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What We Resist Persists

What We Resist Persists

We are in the season of Groundhog Day, a time when everyone’s favorite cute little rodent determines how much longer we must wait for Spring to arrive. In our popular culture, Groundhog Day usually refers to the 1993 comedy in which Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a television journalist who finds himself waking up each day and experiencing the same events over and over, no matter what he tries to do differently.

What we used to view as a fun, fictional comedy now feels all-too-familiar thanks to the COVID pandemic. We’re 2 years in—yet nothing is really changing and we’re still met with the same challenges day in and day out. It’s still Groundhog Day. How do we break the cycle?

Accept the current reality.

There is a common aphorism, “what we resist persists.” Meaning, that by resisting the current reality, you’re actually keeping it stuck in place. It wasn’t until Phil Connors accepted that he was living the same day over and over again, that he was able to take steps to change.

Lean into change.

Despite feeling uncomfortable, the uncertainty of change can actually lead to great things—if you lean into it. Try adopting some of these new approaches:

  1. Reverse your assumptions. As you become less attached to the way things ought to be—you’ll become more attentive to new possibilities.
  2. Be curious. Ask for advice and outside opinions. Make sure to receive information without resentment and anger—rather, with a sense of curiosity.
  3. Be deliberate. Don’t just let things happen. Make sure to evaluate any information coming in and critically assess decisions from a place of logic instead of emotion. If you find yourself feeling too strongly about something, perhaps take a walk and come back later to finalize your decision.
  4. Be responsive. There is a veritable mountain of literature being written about the “Great Resignation.” One thing that peers and leaders alike can do within this landscape is to deliberately conduct open conversations with each other about their talents, passions, and how they align with the strategic direction and to the benefit of your organization.
Shift focus.

Punxsutawney Phil just predicted another 6 weeks of winter—but you don’t have to be on his timeline. Start shifting your focus today from “How do I get through another year?” to “How do I build a culture that will adapt and thrive through whatever comes our way?” 

Because the truth is, even if things get “better,” there will ALWAYS be something. Uncertainty will always persist…if you resist.

Conscient Strategies was founded with the idea that every organization is capable of thriving through change. With a focus on strategy development, program implementation, workplace dynamics, and leadership development, Conscient Strategies equips leaders with the tools necessary to continuously navigate the constancy of change in ways that not only benefit their team, but, equally as important, their business outcomes as well. From mergers to c-suite changes to sudden or explosive growth, organizations turn to Conscient Strategies when change is threatening their financial health and cultural wellbeing.

Based in Washington, D.C., Conscient Strategies is comprised of a talented group of consultants, executive coaches, strategists, and account executives. The team has worked with organizations of all sizes in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors across the United States and Internationally.

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10 + 6 =

Lessons from the Playground for the Hybrid Workplace

Lessons from the Playground for the Hybrid Workplace

Not long ago I was with my 7-year old daughter at a playground.  Also at the playground were a brother (7) and sister (6).  The kids quickly started interacting with each other, and soon they were actively playing together.  The two 7-year olds used their imagination to cook up a game that involved pretending they were in a distant kingdom fighting dragons and dodging hot lava, etc.  

The two older kids were fully engaged playing the game when after a while the younger girl said with a crestfallen look, “I don’t want to play with you guys anymore.  I’m never involved.”  When I heard these words, I felt a jolt of sadness come over me. I also had an insight related to the challenges in many Diversity & Inclusion programs.  

D&I programs work hard to ensure that diverse people are represented in the organization and included on teams.  But it’s up to the teams collectively to help each member feels truly involved; involved in the nitty-gritty challenges, involved in the moments of fun and play, and involved in the overall social fabric of the team.  

I guess that’s where the “Belonging” in DEIB comes to life. You can be on the playground, ostensibly playing the same game as the rest of the team, but if you don’t really feel “involved” then you will not have a sense of belonging.  As a result, you will feel like that 6-year old girl did: sad, disappointed, and disengaged.

