Relationships at Work - The Leadership Mindset Guide to Creating a Workplace We Love

How to Make Mergers and Acquisitions Less Painful with Jennifer Fondrevay

January 02, 2024 Russel Lolacher Episode 124
Relationships at Work - The Leadership Mindset Guide to Creating a Workplace We Love
How to Make Mergers and Acquisitions Less Painful with Jennifer Fondrevay
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with consultant, author and speaker  Jennifer Fondrevay on managing change and challenges through mergers and acquisitions.

Jennifer shares her insights and experience in...

  • Mergers and acquisition complexities and challenges.
  • First hand employee experience during a M&A.
  • The importance of effective and adaptive leadership during M&A.
  • The critical role of communication.
  • How early involvement of frontline leaders is crucial.
  • Steps to overcome an "us vs them' mentality.

And connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Jennifer Fondrevay and here is why she is awesome. She is a global speaker. She is an M and A integration consultant and transition specialist through her consultancy Day One Ready, helping anyone from Fortune 500 to startups and small businesses navigate change. She's also a bestselling author with a satirical business book, Now What? A Survivor's guide for Thriving through Mergers and Acquisitions, a Playbook for Preparing, Navigating, and leading People Through Challenges During Mergers and Acquisitions. I don't know if you've sensed a theme here, but mergers and acquisitions are what we're going to get into today. Hello to you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Fondrevay: Hello. I got to say that is the fastest introduction of me I've ever heard, yet it was all audible. Like you should do those legal... the legal speak on all those pharma ads where you can't understand anything other than when they say constipation may follow. So I'm just really, I'm just really impressed.

Russel Lolacher: I love that you're giving me dreams to aspire to. Thank you for that, Jennifer. I appreciate it.

Jennifer Fondrevay: Happy to.

Russel Lolacher: So let's get right into it, Jennifer. With the first question I ask all of my guests, which is, What's your best or worst employee experience?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, the, the irony of that question is my worst employee experience immediately followed my best employee experience.

So, I'll start with the best. I worked well, I'll, I'll back up one sec, but for those listening, don't worry, I'm not going to tell you my life story. I went to Thunderbird Graduate School, an international business school because I wanted to be Ambassador to France. This was my life's goal. I went into advertising instead.

So my dad just thinks I'm taking a circuitous path to ambassadorship. In that time of advertising, I then moved into marketing and I joined a company called Navteq and I moved abroad to Paris, France to be the global B2B marketing director for navigation technologies, Navteq, which is digital maps. So now everybody who has a phone and uses a map, they're ubiquitous, right?

But try and think back, for anybody who can, what you did before you had that map on your phone. Now they're everywhere. And it was an exciting time to be a part of that company. I'm half French. I was able to use my French, but also just doing the go to market strategies for that. It was an amazing employee experience.

I worked with really sharp and smart people who made me just be better every day, and I had a super team and then living in Paris, France, that was followed by an acquisition. Nokia acquired us, uh, and for about, I don't know, 18 months, it was okay, I think largely I know, looking back, it's, it's because they, you know, they didn't know what to do with us.

Well, that's not fair. Actually, they, they essentially just had acquired Navteq because they wanted to maintain the price on our digital maps. I thought it was going to be a great opportunity for Navteq and Nokia to work together. And so when it started to fall apart and not be the case that employee experience, uh, I would say evolved from my best experience to my worst experience because it felt like overnight, I was devalued as an employee when I had been enormously valued, prior when, while working at Navtech. So it was a shift that I was unprepared for and it's what led me to write my book.

Russel Lolacher: So, out of curiosity, just to dig into that a little bit more, what was... And of course, we're not here to throw specifics under the bus, but is there any examples that you would give like, this is what it felt like to be valued versus the juxtaposition of that?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Yeah. And, and you make a fair point. So this is, and I intentionally, even in my book, right? This is not about Nokia specifically and Navtech. I'm just talking about my journey and that experience, but 70, 90 percent of M& A fail. There's a pattern, there's consistently things that happen. So it wasn't specific to Nokia.

