Eat or be Eaten: How to Make Acquisitions Successful, Part III

By Judith E. Glaser

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In Part II of “Eat or be Eaten: How to Make Acquisitions Successful,” Judith Glaser discusses the acquisition of Ward Mooney’s BankBoston Retail Finance as an example of how to approach an M&A with a successful and positive attitude. That lesson continues …]

Central to the success of the creation of BankBoston Retail Finance was what Ward Mooney called the “First 100 Days.” As he explained to his team, he believed that this period was critical for a newly acquired team. During the First 100 Days, senior executives and team members need to understand the new culture they are entering and, at the same time, bring their competencies and talents to the new venture. Together they need to “meld meaning” and “create meaning,” so everyone is speaking the same language.

Most of all, everyone needs to understand what success looks like — and create common views of the endgame they’re shooting for.

Like Ward, you need to approach a merger or acquisition from a “WE-centric” point of view — as opposed to the more common “I-centric” perspective. In doing so, you will enable the positive transformation of yourself, your team, and your organization. If you are starting out in a new company, a new leadership position, or a new venture, there are a few key prescriptive steps to follow to create “WE”:

1. Build your team around a shared meaning for success. Getting your team in place precedes everything. Remember, you’re not alone on the “Leadership Journey,” and each of your key people will make a difference in the organization’s overall success. Talk about what success looks like — define it with others — take it out and look at it from all angles, rather than assuming that everyone knows what it is. Typically, we have different pictures in our heads. Bring these pictures to the table as resources to create the larger view. Do that successfully, and you’ll create a shared view. The view needs to contain aspirational energy to express what the team as a whole aspires to create.

2. Adopt a strategy for creating the shared vision. Decide how you want to engage with others to create the vision — how much interaction, how much pushback, how much empowerment, and when. Become mindful of how you want decisions and implementation of strategy to unfold — ensure all the necessary people are looped in. Create it together, rather than handing it over on a silver platter. The words people choose to describe the vision become beacons drawing them toward a goal, even in the murkiest situations.

3. Set thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day priorities, and build your plan with others. Don’t fly solo. Your team is waiting for you to ask them for their suggestions. They have instinctual insights, wisdom, and knowledge to share. To give everyone an opportunity to learn to work together and make decisions together, create a month-by-month plan so that everyone can practice moving from ideas to realities together — step by step, month by month. This creates a new pattern of engagement and team decision-making. Draw upon the team for the larger plan so they can be part of setting and achieving milestones. Don’t rely on one perspective (your own) because it’s easier. Remember to be inclusive. The road ahead will be navigated by the insights of your collective team. Allow them to build the map with you — their input creates their commitment.

4. Build momentum and energy at the top, bottom, and throughout all other levels. Create energy by engaging with your team on the vision, and collaborate on how to expand your value in the marketplace. Introduce words like value creation, which will elevate the team’s thinking to a new level usually reserved for the CEO or office of the chairman. Exchange ideas; draw people into conversation. Enable people to participate. Remember: Everything happens through conversations. Make it a transforming vision. Engage in conversations with customers, employees, colleagues, and alliance partners to ensure you capture everyone’s input in shaping and crafting the future.

5. Communicate intimately and globally. Create constant touch points with people; engage with your organization and with the outside world. Dialogue is the cornerstone of your success. If you err, do so by communicating more, rather than less. Realize that as you take in new input you will be revising the picture of success. Visions are not set in stone; they emerge more clearly as people touch and hold them. Capture the words people use to sharpen the picture. Language is a new lens to see into the future.

6. Appreciate the value each employee brings. Even though you may have new ideas to introduce and implement, value those who have built the organization before you as well as those who are entering it now for the first time. Rather than dictate the vision, engage others in creating it. You will move forward and create change only if others are willing to listen to you. Validate their experience — then nurture their awareness of new possibilities.

7. Adopt symbols of change. Make change visible to your organization through symbolic and tangible things people can see. Create a “Journey of Discovery” so people know you are moving from where you are to something new. Engage people as pioneers with you along the new journey. Capture and share the best practices you discover along the way.

8. Achieve small wins. Mark the team’s success so people learn what winning means. Define winning and share success stories throughout your team and organization. Positive energy creates more positive energy, and the momentum of success has a power to propel even the largest entity forward. Create a sense of shared reality and a sense of excitement.

9. Celebrate success. Recognize your wins publicly; allow people to see that contribution and commitment pay off. It doesn’t need to be in the form of financial rewards. It’s more about taking the time to appreciate good work toward a common goal. When people know what success looks like and how to define it, they are more apt to create it. Too often we fail to define success and winning, and instead we punish people who don’t deliver. If they knew what success looked like, they would have been better prepared to create it the first time.

10. Deliver on promises and commitments. Building your credibility will be the key to your ongoing success as a leader. Learn the distinctions between trying to do something and delivering on the promise. These fine distinctions are huge distinctions. As people go through transformations and take on greater challenges, it’s easy to say, “I’ll try to do it.” But trying is not the same as doing. Even just using the language of “trying” allows for us to ease up when the journey gets rough. Engage others at the level of commitment, not compliance; contract with others for accountability, communication, and results. Work with each other to support rather than criticize.

Check out the other articles in this series:

Judith E. Glaser is a change agent and executive coach, and refers to herself as an organizational anthropologist. She’s been a speaker for Vistage and TEC for more than six years, and is the author of three best-selling books: Creating WeThe DNA of Leadership and 42 Rules for Creating WE; her new book Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion) will be published October 1, 2013. You can e-mail Glaser at
Originally published: Oct 3, 2011

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