Considering the story above, what can you as a team leader and team member do to make sure everyone on your team feels like they are truly involved in the team’s work?  For one thing, you can invite everyone to have a say in developing the “rules of the game” (group norms).  Next, you can check in with people and ask open questions like: “What’s it like for you to be a member of this team?” and “What aspect of being on this team keeps you from participating fully?”

In today’s hybrid workplace, it’s up to team leaders and team members alike to keep an eye on each other to make sure that no one “falls through the cracks.” Some people like to be checked on more often than others, so it’s important to inquire about the unique preferences of each individual.  Once you know another’s preferences, you can adapt your leadership/membership style to be optimally responsive to another’s needs.

The modern workplace is demanding and stressful, but it can also be inspiring and uplifting. Are you doing your part to make sure each member of your team feels involved and included in both the ups and the downs of organizational life? 

Conscient Strategies was founded with the idea that every organization is capable of thriving through change. With a focus on strategy development, program implementation, workplace dynamics, and leadership development, Conscient Strategies equips leaders with the tools necessary to continuously navigate the constancy of change in ways that not only benefit their team, but, equally as important, their business outcomes as well. From mergers to c-suite changes to sudden or explosive growth, organizations turn to Conscient Strategies when change is threatening their financial health and cultural wellbeing.

Based in Washington, D.C., Conscient Strategies is comprised of a talented group of consultants, executive coaches, strategists, and account executives. The team has worked with organizations of all sizes in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors across the United States and Internationally.

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2 + 11 =

Getting the “Golden Eggs”

Getting the “Golden Eggs”

All leaders are charged to accomplish two things:

        1) Bring out the best in their people.

        2) Get results (accomplish the mission).

The truth is that most leaders naturally focus their attention on only one of these domains at the expense of the other. Highly effective leaders are able to strike a balance between their task orientation and their relationship orientation.

Think about The Golden Goose fairy tale. The reason you have the goose is to get the golden eggs to support your family and to pursue your dreams. But if you don’t take good care of the goose and keep it happy, it will stop laying the golden eggs. So, the real moral of the story when it comes to leadership, is that members of your team are golden geese, and it’s up to you to treat them in such a way that they want to lay golden eggs for you. 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? 

When I was a young Army officer deployed to Bosnia in the early 90s, there was a period of time before my unit started going out on missions where we were comfortably settled in our operating base with all the creature comforts.  I figured morale should be high under these circumstances but instead, soldiers were anxious and getting into trouble.  

My commander coached me to realize that high morale does not come from being comfortable, but from accomplishing challenging missions.  

Years later, popular neuroscience revealed that our brain releases dopamine (the feel-good reward chemical) each time we accomplish something rewarding. In turn, we learn to crave that feeling and want to do more of the reward-producing behavior, reinforcing the lesson I learned in Bosnia.

Similarly, I worked as a Field Supervisor for the Census.  I had twelve canvassers who walked all over the land encountering barking dogs, irate property owners with guns, heat so intense that their handheld computers would malfunction, and general exhaustion.  But these folks LOVED what they were doing and couldn’t get enough of it.  The work was challenging, and it was anything but comfortable.  At the end of each day, we celebrated their victories and shared “war stories.”  They were singularly focused on accomplishing the mission. I did everything I could to support them, help them troubleshoot challenges, overcome barriers, encourage them, and recognize them for their ingenuity and dedication to the mission. 

So, how do you bring out the best in your team while also driving results? Consider the following three areas of focus: 

Be Genuine.

If you naturally focus on tasks, do your people know that you genuinely care about them as human beings and want what’s best for them?  Or deep down inside do they feel like you are just using them for your own needs?  If they know you want the very best for them by offering them real challenges to develop their abilities, while backing it up with genuine support, they will go the extra distance to lay the golden eggs.

Challenge Those Around You.

Maybe you make the mistake that I did as a young officer, thinking that if you just make everyone comfortable, they will perform well and be happy?  In this case, remember that people need to feel challenged to feel good.  If we are not helping our employees grow and develop by coaching them to step just outside their comfort zone, then work will feel boring and they may disengage.

Be Available, Attentive, and Responsive.