It is what happens predominantly in multi billion dollar acquisitions. And the, the challenge that I see and what I wrote about is we were a B2B company. We were very good. Navtech sold maps to enterprise, so think FedEx and UPS. We sold it to governments. We sold it to phone companies and telecommunications, right?

Nokia, Samsung. We sold it to automotive companies. So all of that was a big part of the role that I played. Helping my sales people sell to their clients, but we were acquired by a B2C company that was just, you know, their, their energy, their entire focus was selling to consumers. And so they didn't, they didn't get our B2B approach and we kept trying, we spent a lot of time trying to help them understand how we, how we sold into our customers and why and the importance of our, our events, the trade shows, et cetera. So it's, it's the traditional pain point that has been written about even before I wrote about it is culture clashes, right? How culture, the difference in culture and how not paying attention to that upfront, how that can undermine the success of your integration.

Russel Lolacher: So let's take a step back for just a moment. From a groundwork perspective, I've always found it's really, really helpful on this show and talking to people like yourself to define what we're even talking about before we get into more of the conversation. So when we see say M and A, we say mergers and acquisitions, what are we actually talking about?

Jennifer Fondrevay: So, and I'm glad you started there because I have had people say, I'm sorry, did you say S and M? And I said, no, no, no, no. M and A.

Russel Lolacher: Different show. Different podcast.

Jennifer Fondrevay: You do, you do wonder what are all these acronyms. So mergers and acquisitions, and really, frankly, I'll be upfront. It's even if a company says we're merging with another, it's still an acquisition.

There's always a dominant player. So mergers and acquisitions, um, have been around since literally the late 1800s. I talk about this in my book as well. So it's not a new phenomenon and essentially it is the act of one company acquiring or being acquired by another company. And again, anybody who works in M and A also knows that.

Even when you do a merger, there's still going to be a dominant player. And that's just that, you know, it's just the nature of of business. And so with a merger and acquisition, you've seen a significant uptick particularly in the last several decades where you've got more companies, both multibillion dollar deals happening, but also middle market companies. The pandemic forced a lot of companies into duress. And so they either had to partner with, merge with, or be acquired by other companies or acquire other companies to be able to be competitive in the market.

Russel Lolacher: So what are the impacts? You've talked about alignment being a big one when you've got one organization that's b2C, the other one's B2B. That's, that's a pretty big differing of alignment. So I'm curious at it from a culture, which you've already touched on is what does this actually look like? That is the obvious and maybe less so obvious impacts by having two organizations come together like this?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, and, and actually on your theme of let's make sure we explain everything.

So B2B, business to business, that's what Nokia was, right? We were working with other clients who then had a consumer end user. So we provided maps to all those entities. I mentioned before the different industries, enterprise, communications automotive. And then B2C, which Nokia was, was direct consumer, business to consumer.

And so philosophically, it's a different orientation, right? Because we were, as NAVTEQ, our role was to help make our partners. More competitive with their end user. Whereas Nokia was going straight to a consumer. And so it's a different orientation. So first and foremost, I'd say that mindset shift is just, is different, right?

Nokia didn't necessarily have a middle, a middle person. They were direct to the consumer. And so they, they, they thought a lot of our creative, our processes, you know, seem to be too slow or ineffective when it's, it was actually our marketing that helped a lot of our B2B partners be better, you know, for, here's a, for instance, we worked with automotive and showed them the value of having map data that worked well in people's navigation systems in their car, right? How that would make them even more happy with the car overall. So a BMW or a Ford, for instance, having an automotive or having a navigation experience where people said, wow, this was great. You know, all I had to do was plug in an address and I went from A to B.

It made people think positively of the car. But that takes time, right? It takes the research, it takes partnership, it takes all of that. And so while it can be longer and more complicated, it still can be quite effective. But that's just, that's, that can be foreign to a company where their focus is B to C.

