometimes, this has to be shepherded and brought out by the top management team. After all, it’s a merger of minds, a merger of hearts…numbers and results will follow on their own !!

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