Finally, when interacting with your team (or friends and family for that matter), there is an acronym which can help you prepare yourself— AAR.  This stands for Attentive, Available, and Responsive.* If you can bring your full attention to the other person, really be available and curious about what is on their mind, and then respond with compassion and skilled leadership, your team and organization will be vastly more productive, engaged, and satisfied.

*Dr. Rick Hanson, psychologist

Elias Ursitti is a leadership development facilitator and credentialed leadership coach. His professional mission is to help leaders raise their level of consciousness in order to take skilled, wise, and compassionate action. Elias utilizes an adaptive coaching approach in order to best serve leaders and their teams in a range of challenging contexts.

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10 + 3 =

Money Left on the Table

Money Left on the Table

Investors who perform only financial and operational due diligence are leaving money on the table.

It is standard for investors and companies to perform rigorous financial and operational due diligence when preparing to invest. They spend money to hire valuation experts, lawyers, and financial experts to gather data and help them decide exactly what a company or investment is worth. Yet, most deals fail to achieve the target ROI1.

 Traditional due diligence doesn’t fully consider the leadership and culture factors that are critical to organizational growth and success. A good “gut” feeling about a leadership team or using a personality assessment will not provide insights as to whether a leader has the capabilities and behaviors necessary to grow their company and achieve the investor’s strategic objectives. Further, cultural considerations, particularly in the case of M&A deals, require a greater level of evaluation. Two executive teams getting along does not necessarily mean that their organizations’ cultures will integrate seamlessly. If leadership and cultural considerations are left unaddressed until the post-transaction stage, costly problems can arise that undermine growth and slow integration. Investors who are looking to create lasting value and achieve their strategic objectives can go beyond the numbers and leverage leadership and culture due diligence to mitigate risk up front and improve financial outcomes.

 When you dig a little deeper into the numbers, many private equity and M&A deals go wrong when the leadership or culture at the newly acquired firm isn’t prepared or capable of driving the growth and implementing the strategy desired by the investor.

Rather than writing these failed deals off as par for the course, or spending massive amounts hiring consultants to try and fix the problems, investing in leadership and culture due diligence alongside other diligence activities allows investors to evaluate and begin to address potential leadership upfront, saving money, time, and costly turnover in the long run.

 Incorporating a leadership and culture assessment as part of your due diligence process helps ensure that you can identify risks, such as leaders who lack the vision, communication, execution capabilities to drive significant growth or mismatches between a strategy that focuses on innovation and culture that maintains the status quo. Once the risks are known, investors can either plan specific ways to mitigate these risks (employee retention plans, leadership coaching, culture initiatives, or operational changes) or reconsider the investment based on the data. Quantified insights on leadership and culture within a potential investment enhance and complement the financial and operational due diligence.2

 Leadership and culture issues derailing the financial returns of M&A and PE investments are well known, and there is a simple solution: better human capital focused due diligence. Savvy and strategic investors understand that making the small investment to perform leadership and culture due diligence up front and identifying the potential risks can save money in the long run and decrease the time until they see returns on their investment.

Katherine Butler-Dines specializes in project management, strategy design, and business development. With a passion for helping companies grow efficiently and effectively, Katherine focuses on helping people and businesses put into place the structures and processes to not simply adapt to change, but embrace it. She has previously supported quantitative and qualitative research projects on entrepreneurship, particularly about women entrepreneurs, across 11 different geographies.

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14 + 2 =

Avoiding Misalignment and Maximizing ROI in Operator-Led Private Equity

Avoiding Misalignment and Maximizing ROI in Operator-Led Private Equity

Over 70% of private equity investors and their portfolio company (portco) executives agree that company culture is critical to the successful implementation of strategy, yet only 13% formally conduct an evaluation of their portco’s culture.*

What is culture and why does it matter?

Organizational culture — the assumptions, values, and behaviors underlying the statement “this is how we do things here” — influences employee engagement, strategy implementation, and operational efficiency. Leaders who understand their organization’s culture and how to intentionally align it with strategy can shape the culture to engage their employees and more quickly achieve strategic objectives.

Too often, leaders do not fully grasp or account for organizational culture when implementing a new strategy. This lack of understanding is particularly risky for Private Equity firms with an operator-led investment thesis. A mismatch between portco and the operator who will lead it can be a very expensive mistake. The success and strategy of a new leader can quickly be derailed if their leadership behaviors are misaligned or at odds with the existing portco culture.