So that's just one, you know, example of how culture can clash and it takes time. That's what, again, what I, what I, I talk about in my consulting as well as, you know, the book that I wrote is how to really understand the cultures of the two companies, but as you're getting into the, the deal mechanics, because that'll be critical in that post deal integration.

Russel Lolacher: So that's, that leads me to the obvious next question is how do you do that? What does the, and you said there's that dominant organization. There's always one that's kind of, kind of in the pole position more than the other. What should they be doing? And, and before I ask, maybe what the acquired organization maybe needs to do as well to better have this merger or acquisition happen?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, there's, there's a couple of things. The traditional model is the one I experienced. And so I'm going to talk about the traditional model that I see and where I see that go wrong. And then what I, what I do to, to address the challenges I saw, I think, unfortunately, too often it's approached, from an efficiency standpoint, right? How do we, how do we integrate efficiently? It's just project management, right? People fit in boxes. What level are they? You do this, you do this. Okay, here's redundancy. Okay, we're gonna get rid of these people and I'm being very, I'm over generalizing, but that is that is often the approach.

It's templatized, if you will. The downside of, of that approach is people don't fit into boxes neatly. Oftentimes, at least every work experience I've had, so and I know I'm not the exception, people are more than their job description. They aren't the box that they tend to fit in, right? They will have a skill set that goes beyond just their job description.

So if you're, if you're looking just for pure redundancies, and you get rid of a department, you can lose people who are the glue for teams who are influencers across a company. Simply because you said, oh, we don't need that department. We don't need software developers because now we've got two groups of software developers.

So I, I say that that in the experience that I had more often, it was project management. It was templatized and it was just all about efficiencies and redundancies. What I try and do is one shift people's mindset. Help them understand that people are not boxes, that they bring more to that employee experience and teamwork than just the, the job description that they have.

But I also work very hard to help leaders be better prepared for what happens to people in times of change and uncertainty. Because frankly, in business, you know, when you're on a rapid growth trajectory in particular, right? You set objectives, you define the strategies and you execute, but with a merger and acquisition, you're going through a massive transformation as a company, even middle market and small small businesses, a merger or an acquisition is a shift in process and systems.

You need to allow people to adapt to that, but you also need to prepare your leaders for how to lead people when they're dealing with a whole new process, potentially.

Russel Lolacher: And it's always funny. And I found this during the pandemic as well is through massive upheaval and massive change, we really understand who the leaders are or are not in those situations because they're being tested and most people in leadership roles never in their entire careers get tested much less to the level of a merger and acquisition or a pandemic level.

Jennifer Fondrevay: And I love that. I love that you brought that up, by the way, because I use the pandemic as a reference point all the time now, right? I'll say, okay, let's just think about during the pandemic, the leaders who you followed and admired, what did they look like? How did they lead? Right. They role modeled the behavior they expected of others.

They acknowledged when they didn't have all the answers, and they demonstrated compassion and empathy. They met you where you were in your journey to try and help you move forward. That's the kind of leader you need in a merger and acquisition, but it's a unique leader. It's a new leadership model that not all leaders are used to.

So I love that you brought up the pandemic because it's a great reference point for leadership, frankly, now that we need to have beyond the pandemic because we're just we're constantly facing uncertainty. That's the landscape.

Russel Lolacher: And I think the one thing I would add to that is communication, communication, communication. Because so much is, and you know how this works, when there's no communication, people fill in the story themselves.

They will write the best narrative, but nine times out of 10, they'll write the worst one. And I can see it totally happening in a merger acquisition going, I don't have a job when you could be promoted next week. You have no idea because nothing's been communicated to you. Is that probably one of the key reasons a lot of these don't work?

Cause you're saying that 70 or 80 percent of most M and As don't become cohesive and easy.

