Essential Change Management Tactics for Success

Mark Herndon headshot
By Mark Herndon
Chairman, M&A Leadership Council
May 17, 2017

(Fifth in a Series on Change Management)

It’s time to get down to tactics. For our fifth and final (for now) article on the importance of change management to M&A integration success, we want to focus on specific actions, components, processes or reinforcements that you should consider as a part of your change campaign.

"Change can’t be mandated, it must be led. If you show me, I’ll be more inclined to go along."

So far in this series we’ve discussed the ROI of change management; highlighted what every leader must know about change; documented why M&A integration is a particularly unique and challenging type of change management challenge; and, focused on the strategic imperatives that change leaders must create in order to achieve success. Sounds great, but how?

Best practices research is clear on this point. Success is driven by applying a structured change management approach, rather than doing a hodgepodge of disparate things. My assumption is that you have an existing change management methodology and the ideas presented in Essential Change Management Tactics for Success, can be used to confirm your strengths or identify some opportunities for improvement. If your change management results are not where they need to be, contact us and let’s discuss how we can help you build your internal change capabilities.

This short-list treatment also assumes you are already doing the basic requirements – you have an effective overall project governance model in place; you are using world-class project management methods and resources who also understand change; you have provided adequate change management resources and budget as is actually required to get the job done; and, your communications efforts are hard-wired directly into the integration management office (IMO) and are firmly established as an ongoing, real-time process leveraging multiple methods and media, including both proactive and reactive social media.

Once those fundamental tactics are in place, then it’s time to move on to some more advanced requirements for getting world-class change management results. Let me pose a few highlights as questions for your consideration. Here goes:

How effective is your current change management approach at each of the following? 

Driving change -- and support for change -- through champions, coaches and role models 

Our viewpoint is that there is a specific competency required for change leadership. Research and practical experience demonstrates that your management team must be able to show personal conviction about the vision and the requirements of the change. They must be able to communicate effectively, deal with resistance, build coalitions of support and -- coach others around change-related issues.  In addition, change leaders must be held accountable themselves and be able to hold others accountable for specific leadership behaviors, change-related and project-related objectives. The old adage, “change is good…you go first” is true. Change can’t be mandated, it must be led. If you show me, I’ll be more inclined to go along. Otherwise, it’s all pretty much lip service. Without a solid core of thoroughly trained and equipped change sponsors that personally lead the way, your complex change effort is not likely to get very far.

Architecting a simple, clear and compelling vision, including what it means to me

When setting the vision, you have only begun when the presentation is done. In our work we routinely find that no matter how well reasoned and how well presented the strategic vision is, there's still typically a huge gap in understanding and implementation unless and until folks are provided a personal and interactive way for them to experience and translate the vision into actionable plans for each respective business unit, function, team and individual. For example, in one major integration project the vision was cascaded through a series of communication sessions. A survey was used to explore understanding of and potential disconnects or conflicts in the vision and how it would be applied. Work-teams were assembled to analyze the feedback and present conclusions during a series of vision workshops that all leaders participated in throughout both organizations. Team members were given an opportunity to get an oar in the water in similar, but less intensive sessions.

From this process, specific action items were developed including areas of strength and areas of potential gaps or barriers to success. Specific reinforcements were designed to support the detailed action plans for carrying out the vision at all levels including function, unit, team and individual requirements and opportunities. It is only through engaging folks in the vision that they become enabled to do something with it.

Identifying and overcoming specific change risks

When it comes to an awareness of change-related risks, we tend to be paranoid. We think you should be too. That’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years to build a catalogue of several dozen potential change-related risks to be aware of and take action on. Generally though, most organizations only give a perfunctory nod to risk assessment and tend to recycle the same old pablum. For example, in one recent client assignment we assessed nearly 100 different potential change risks in several major categories. From that analysis, we ultimately identified approximately 20 very specific, real, legitimate and imminent risks that the leadership team and integration folks had not yet dealt with, and many of which had not even been contemplated.

For each of the “big 20 risks” we drilled into the specifics to completely understand the implications; rated and ranked each based on a priority impact and potential risk level; built a specific risk mitigation plan for proactively responding to the situation; then assigned, tracked and reported-out on the risk mitigation plan in parallel with the overall integration and change process. Until your change effort has the muscle to make a difference on M&A integration value drivers you’ll be disappointed almost every time.

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