The Operator / Leadership Misalignment

PE firms taking an operator-led investment approach, including Search Funds, often work with a roster of operators to identify a potential portco with significant opportunity for growth and where the existing ownership is seeking to exit. The firm will acquire the company and place an operator from their own team to lead the company.

The risk with this approach is that even an experienced operator with an excellent strategy may find it challenging to execute if their leadership behaviors are in conflict with the existing portco culture.

How well an operator’s character aligns with the culture of the company they join will largely determine if they gain the trust and followership of the employees. A leader without the trust and backing of their team will struggle to grow the company and execute on strategic priorities. Further, a misalignment between new leadership’s behaviors and the existing company culture can generate tensions between teams, greater leadership turnover, and operational inefficiencies. It can be difficult to grow a company when the leadership is fighting culture-related internal fires. 

A Simple Solution to Mitigate Risk

There is a simple way to mitigate this risk: assess and understand the leadership and culture dynamics at the outset of an investment. Performing a Leadership and Culture Assessment is the first step to understanding organization culture and the implications of that culture. Conscient Strategies’ PE-focused assessment measures the existing organizational culture and leadership dynamics across 10 key dimensions linked to the company’s specific strategic objectives.

This unique approach allows us to draw out and quantify where an organization falls on the spectrum of important values, such as:

  • Status-quo vs. innovation
  • Top-down vs. consensus decision making
  • Results vs. process-driven

As a result, we help investors, and their operators, identify the key leadership capabilities needed to implement changes and drive growth within the portco’s existing cultural context.

In some cases, we find that the existing portco culture does not serve the strategic objectives of the PE firm and operator. In that context, the culture assessment provides valuable insights into what is working and what should be changed to optimize ROI. Identifying the gaps between the existing and the ideal culture is key to mitigating risk and setting the portco up for growth from the outset. The PE firm, and their operator, can leverage that information to set a strategy that includes shifting the culture to better serve the strategic objectives.

Beyond just assessing the portco culture, to truly create alignment between operator and portco requires evaluating the leadership behaviors of the potential operator(s). Culture is shaped by leaders modeling behaviors and values. Leaders who understand the existing culture and recognize which behaviors will most influence growth can proactively shift the culture. Conscient Strategies’ assessments can quantify the operator’s strengths and skill gaps in terms of key leadership behaviors like:

  • Defining a vision
  • Communicating transparently
  • Building alignment
  • Acting decisively
  • Driving results

The PE firm can then ensure the operator has the leadership behaviors and skills necessary to drive forward the company and shift its culture. Culture and leadership are already recognized as key to successful PE investments and many firms are already assessing how a portco’s culture and specific leaders fit with its strategy. But, doing so in a more systematic and data-driven way will improve outcomes. Rather than relying on gut feelings, using a culture and leadership assessment at the outset of an investment enables the PE firm to more effectively align the operator and portco.

Learn more about Conscient Strategies’ Leadership & Culture Due Diligence »

 

* Source: https://www.alixpartners.com/media/14381/ap_annual_pe_leadership_survey_2020.pdf

Katherine Butler-Dines specializes in project management, strategy design, and business development. With a passion for helping companies grow efficiently and effectively, Katherine focuses on helping people and businesses put into place the structures and processes to not simply adapt to change, but embrace it. She has previously supported quantitative and qualitative research projects on entrepreneurship, particularly about women entrepreneurs, across 11 different geographies.

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The Future of Work

The Future of Work

The future is now, and in this new and unfamiliar context, leadership is more important than ever. It is the responsive leader and their high-performing teams that will thrive today and propel their organization into the future.

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Deal Makers Interview Series: Scott Taylor

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We interviewed Scott Taylor, attorney and principal at SmolenPlevy—a practice primarily focused on general corporate and business law, mergers and acquisitions, transactional planning and structuring, and business succession and exit planning.