Jennifer Fondrevay: It's one of many variables. Communication is critical. I'm thankful that you highlighted that cause it's, it's, I usually lead with that, but then everyone says, oh, it's always communication, but it's, to me, it, it, It's kind of like location, location, location, right?

It becomes white noise. It's like, well, yeah, but what you think is a good location may be different than what you think is a good location. Right? Same with communication. Some people are visual. Communication, right, needs to be visual. Some people, you know, they think one town hall is going to answer it because they've communicated everything in that one town hall.

But as, as you know, we absorb information so differently, each of us. So to me, a key part of what I work on with CEOs and their executives is that communication needs to go in all formats. It's a town hall. It's a webinar. It's a, it's a one on one, right? It's going to the locations. It's being available for Q and A and not sidelining.

That's not it. Not saying, well, we'll talk about that later, or not having a, you know, a prepared idea of what the questions are going to be. You don't have to have all the answers. But you need to acknowledge that these questions are out there when you're, when your employees are asking questions, that's an opportunity for you to demonstrate again, let's use the pandemic as a, as a reference point.

How many leaders people admired when they said, listen, I don't know how we're going to address this. This is new landscape for me, but I'm confident if we work this together, we can be successful. And those are the leaders you saw be successful during the pandemic. And that is the same scenario that I, that I say to leaders now. That communication needs to... needs to, exactly as you said, it needs to help people understand what you do know, what you don't know, and, and how they can contribute to solving those things you don't know.

Russel Lolacher: When we think of mergers and acquisitions, we always seem to talk about the C-suite, because those are the ones that are doing all the conversations and making the decisions. But they're not as impacted as everybody else in the org chart and yet, and yet, that's what we seem like we talk about the most.

So how do we get leaders, and I don't equal executive to leader because it doesn't, it's not the same thing. But let's talk about that leadership buy-in because they're the ones that are going to have to sell it to their employees. They're the ones that are actually going to have to go into the trenches and have those connections and relationships, not that CEO who has somebody else write their email and it goes out to everybody.

So how do you get them on board? What is the connective tissue throughout the organization to get this easier?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, and it's funny. I feel like you've either, you've either read my book and all my articles or read my mind because a key, the, one of the first articles that I did after after coming out with my book was exactly about that in, in Harvard Business Review.

It was about the us versus them mentality that can happen. It's not just our company versus their company. It's executives versus frontline leaders because your frontline leaders, they're the people who aren't in the room when the deal is made, but they're the ones burdened with the execution and they're critical to your success.

And so, significant part of the work that I do is to try and get those frontline leaders involved sooner where I can, particularly with with, you know, forward thinking executives to bring in frontline leaders during that due diligence for them to have line of sight on not only the vision for the merger or the acquisition, but the role that they can play and influencing the strategy post launch.

You know, the, once the deal is announced, that just helps accelerate not only the execution, but the buy in, because exactly as you said, these are the people who are, who are not just leaders of teams, but they role model the behavior that the teams are looking for. Does, does Joe buy into this? Because if Joe does, I do right, but it helps a manager frontline leader in particular, have line of sight sooner on what that strategy and mission is.

Because then they can see, okay, this is the role that I, I can play and my team can play, but they can also weigh in on the strategy so that the strategy reflects the reality, right? Too often in, in deals that I've seen that, that don't succeed, it's because the strategy is at a 30, 000 foot level and doesn't reflect the budget, the resources and the time that's required in order for this to be successful in the timeframe that a company thinks. And so the sooner you bring those frontline leaders into the fold, the greater chance for a realistic strategy and buy-in from, from teams.

Russel Lolacher: But doesn't that just reinforce the fact that if you're trying to fix leadership and communication relationships when you're going through a merger that you have already kind of set yourself up to fail by the time you get to that point. Because if leaders are good, if executives are good, they already have these communication streams in place. They already have the relationships. They, this should be not a surprise to them by the time it actually happens.

