I was just getting settled into my role as CIO. I had taken on the challenges of an IT environment that had been neglected and having fun getting the department aligned and finding ways to shore up departmental problems. In the midst of these changes, the CEO informed me of the possibility of a potential merger.
Papers were signed and due diligence started. There was a lot of talk about synergies and opportunity together. Having sold a business, I understood this story. Until due diligence continued and I was hit with a hard reality. Our executive team visited with the acquiring company, had a tour and review of their systems. It became very clear to me that nothing of our tech infrastructure would be retained in the acquisition. I was left with a sick feeling of nervous anticipation. While talk continued warmly about synergy and collective opportunity, I saw a different picture emerging that felt more ominous.
Where was I going? Was I aboard the Titanic, heading on a new voyage with everyone smiling and excited for this new adventure? And yet I'm eyeing the life boats and wondering when the iceberg will appear on the horizon.
I began a deep search. In part to resolve the inner conflict I was feeling,but also to reconcile the needs of peers and colleagues who could be impacted by what I was seeing. I began to read up on mergers & acquisitions, on change and ways to cope with the stress of uncertainty. I had a chat with our CEO and got buy in to purchase some resources for the entire company - pamphlets on dealing with mergers & change.
The day after came. The merger was done and the team arrived with new orders - our operations were going to be shut down and moved to headquarters out of state. One-third of our office was let go that day.
In the midst of this radical change, I was surprised by my demeanor. I was calm, almost euphoric. We had an office meeting to announce the news, and those of us on the senior team were asked to say a few words. "Come closer," I said to colleagues with tears in their eyes as the reality of what was happening was setting in. Over one hundred people gathered into a huddle, and as friends and colleagues we embraced the truth. "There has been a death in the family. And now we know where we stand."
I realized that as much as I was processing for weeks what I sensed and anticipated might be an outcome, I had prepared myself to engage and provide leadership with the people I worked with in ways I did not anticipate.
Here we are now in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. A radically different experience to the tough side of a merger gone differently than expected. Nonetheless there are some lessons learned that I have taken into account in the midst of this event.
1. Acknowledge your feelings and deal with them.
Business executives are faced with serious decisions about the radical disruption that has occurred to the economy. It is easy to slip into action orientation that dismisses the reality of the personal impact of the crisis and that can lead to unexpected consequences.. We are all human.The emotional uncertainty and disruption of the crisis can adversely impact your There are a variety of tools and techniques for dealing with feelings - take a run, journal, discuss them with a close friend or coach. Acknowledging and clearing the feelings is the first step in building certainty.
2. Focus on the facts… with curiosity.
In chaotic times the facts can change moment by moment. Yet facts such as they are may be insufficient to formulate a solution. Curiosity is a powerful resource. It turns uncertainty into adventure. "Knowing what we know, how might we…? " Creates space to explore possibilities when our natural tendency is to shut down.
3. Listen deeply
Now more than ever we are listening deeply to customers, employees, government representatives, and health experts. There is strength in a diversity of counselors. Yet listening is not simply taking in the advice of experts. Listen deeply to the hearts of your people. Acknowledge and validate concerns. You will find you cancollect wisdom from unexpected sources.
4. Act with conscious confidence
Uncertainty can breed an attitude of wait and see. Yet certainty is not the solution to overcoming uncertainty. Conscious action is. Colin Powell has stated, "Don't take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don't wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late." There is wisdom in this. Action is always an opportunity to collect feedback. Ideally there is enough information to operate within 40-70 percent assurance that the action will accomplish the result. If the outcome of the action does not, take the learning as new facts and adjust accordingly.
Having the requisite agility to respond in a crisis takes practice. It takes a personal commitment to making sense of every situation as an opportunity for growth, and recognizing that your lessons in turn can shape and foster strength for those around you.
Scott Pochron is CEO of Bridge Catalyst, a consultancy helping companies adapt to changing work practices in the 21st century.