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Deal Makers Interview Series: Christine Jones

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We interview Christine Jones, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Blue Highway Capital, a US-based investment firm growing small middle-market companies nationally, focusing on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

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10 + 3 =

The Dirty Little Secret of Change

The Dirty Little Secret of Change

Large organizations by definition require a certain level of bureaucracy with the intent of generating consistency and predictability for employees and outcomes alike. As an executive coach working with leaders in federal organizations, I have noticed that federal leaders often face challenges specific to the public sector. One of these challenges being how to implement positive change in traditional “command and control” style bureaucracies.

Federal bureaucracies have very prescribed systems for managing people. They also often have unusually burdensome regulatory structures, and heavy regulatory structures often result in a “zero-defect” mentality. What is the result? Leaders have little incentive to – and are afraid to – innovate and try new things. Worse than that, the fear leaders feel permeates down to their teams and stifles creativity. Also, leaders often end up micromanaging several levels down in order to avoid having to answer tough questions from their superiors up the chain.

For example, a leader that I work with in the federal sector tried to empower his team by adopting a coach approach. He asked more questions of his team members in an attempt to get them to take additional responsibility and develop their problem-solving skills. When he attempted to implement this new leadership style, he began to detect strong feelings of discomfort as his direct reports pushed back on this non-standard approach. Even his bosses began asking him questions indicating their skepticism of his leadership style. As a result of the discomfort and the pressure from above, he abandoned the new approach before it ever had a chance to succeed.

What can leaders do to effect positive cultural change in these types of organizations? First, they can start by facing their own vulnerability with open eyes. Researcher Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, defines vulnerability as showing up and taking action even when we can’t control or predict the outcome. Vulnerability is exactly what leaders in the federal sector need to learn. By definition, there is no innovation, creativity, or positive cultural  change possible without the willingness of leaders to be vulnerable.

In the example described above, the leader needed to make himself vulnerable long enough to see positive results. Like this leader, most of us are unwilling to try new things when the outcomes are uncertain and we face resistance. Yet, the dirty little secret of change means that any leader will have to lean into vulnerability, discomfort, and personal development to generate real change.

The next step in shifting cultures in hierarchical organizations is to recognize that we are going to have to tolerate the feeling of discomfort. If we know that the discomfort is coming, we can be ready for it.

We can also communicate, to our teams and to our bosses, our intention to try something new in order to get buy-in. We can set the expectation that there will be discomfort and normalize the discomfort ahead of time. In that way, we have a chance of generating curiosity and reducing resistance.  

A final key to creating change in a system is to realize change must happen on the personal level first. Growing innovation and achieving new outcomes cannot occur if leaders are not also doing their own personal development work. Leaders have to become aware of and attend to their own subconscious coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms, while developed keep us comfortable, tend to in fact keep us stuck in old mindsets and behaviors.

We encourage leaders to explore and uncover the beliefs behind their coping mechanisms. We also work hand in hand to begin the process of replacing these self limiting beliefs with a mindset that supports success through change. We work to move leaders, and thus their organizations, from seeing change as a threat to embracing the constancy of change and opportunities it brings. Once leaders evolve their mindset through greater self-awareness, they are in a position to withstand the discomfort of trying out new actions and behaviors and achieving more impactful organizational outcomes. 

Elias Ursitti is a leadership development facilitator and credentialed leadership coach.  His professional mission is to help leaders raise their level of consciousness in order to take skilled, wise, and compassionate action. Elias utilizes an adaptive coaching approach in order to best serve leaders and their teams in a range of challenging contexts.

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10 + 10 =

Moral Leadership

Moral Leadership

Our organizations can be microcosms of the communities we all hope to live in. They can set a tone for a model of civility and cooperation. As CEOs we have the opportunity to demonstrate what trustworthy leadership looks like and how to build respect in our organizations. We do this by acting as moral leaders with a focus on creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, heard and respected.

One of the most critical aspects of leadership is moral leadership. It is not enough to lead with an eye toward the bottom line, we are charged with creating a culture of cooperation and belonging. This is what ultimately makes our institutions thrive and become the places people feel an affinity toward and want to be a part of. When we lead with the intention of creating a safe, trusting workplace and creating a culture of caring it will come back to us and ultimately be reflected in our bottom line.

