Magazine article Communication World

Do the Right Thing

Magazine article Communication World

Do the Right Thing

Article excerpt

When David is Forced to Merge with Goliath, Remember the People

Experience has taught us the words "buyout and merger" spell c-h-a-n-g-e, resulting in new procedures, systems, manuals and people. A major disruption occurs in the livelihood of David's employees, with infusion of massive doses of fear, chaos, confusion.

A typical merger looks like the following: After the purchase, Goliath ascends upon David to begin the process of marrying the two companies. A series of committees are formed consisting of representatives of the two companies to begin the process of systematically reviewing David's systems and procedures. The end result of this committee process occurs when the template of Goliath's systems and procedures are overlaid upon David's organization. squares are forced into round holes and vice versa as David's employees begin to twist, bend and contort to do business Goliath's way. And David's employees are expected to smile and act as if they are grateful for the new beginning as they complete the often painful exercise of throwing out the old and bringing in the new.

Even the drastically oversimplified illustration of the preceding paragraph points out the major problem associated with the traditional merger process. Who determines a successful merger? Unless I'm missing something, people. In spite of knowing this, the emphasis is placed on the technical side of doing business - systems, procedures, manuals.

If people are such an important element in this formula of change, then why are people forgotten? The typical response is, "They're not. Look at all the employee benefits of being employed by Goliath."

Benefits still do not speak to the issue. Another very powerful force is the corporate culture or the "way people work together." You can rest assured that David's employees are talking about it - wondering what changes tomorrow will bring, but scared to discuss this sacred cow in fear of saying the wrong thing - hurting someone's feelings, or interfering with the probability of being retained as an employee in the new organization.

The corporate culture does not get the same attention as the technical aspects of the merger for several logical reasons.

1 The perception that the technical side generates money. This reason, however, is not true. People working with people generate the revenue stream.

2 It's easier to work with systems and procedures. That's correct. These are very concrete and visible, whereas the corporate culture is more abstract, undefined and often determined by the values and personalities of the senior managers.

3 It's easier to measure progress with the technical side. That is also true. You can physically see the technical changes. As you are about to learn, though, the corporate community no longer has to live with the paradigm that the people side cannot be measured.

4 The fittest will survive. The merger is somehow a test to identify those who have the personal stamina and skills to be a winner in the new corporation. It's as if the merger is also a screening process to identify those employees who may be sacrificed for the success of the merger.

5 We don't know how to work successfully with the people element, so it is left unattended. Unfortunately, this is also true. Our training is asymmetrical. We are trained to successfully complete the technical aspects of our careers even though it's the people side that determines success. We need to do more and can do more to educate all employees about working with people.

It's time to bring the corporate culture out of the closet. For a moment, suppose that Goliath's corporate culture would be described as autocratic, bureaucratic, tightly controlled with decisions ascending down from above and the spoken word was to do your job, shut up or get out. I guess we could call that the "I Don't Care" attitude.

On the other hand, suppose that David's corporate culture would be described as team oriented in which employees are empowered to think and make independent decisions, encouraged to express their ideas and mistakes are viewed as opportunities to learn? …

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