Change Management Training Step 5: Manage Resistance

Engineer Some Early Wins

Managing a merger is a big job. It’s hard enough with everybody pulling together, and when people are pulling in different directions the chances for success grow slim.

You simply cannot afford to second-guess your strategy continually, or to keep starting over with a new one. Neither can you make it work if people are pursuing their own private strategies.

Of course, some fine tuning and redirecting of your strategy is inevitable as the merger proceeds. You have to show some flexibility because you learn as you go, circumstances keep changing, and priorities shift. There is a lot of impromptu management that cannot be avoided.

But the integration process needs to be carefully structured and systematically managed in order to restabilize the firm. That’s how you protect productivity, preserve your client base, and position the organization for future success.

We constantly see well-intentioned managers and executives about to pursue an integration approach that would inadvertently (1) add to or (2) prolong the destabilization. It’s a tricky situation, and the obvious moves often are not the smart ones.

Be Realistic About Cultural Differences.

One of the most common merger philosophies we hear goes like this:

“We’re going to take our time, do it right, and form a new culture that represents the best of both worlds.”

That sounds good in theory, but it’s a high risk proposition. Our experience is that companies almost never pull it off successfully.

It makes about as much sense as a man and woman who marry and announce that they plan to blend their two personalities into one. . .50-50. . . at the same time that they’re trying to adjust to all the routine stresses and strains of married life. It’s a recipe for failure, whether you’re talking about a marriage or a merger.

The “best of both worlds” strategy for integrating cultures brings traumatic destabilization to both organizations. Managers in both companies end up struggling to manage an unfamiliar situation. They can’t necessarily draw on their previous successful experience as they wrestle with subtle and not-so-subtle ramifications of cultural shifts. Besides, after all is said and done, one of the two cultures virtually always comes out on top anyhow.

We recommend a much more pragmatic, business-oriented approach: integrate one company, not two. Usually the argument tilts in favor of going with the dominant or most financially successful culture. Be very clear and up front with everybody about your plan. This makes the merger far less of a jarring experience for the firm whose culture prevails.