As leaders we establish the tone and the culture for our institutions. The decisions we make and priorities we set say a lot about the ethos of our organization. Our own success is intrinsically linked to the team we build around us. What are some of the questions, the gut check we need to be engaging in to assure we are on track in our role as moral leaders? Do we look past the support staff on our way through the door, or do we stop and greet each person in a manner that lets them know that they matter? Do we know the names of each and every person in our organization and do we remember to celebrate their joys and share in their personal sorrows? Have we created personnel guidelines and practices that embrace individuals and assure for an emotionally safe workplace environment? It is important to be able to ask and answer these questions with honesty.

The external benchmarks for success may be about fiscal growth, communal impact, or product innovation, however if we are not running a healthy organization sustaining our goals will prove to be difficult. The entire team is an integral part of our success.

As leaders we are often tasked with making tough decisions, choices that may impact people’s livelihood, may impact our constituents and the services we can offer and may upset financial stakeholders.

The more included our entire team feels, the more support you will have when and if you have to make tough choices. The mark of leadership is making the hard call when no one else wants to, it is the ability to stand up and do what we know is right. However, we do not have to do it in isolation, we have the support of the people around us if we have earned their trust.

When we lead with a focus on moral leadership, we can play a key role in bringing forward a society of respect. Our workplace can be a model of what we hope our communities will become.

Carole Zawatsky believes that tapping the greatest strengths of each individual and teaching them to work toward their natural talents builds the self-confidence needed to grow as a professional. She has excelled at supporting professionals in finding their voice, and letting go of the fears that might hold them back. She is particularly passionate about helping senior staff understand and align their budgets with the institutional mission and vision.

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3 + 4 =

The Importance of Culture to Post-Deal Integration and ROI

The Importance of Culture to Post-Deal Integration and ROI

Twenty years after the infamous America Online (AOL) – Time Warner Cable (TWC) merger, the failed transaction continues to highlight the importance of culture in successful M&A deals.

In January 2000 AOL announced it would purchase TWC for $165 billion. Billed as transformative merger that would define the future of media, the deal was the largest corporate merger to date. The vision was that the combined corporation — with vast production capabilities, new technology-enabled distribution methods, and millions of subscribers — would be valued at $350 billion. Quickly after the merger was completed in 2001, it became evident that the deal was a failure and, worse, that it had been doomed from the outset.

Culture is the set of assumptions, values, and artifacts that underlie the statement ‘this is how we do things around here.’ AOL and TWC’s company cultures were so inherently different that the post-merger integration (PMI) didn’t stand a chance.

While the deal was supported by substantial financial risk assessment, leadership put little thought into how the cultures and teams might integrate. As the merger progressed, initial optimism gave way to frustration. The AOL employees were put off by the very buttoned-up corporate culture of TWC while the TWC team was appalled by AOL’s aggressive and arrogant style. This clash led to mutual disrespect, a quick disintegration of cooperation, and stalled strategy implementation. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, the ensuing industry-wide economic fallout exacerbated the troubled merger and further crippled any prospects for growth.

The culture clash wasn’t merely an old media vs new media conflict: The integration triggered a conflict over values, priorities, authority, decision making, operations and, ultimately, the question of which company drove the most value for the deal. While the transaction was allegedly a merger of equals, AOL had the more valuable stock and position entering the deal.  Some leaders at AOL believed that status should ensure them a superior position in the post-deal company. On the other hand, TWC executives saw their company as driven by strong values and vision while they considered AOL opportunistic and driven by short-term profits.  Like their AOL counterparts, TWC leadership perceived their company as the superior business. As the two companies quickly realized, the best laid strategy can quickly be derailed by cultural issues.

AOL stock tumbled in the way of the 2001 dot-com bubble and cross-company management fights became public. Former TWC Chairman Gerald Levin — who became the CEO of the AOL Time Warner corporation — complained publicly that TWC was being sunk by AOL. He was shortly thereafter replaced, an act that fueled further, costly executive turn-over. The spiral continued until, by the end of 2002, AOL Time Warner announced $98 billion in annual losses.

