Kin or Clans: What Will Your Merger Become?

Mergers are a lot like marriages. The merging companies must both give up a bit of themselves in order to create something new.  The something new is expected to be something better, something of greater value – to the people who make up the company, the company’s customers, partners and shareholders. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen.

Whether the merging companies forge a shared kindred spirit of cooperation or become suspicious clans living uneasily under one roof has a lot to do with the conversations that happen – and don’t happen – during the merging process.

Psychologist John Gottman’s work on marriage identifies the behaviors that most predict divorce as: criticism of the partner’s personality, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. I’m guessing those behaviors will sink a merger pretty quickly too.  Yet, this is exactly what happens when people are not prepared to effectively and compassionately deal with the “people side” of merging organizations.

Mergers naturally become roiling cauldrons of emotion, where mutual suspicions about “who those people are,” the loss of protective norms, uncertainty about the future and lack of clarity in the merger process leave people feeling vulnerable, and highly susceptible to being overtaken by their fears.

It usually doesn’t take long before the fear behaviors that show up on both sides of the fledgling partnership – withholding information, criticizing what is different, standing up for “my people,” avoiding the difficult conversations, and more – are interpreted by both sides as personal criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and sometimes even contempt for the new partner. People quickly fill in blanks in their understanding of the other side with unflattering stories that reinforce their negative assessments of “those people.” And so the clans are formed.

Some couples prepare for marriage by taking courses that help them to understand where the pinch points are likely to be – like talking about finances and how to share responsibilities – so they’re prepared to have these conversations sooner, in more appreciative ways.  That way, unspoken issues don’t fester and overtake the still forming union.

Contrast this approach with companies that are in the process of merging that often put off doing any kind of development work for their people, citing the need to maintain cash flow and focus on the technical elements of the merger. By the time people have hacked their way through the technical details – and often each other – a lot of damage has been done to what ultimately delivers value in mergers – relationships.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The merger process itself is a huge opportunity to instill the foundation of the culture the new enterprise aspires to. When coaching-based approaches are used to have the difficult conversations needed to create a shared path forward a resilient Change-Able™ organization emerges. That’s the foundation upon which true and lasting value is built.

Cylient’s Coaching in the Moment® workshop teaches people to take a coaching approach to any interaction, with anyone, at anytime. As a result people learn how to:

Call Cylient if you’re anywhere in the merger process.  Whether you’re just getting started or in the process of building the new shared culture, we can partner with you to realize the vision of value that inspired the merger in the first place.

Dianna L. Anderson, MCC

CEO, Cylient


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