If you're going, oh man, now I should start learning how to communicate in this. You've already, that's kind of a red flag.

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, I, I guess I'm an optimist. You know, the way, the way I look at it and, and I, I, I say that because for me, a lot of this is low hanging fruit. And I'll, I'll share a story. It's, it's, it's one that I just think really captures what we mean when we say how critical communication is.

So a woman who I interviewed for my book, she was a customer marketing manager and her boss, after an acquisition said, listen, I don't know if our team's going to be valued like we were before. I think we're valuable, right? So they did research on automotive, but they had been acquired by a telecommunications company.

And so his advice to the whole team was don't fixate on your title. You need to show quickly your skills and expertise and how that can help the company move forward. Demonstrate the value that you bring. Don't stay tied to what you did before, but demonstrate your skill set and look for every opportunity to do that.

And she said that was invaluable to her because he didn't, he didn't sugarcoat the situation. And so they did. They focused on showing how quickly they understand an industry and can draw conclusions that could help the company get smarter in a particular market segment. And for her and the entire team, they, the entire team was kept and retained because they demonstrated that. So for me, it's a great example of authentic communication that doesn't break confidentiality. He was very open and transparent, said, I, I don't know, right? And, and, you know, you can use that information as you will, but let's try and solve this together, and let's demonstrate how this team operates and what makes us so good.

Russel Lolacher: Where is HR in all this?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, the unfortunate part is that HR typically doesn't have a seat at the table during those deal discussions and they're brought in at the 11th hour, essentially to highlight, okay, here are all the issues that we're going to have, right? One of the, I think, what's been lovely about the work that I do now, because my past life as a marketing executive, I've had so many HR people who I worked with in my past life go, I knew you were a closet HR person.

Because, you know, part of my role is to elevate the importance of your HR partners, right? Don't just look at them as compensation, benefits, and payroll. But how, how can their expertise contribute to how we think about this deal strategy? I think there's just an assumption and, and, and, you know, I have HR leaders who say they equally need to demonstrate the role that they can play, the value that they can bring.

So it goes both ways, but for, for me, the importance where I see CEOs recognizing the importance of having their HR leaders involved in the discussions. It helps them anticipate where they're going to have pain points, particularly as it relates to culture, those higher level things like culture, onboarding.

You know, it's not just, again, as I said, it's not just the compensation, payroll and benefits. Those are extremely important and particularly from a legal standpoint, you want to make sure that those are all addressed. But there are bigger, higher level things like culture, mission, vision, you know, what, what drove the, the merger acquisition and why.

An HR partner, a good HR partner can help you think that through as a, as a as a leadership team.

Russel Lolacher: You mentioned culture, and I find that always a really important topic because we say culture when there's no such thing as culture, but maybe 7, 000 subcultures within an organization. So I'm kind of curious from a diversity standpoint, and I mean, whether we're talking generational, cultural, personal cultural.

How do you approach this when your organization is a mosaic? It is not a homogeny.

Jennifer Fondrevay: Here's the greatest success I've had because as you pointed out, right, everyone kind of defines culture differently. You know, it can be this amorphous, you know, it's just, it's how I feel when I show up at work.

It's, it's the, the atmosphere, the people I work with... and the exercise that I do, with C suite and frontline leaders is I'll say, if you want culture integration to be successful, think like a tourist. Think like a tourist going to Italy, right? So I use that as an example, right? If you really want to make the most, you have planned this wonderful vacation to Italy, but you don't speak Italian.

You've never been to Italy. What might you do? You would research Italy. Maybe you'd read some books on Italy. You would talk to people who have been to Italy. Maybe you'd find people who were Italian. Find out what are the best places to go, right? But you have a curiosity mindset. You want to learn about the culture. You might even do, what's a Duolingo. You might pick up a couple of key phrases. I said, so you have to have that same mindset. You want to be curious about the other company and their culture. And this goes both ways. What are acronyms? What's the glossary of terms? Who are people that used to work at this company that could maybe give me insight, right?