Today, neither company exists, both having been sold for pieces to other media and tech players in the intervening 20 years. As Stephen Case, former Chairman of AOL Time Warner and the founding CEO of AOL, acknowledges the merged corporation lacked trust and a common vision on which the team was aligned. Without these essential ingredients of a high-performing culture and effective leadership, integration and growth we impossible to achieve.

While the dot-com bubble burst couldn’t have been predicted, the cultural issues which plagued the merger certainly could have. AOL was a new media technology company, TWC was part of the old media vanguard.

As Richard D. Parsons, President of TWC at the time of the merger, shared in a 2015 interview, “I remember saying at a vital board meeting where we approved [the merger], that life was going to be different going forward because they’re very different cultures, but I have to tell you, I underestimated how different.”

Culture continues to plague M&A transactions today. The 2017 Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods is another notable example. The deal was hailed with great fanfare by both companies. CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey called it “love at first sight.” But the deal hardly turned into a storybook romance for the employees of Whole Foods. The cultural differences between the two firms are vast: Amazon value tight rules, order, and strong hierarchical authority to keep the massive entity running. Whole Foods culture was one of collaboration, de-centralized, employee-driven decision making, and emphasizing the higher purpose and vision associated with their work.

During the post-acquisition business integration, conflict ensued as Amazon pressed Whole Foods to standardize the operations and customer experience in every store. Whole Foods suffered significant employee attrition and falling customer satisfaction. In 2017, Whole Foods was left off the “20 Best Places in America to Work” list, a list it had made for the prior 20 years. The promised  significant price reductions failed to result. Post-acquisition, the quality of Whole Foods yelp reviews have fallen with 20% of reviewers relating their dissatisfaction to Amazon directly. The acquisition is a prime example of how a company – Amazon – failed to account for the importance of culture to the success of the acquired company. In trying to change that culture, the value of the deal suffered.

Both the AOL-TWC merger and Amazon-Whole Foods acquisition highlight the importance of culture in successful integrations. It is not enough to evaluate the financial value or risk associated with an M&A deal. Expanding due diligence to include non-financial factors of leadership quality and effectiveness along with cultural values and behaviors can significantly reduce integration risks. This non-financial due diligence will identify gaps and differences between the two companies so executives can craft a definition of what the integrated culture will look like and a value proposition as to why that culture will benefit employees and the company growth.

To achieve outside outcomes and strategic objectives, leaders must assess, acknowledge, and work with – not against – the organizational cultures that both companies bring to the table. For assistance driving fast and actionable insights on the impact of culture on your transaction, reach out to Conscient Strategies to learn more about our non-financial due diligence product.   

Katherine Butler-Dines specializes in project management, strategy design, and business development. With a passion for helping companies grow efficiently and effectively, Katherine focuses on helping people and businesses put into place the structures and processes to not simply adapt to change, but embrace it. She has previously supported quantitative and qualitative research projects on entrepreneurship, particularly about women entrepreneurs, across 11 different geographies.

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Leadership in Dark Times

Leadership in Dark Times

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
– Anne Frank

It is undeniable that we are all in a shared space that none of us have ever visited before. We are new to this space defined by isolation, fear of illness and the unknown. We are all working to find new ways to connect digitally and remain engaged in the world around us. Human beings are by nature social creatures, we thrive by being together.

Our institutions likewise thrive when there is human interaction. Our organizations thrive on collaboration, and the synchronicity of shared ideas that happen when we are in proximity to one another. For the past many months, we were able to approximate this with outdoor dining, picnics, visits to our families, friends and colleagues in parks and backyards. As the winter begins to close in around us and the days have grown shorter, we will need to find new ways to illuminate our shared experiences and bring some light into this dark time.

It is no surprise that so many cultures have traditions that bring light into our lives at the darkest time of the year. It is what we do, we find ways to fill the void through our own actions. A single act of a leader bringing their team together in new and unexpected ways can be that light. Your team is looking toward you to lift them up when the days are short, and the light is dim. As we all live in this new world of the prolonged liminal space between isolation and the hope of a vaccine, we leaders can make the difference between light and darkness. Some of the most successful leaders are those who acknowledge the reality of difficult situations and continue to keep their teams optimistic. They are able to continue to inspire creativity most especially in difficult times.

