The Mood Elevator and Company Mergers

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Every day in the news lately you read about the latest mergers: airlines, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, large retailers, all consolidating for a variety of reasons. Some are successful and create flourishing companies that benefit stockholders and employees’ careers. But here’s the reality: It’s been well documented over many years that up to one third of mergers fail within five years, and as many as 80 percent never live up to their full potential. The main reason for this is what has been called ‘cultural clash’.

Every company has a culture just as every person has a personality. The culture is the unwritten ground rules and the way a company behaves. Cultural clash occurs when two companies have different styles, habits and value priorities. Imagine a company in New York City that prides itself in being direct and ‘telling it like it is’ merging with a ‘Midwest polite’ company where people live by the credo, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” There are bound to be cultural clashes once the marriage takes place.

Avoiding cultural clash begins with being mindful of our thinking

How can companies avoid cultural clash, and how can leaders and employees best deal with the change so it doesn’t produce undue stress and strain for them? The answer lies largely in the stories we make up in our thinking.

The prospect of a merger and the change it will bring can be exciting to many people who see change as, well, exciting. That same change can be unwelcome and downright scary to others. For many people, this major change shifts the foundation of the comfortable known to the uncomfortable unknown.

People in this latter camp, are likely to think things like, “What happens now? What is this new company? How will I fit in? What are ‘they’ like? How am I going to be affected? Will I lose my job? Will I end up doing twice as much work?”

The less they know about what will happen, the more they are likely to fill in the blanks by imagining what will happen, or what won’t. In other words, their thinking will have a big impact on how they personally adjust to a shifting business world. Since fear of the unknown is the enemy, the sooner the new game is clear the sooner things can settle down.

Ultimately, integrating two cultures in a major merger or acquisition requires a systematic focus by the CEO and senior team on a process that includes a robust culture integration process. But that process takes months, even years to complete, and leaders and employees have to deal with the merger in the here and now.

So, what can be done to navigate a new work situation in the healthiest way possible? Be aware of your thinking and where you are on what we call the ‘Mood Elevator.’

Everyone in organizations, from the top to the front line, casts a ‘leadership shadow.’ If our CEO or direct line manager tend to spend more time on the higher levels of this Mood Elevator, being curious about other peoples’ ideas, expressing appreciation for peoples’ hard work, hopeful about the future, creative and resourceful in finding solutions to challenges, what impact is that likely to have on the culture of the company or of the department? The same is true of the opposite. A leader who comes across as worried about the future, impatient with peoples’ concerns, judgmental of peoples’ ideas and easily irritated – this person is likely to create fear and hopelessness. In one situation, the company is more likely to embrace the idea of change and not so in the other.

People who spend more time on the upper levels of the Mood Elevator think and behave in ways that demonstrate that they have a growth mindset, energy and vitality, and are ready to embrace change in a positive way, and they will have a more positive impact on others.

This thinking leads to feeling more energized and positive, which affects your ability to do your job well, make good decisions and even affects our health. On days when we feel worried, irritated, bothered or angry, life looks a lot different, problems seem harder, solutions don’t come as easily, and we may react to situations and people in a less than positive way. This creates a less than positive feeling in those around us, which ultimately affects performance, decisions and again, even our health.

So, take a moment each day when you arrive at work and throughout your day to be aware of your state of mind, your mood. We have found that people who are conscious of when they are in lower mood states and who are aware that doing things like becoming more curious or even finding things they are grateful for can bring their mood up and they can have a significant effect on the mood and performance of those around them.

What single thing can you do to bring a healthy state of mind to your work when things are shifting all around you?

About Larry Senn

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Dr. Larry Senn is the founder of Senn Delaney, the culture shaping unit of Heidrick & Struggles. He has been referred to in business journals as the father of corporate culture, based on his field research: the first systematic study ever conducted on the concept of corporate culture.

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