Particularly, I'll say, as the deal is being announced or right before it... More often than not, people get, are aware of a deal when it's happening before it's done. And so you have the opportunity to find out more about that company. How do they think? How do they work?

What's the terms that they use? If you think like a tourist and you come at it with a curiosity mindset? And oh, by the way, the same thing with tourists, right? I talked about Paris, France. More often than not, if you, when you go to Paris, France, because it has unfortunately a bad reputation for being, you know, snarky waiters at French Parisian cafes... I'll say, but you usually, if you show that you are interested and you share a couple of terms, even if you slaughter the French, typically it shows that you made an effort.

You wanted to understand the culture. Same thing goes with company culture. You need to think about it from a curiosity mindset standpoint.

Russel Lolacher: Now this reminds me of a story. You're going to make me tell a little story here, Jennifer. I backpacked through Europe, specifically in Paris.

There was a couple ahead of me. This aligns a lot to what you're saying. We'll say they were American. Anyway, as a Canadian, it always makes sure I differentiate. As an American couple, they were getting very angry at a ticket agent over and over again, going, why don't you speak English?

I'm just trying to get the answers. Very at them. The, the ticket agent, very politely. I do not I do not speak English. Je n'parle l'anglais.. Over and over again. And they were just, they stormed off because there was no interest in finding common ground or at least trying. So we see this and we're like, well, our French isn't that great.

My best friend at the time had taken French up until a certain university, but it wasn't that good. But when we got up to there, he tried. He mangled French so badly, but he tried. And she responded, in perfect English. You go down that way, you take a left and go down this way.

Jennifer Fondrevay: But that is a perfect example of what I'm talking about, right?

The how do you overcome us versus them? You know, now I'm half French, so I can speak. I, I, I have seen that scenario play out more than once, you know, where, where it's just, there's no effort made to try and meet people halfway. And the more you demonstrate. a curiosity and an interest and a desire to learn about someone else's culture, the more they will give to you and also take back from you.

And you have to have that same approach. And I say this, it's not just multi billion, particularly a multi billion, but I've seen it even... I'll use manufacturing or healthcare, right? We're seeing a lot of mergers and acquisitions in those two industries, nurses and doctors. Again, let's go to subcultures, right?

Nurses have a culture. Doctors have another culture. And, and I see it time and again, we're all say, if you aren't trying, if you aren't looking to see how you can learn from each other's cultures and you just stand on the side and go, well, you know, this is how we do it. How you do it is wrong, or irrelevant, or not important.

You're never going to succeed. You aren't going to find those integration common ground points. And so for me, it's a, you've got to intentionally approach this from what can I learn and what can I teach? And whenever I say you need to think like, I should say, think like a good tourist. Not a bad tourist.

And you will, you will, you will be so rewarded.

Russel Lolacher: So when employees feel undervalued like you did for your merger they will get not quiet.. And so I'm kind of curious what your thoughts are when it bleeds into public discourse because people will go on social media, Glassdoor, Linkedin... talking about how these mergers and acquisitions are not working. Or are. But nobody goes generally on social media to rave about things. They usually want to go and talk, you know, how horrible it's going. So how is that a factor or a discussion topic when it comes to leadership, trying to figure out how to keep everybody under a tent?

Jennifer Fondrevay: It's funny that you bring that up only because I've had a number of CEOs hire me because they've seen, they've seen that, right?

And they'll say, how do we, how do we avoid that? What's fascinating and Russel, I suspect we have a common viewpoint on this. There are things that are obvious to us, those disconnects, the, the communication misses,... because oftentimes, leadership will get to a point where they just, they don't see it.

They don't see some of these things that we see that will be obvious, right? So the perfect example that you raised at the beginning. If you don't communicate consistently, you know on an ongoing basis, even when you don't know the answers, people will fill in. Already, early on, they'll fill in what they think is going to happen and they typically go to the worst case scenario.