This is the moment for leaders to act as a catalyst for creativity and change in order to inspire our organizations to do more than survive, but to actually flourish.

Let’s ring in the New Year with lightness and hope.

Carole Zawatsky believes that tapping the greatest strengths of each individual and teaching them to work toward their natural talents builds the self-confidence needed to grow as a professional. She has excelled at supporting professionals in finding their voice, and letting go of the fears that might hold them back. She is particularly passionate about helping senior staff understand and align their budgets with the institutional mission and vision.

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Endings are just as important, if not more so, than any other stage of the coaching journey.

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Ready to grow a stronger organization? 

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The Small Things

The Small Things

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”  
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Gratitude comes like a whisper, quietly when we open our hearts and allow ourselves to take in the small wonders that surround us. I was out for my morning walk, wet hair, a little too cold for comfort and regretting my decision to leave the house without a hat when a neighbor opened her door and exclaimed, “you need a hat”. She came out moments later with a woolen cap and off I went wearing a warm hat and happily filled with gratitude.  

These simple acts of kindness, the moments we take to actually stop and allow ourselves to see other people, their joy, their sorrow, their need for humanity, this is what gratitude can feel like. 

When we notice small changes in the universe the changing colors in the natural world from the pale green leaves beginning to come back after a long winter to the magnificent brilliant colors as the leaves bid us goodbye in the fall. When we stop and take note of the beauty that surrounds us, this is what gratitude can feel like.

Each of us move through the world in many different ways, as parents and children, friends and partners, siblings, colleagues, and leaders and of course as individuals. In each of these roles we have the chance to experience gratitude and to be a part of communal gratitude. This is a time of year, as we move toward Thanksgiving to ask ourselves, “what are we grateful for, and what have we done that might have helped another person experience gratitude.”  

Our organizations and institutions are microcosms of our larger world, they are the sum total of our collective selves.

During this particularly difficult time when so many are experiencing isolation, illness, fear and longing what have we done as leaders to support our institutional community?

Have we checked in on our colleagues, do we know who might be having a more difficult time right now, are we providing the emotional support to those who need it most? Have we stopped and really seen and heard those we work with?  

As we move toward winter with shorter days, cold weather that keeps us inside and we remain in isolation from one another it may prove to be more difficult to summon our gratitude. However, this is when we need to dig deep and commit to ourselves that we will notice the small acts of kindness, the humanity around us, and the beauty of the natural world. We need to feel the gratitude for the lives we have been given and offer the same to others. As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to ask how the people around us are doing and take notice of them, to show people they matter and we see them.  

We do this as friends, as partners, as parents and children and we do this as leaders, we give gratitude for the warm hat on a cold day, the act of kindness that is the best of humanity.  As we sit together or perhaps alone on Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment to count the small things that bring delight to our lives and hold on to those thoughts in the days ahead. 

Carole Zawatsky believes that tapping the greatest strengths of each individual and teaching them to work toward their natural talents builds the self-confidence needed to grow as a professional. She has excelled at supporting professionals in finding their voice, and letting go of the fears that might hold them back. She is particularly passionate about helping senior staff understand and align their budgets with the institutional mission and vision.

Conscient Strategies was founded with the idea that every organization is capable of thriving through change. With a focus on strategy development, program implementation, workplace dynamics, and leadership development, Conscient Strategies equips leaders with the tools necessary to continuously navigate the constancy of change in ways that not only benefit their team, but, equally as important, their business outcomes as well. From mergers to c-suite changes to sudden or explosive growth, organizations turn to Conscient Strategies when change is threatening their financial health and cultural wellbeing.

Based in Washington, D.C., Conscient Strategies is comprised of a talented group of consultants, executive coaches, strategists, and account executives. The team has worked with organizations of all sizes in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors across the United States and Internationally.

 

You may also be interested in:

Finishing Strong

Finishing Strong

Endings are just as important, if not more so, than any other stage of the coaching journey.

read more

Ready to grow a stronger organization? 

Contact us to get started.

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