June 27, 2013

Many forecasters are predicting increased consolidation. Financial institutions, nonprofits, associations, consulting firms – experts are saying that there will be increased merger and acquisition activity as 1) Boomers are seeking exit strategies in record numbers, 2) organic growth is taking longer, and 3) to keep margins appropriate, dramatic efficiencies are needed in the backroom and key talent must be at full capacity.

In my experience coaching leaders and their teams through organizational transitions, I have discovered that one of the most important factors for success is candor. Telling the truth is a big deal and, at times, can feel like the only thing that matters to the employees and customers affected by the change.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. – Abraham Lincoln

There are two major mistakes regarding candor that companies make during a transition that can collapse the internal culture and ultimately, erode the value of the deal:

• Speaking non-truths, often done in an attempt to temporarily make people feel better

• Saying nothing at all, because it seems easier

The first makes stakeholders such as employees, customers, investors and the public lose trust. The latter provides a void in which people will fill in the blank with their own (often inaccurate) truth.

Three rules of thumb to consider – learn the truth, tell the truth, hear the truth.

• If you are the manager or leader tasked with guiding a team through the transition, learn as much as you can about what is going on from your CEO and Board. Ask candid questions that address actual concerns. (This means you also have to uncover the truth about the actual concerns.)

• Then, speak to what is true and relevant. Tell the truth, even if the truth is “I don’t know,” or “I will be back to you with an answer as soon as I am able.”

• If you are on a team or in a position where uncertainty is now certain, ask for the truth, be open to the truth and be patient for it. Transitions are moving targets – they happen quickly and change frequently as they unfold.

When candor is present throughout a change – from the initial negotiations to the final enduring moments – it will ease the acceptance of merging company cultures, increase loyalty (to the brand and within key relationships), retain the strongest team members, and ultimately, drive greater success.