And that's where they go to social media. Now you can, you know, cross your arms and say, well, that's not fair. They, they didn't give us a chance. We already talked about that. Well, you, you talked about it, but you didn't talk about everything. So even being open about, hey, here's what we're working on. What are other questions you have?

Solicit questions. What are things that we, as a leadership team need to be working on and thinking about that are obstacles to you getting your job done. You don't want to be blindsided by that, and blindsided usually is because people walk, they leave, or they, they start posting on social media.

So that's a key part of the, the work session that I do, is to prepare executive leadership and front line leaders. For here's, here's how people react to, to news like a merger and acquisition, what drives those behaviors, and the preemptive things that you can do to derisk, the potential challenges that you will have that happen with mergers and acquisitions.

You know, I, I've seen the patterns that I, I wrote a book because it wasn't just my experience, right? Multiple CEOs and C suite executives as well, middle managers, HR leaders, private equity contributed to the research that I did. And so I know I've seen the patterns and, and there are ways to preempt them, but you have to be intentional in your painting the vision and then the communications that you do throughout.

Russel Lolacher: I'm so glad you led me to vision because that was my next question is we spend so much time as an organization focusing on vision and mission, regardless of effective or not effective, but it's certainly on a poster, but we talk about it all the time. So now you've got two organizations coming together with different visions and missions and values.

I know we talked about culture, but this seems to be a little bit more aligned with how the C suites may be looking at the future of the organization. How do you have that conversation?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, first and foremost, I have a session with the leadership from both sides, both companies when, when working with a forward looking CEO, those are the ones I love because they'll say, okay, let's, let's get our leadership together.

I want us all to be speaking from the same book because there is nothing that undermines success more than leadership talking in different ways, having different opinions and having that exposed to your next frontline level leaders, right? It's very hard for them to buy into the strategy if you all don't look like you're aligned on the strategy.

One of the ways I do that is a pre mortem. And a pre mortem, essentially, if you know the healthcare system, a post mortem is the patient's dead. And we look back on what are, what are all the ways that, that led to that, right? What, what could we have done better? A pre mortem in a business context is let's, let's scenario plan.

Let's act as though, okay, there are things that could go wrong about this merger acquisition, what will those be? What are the, and this is everything. It's like a reverse SWOT, right? What are the opportunities and threats? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are all the ways that we could have opportunities and challenges?

And let's talk that out. And what I find fascinating is those conversations help leadership to see how each person thinks about the challenge or opportunity and how they might address it. And so getting alignment isn't just a couple of steak dinners where everyone feels good and they're saying, Oh, we have, we, we share the same values.

This is going to be great. You need to get into the nitty gritty early as an executive team to really make sure you understand how each other thinks and, and that you share a common vision for why this merger acquisition was done. And the opportunities it brings both companies, right? Cause both companies need each other.

That's the other thing that I, I highlight. Both of you needed each other. One may be acquiring another, but you're acquiring this other company cause you couldn't do that on your own. And this accelerates your ability to do that. And so, you know, let's, let's be humble and coming together. But for me, the, the premortem exercise really helps get alignment at a nitty or grittier level.

It doesn't mean you have to solution for everything, but even just understanding how people think about what the challenges and opportunities that might arise. Having that dialogue helps you be better prepared and on the same page. When executives are going out and talking to the organization.

Russel Lolacher: I love the idea of speaking from the same or singing from the same songbook.

It leads me back to that, the importance of definitions because one organization might define leadership differently than another organization might. So you need to be able to understand what each of them are so you can come to a common language as much as anything else. So, yeah, I love that.

Jennifer Fondrevay: And that's one of the things I do with frontline leaders in particular is, how can we co create some new best practices?

And low hanging fruit is, and it's always a funny exercise, is when they share their acronyms with each other, and then they find out, oh my gosh, this is the same thing, we just describe it differently. Right? So I'll say, okay, let's talk through what's, what's a, what's a way to help, you know, create a glossary so that people understand a widget here is a widget here and you just describe it differently, but the more you find common ground languages is a great place.

Again, I'll go back to my tourist thing, right? You know, what's one of the things that you always say, what's the swear word in French, right? What are the words, you know, what are the swear words or, oh, you say orange? We say orange, you know, it's just the accent. So it's, it's, there are ways to find common ground.

So look for those early wins when working together as teams, because then it just makes it so much easier to co-create best practices like go to market, the bigger, heavier lift.

Russel Lolacher: Curiosity is so important. So I want to wrap up before we get into the last question. What does success look like for this, Jennifer?

Like what is successful a merger and acquisition when it comes to a culture coming together?

Jennifer Fondrevay: For me, I think the best way to answer that is the, the answer I give to CEOs when they say, okay, what's the one thing I need to think about or do as a CEO as I approach this merger or acquisition? And I always say, come to the union, come to this partnership with respect for the other side. When both partners, both leads of companies and executives of other companies come to that partnership with respect for the other side, it brings out the best in both companies.

Think about the partnerships or marriages that you've seen that you really admire. Love is a foundation for sure, but more than anything consistently, and, and I've, I've had surveys, every audience I've ever asked this question of. It's respect. You see that each side respects the other, they can compliment, they can be polar opposites, but when they show respect, you can see it's a solid partnership and that's what you're striving for in a merger and acquisition is a solid partnership that you value what that other company brings to this new strategy.

And when you set that tone from the top, it allows people to see and feel valued for what they contribute.

Russel Lolacher: I love how that brought us full circle to the beginning of your own experience of an M and a and not feeling valued. I've always felt the biggest way to retain employees is connecting the work they do to the value that it provides.

And this feels like on a, on a meta level, like on such a big level but still it has that granular importance. So thank you so much for that.

Jennifer Fondrevay: You bet. Listen, I started this journey because I thought I went through three multi billion dollar acquisitions and I'd feel valued one day and devalued the next.

And I realized that was me. Right? I was letting too much outside metrics, too many other things define my value. And so it's why a big, big focus of my TEDx Talk, of, yeah, a lot of the talks that I do for individual groups, is you've got to get clear on your value. Be clear on that. Don't let the outside metrics define it.

The clearer you are on the value that you bring and what you contribute, then you can weather all, all manner of storms. Uncertainty doesn't bother you because you're clear on what you can bring and what you can offer.

Russel Lolacher: And I love wrapping it up with the idea of agency, because as much as organizations and leaders have a responsibility to respect, to enter this with compassion and empathy, it's on us too, of what we will or won't put up with. It's up to us on how we communicate for ourselves, how we champion for ourselves.

So that doesn't get organizations off the hook, but we're also not passengers in this either. So yeah, thank you for highlighting that. So I'm going to wrap it up with the last question, I also ask all of my guests, Jennifer, which is what's one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Jennifer Fondrevay: Well, you know, our conversation led into this. I feel like, wow, we just transitioned so well, Russel. Should go and do it. Let's do a TV show. Because you know, that whole knowing your value, the first step in that is focus on what you can control. We get so distracted by so many things that are out of our control.

And if you focus on what you can control, and for me, the three things are my talent, my effort, and my attitude. Focus on that. Get crystal clear on what your, what your key talent is. And as I said at the beginning, it's not always your job description or the diploma you got. But the clearer you get on your talent, uh, the better off you are on, on, again, knowing what your value is and your effort and your attitude equally play a critical part.

So that's the message I would leave. Focus on what you can control your talent, effort, and attitude.

Russel Lolacher: That is Jennifer Fondrevay. She's a global speaker, M and A integration consultant and best selling author of a satirical business book, now What? A Survivor's Guide for Thriving Through Mergers and Acquisitions. Thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Fondrevay: Thank you. Again, I wish I could just have you introduce me everywhere.