executive transition

Smart Planning for Executive Transitions: When Time Is Not On Your Side (Part 2)

This is the second part of our two-part series on executive transitions. If you missed the first one, you can read some tips for handling a planned executive transition here.

Transitions are high stakes for both companies and investors. It’s emotional, especially if an organization has seen a lot of executive turnover in a short time. In fact, 70% of CEOs and managers—i.e., people leaders—are considering quitting. Experts suggest that emotional burnout, the stress of the pandemic, and the shifting labor market and economy are all likely contributing to this trend. 

Executive turnover brings up a variety of reactions. While some employees get very anxious about having to manage or “break in” the new leader, others—like those who were “quiet quitting” before it was a thing–check out entirely. Neither extreme is healthy for individuals or companies.

In Part 2 of our Executive Transition Series, we’ll consider a situation that’s a bit different than the planned exit of a long-term CEO. 

Imagine it’s three years into the pandemic, and your current leader, who has been with the company for two years, has admirably faced the challenges the pandemic brought to all organizations. Although she has managed quite well, another opportunity comes up and she submits her two weeks’ notice.

Without a transition plan in place, the company could be thrown into chaos. Some employees may have come to the company only to work with her, and others might be suspicious of how leaders are going to handle the change, or whether the company has a future at all. Executive  transitions are emotional and complex, and the fact is that there isn’t always time to prepare.

In a case like this, context will drive a strategic communications plan. What’s the context around the exiting CEO? What is the plan for the interim leader? Are we looking internally or externally? Most importantly, how do we set up a new leader for success and demonstrate stability to our employees?

4 Tips for Unplanned Transitions

 1. Storytelling

 This tops our list again because storytelling is how humans best connect and communicate. That doesn’t mean telling fairytales—employees can tell when a communication is bullsh*t or hiding the truth. It is important, as much as is professionally appropriate, to be honest about why change is coming. 

Tell the truth and allow room for employees to both have and share their thoughts and feelings about what’s happening. You’d be surprised at how much it helps to have leadership acknowledge that a particular situation is really challenging. Otherwise, you risk making employees feel as if they’re being gaslighted. Transitions are inherently challenging, and employees need to know they’re not alone in feeling it.

2. Due diligence

You’ve made space for the feelings, and now it’s time to do your due diligence. This has two parts: finding your next leader, and continuing to achieve your goals.

Finding a new leader will be your utmost priority. Most likely, your Board of Directors will take the lead to determine an interim leader and initiate a search for the next leader. You’ll need to announce and introduce the interim leader while also giving employees, customers, and partners a sense for the plan to find your new executive.

Finally, you want to help your team keep their eyes on the prize, whether that’s increasing sales or another goal for this quarter. Transition can be a major distraction. While it’s okay to acknowledge feelings of uncertainty, it’s also important to support your team in moving forward. 

As the saying goes, companies are bigger than one person; success is shared vision and collective action. By providing the right support, you can empower your team to keep pursuing the strategy. This will not only help maintain a sense of stability and continuity, but it also ensures you avoid larger business problems if performance falls off.  

 3. Fact finding

This is related to storytelling, but it’s different because this is not just about providing employees with a narrative that they can understand. It’s also about addressing any unanswered questions that may surround the circumstances of the exiting CEO and the changes that are coming.

People should be able to ask questions and feel they’re being heard. They should be able to say, “you’re the third CEO in three years, why should we trust that you’ll stay?” The sooner you get it all out there, the sooner you can move on. 

If you don’t answer the questions your employees have, they will fill in the blanks. It is better to be transparent and to provide honest answers to the difficult questions. Sometimes the honest answer is, “we don’t know yet” or “we’re still looking into it.” That’s okay. Better to be honest and give a sense for what you expect to be a timeline to an answer. This will build trust and, if done well, help with employee retention. 

4. Introducing New Leadership

As with planned transitions, employees want to know who the new leader is. In an unplanned transition, and especially a fast one, there might be more skepticism and suspicion. Being as transparent as possible about the new leader’s background and vision are crucial. What’s her background? Does she prefer to hire from specific universities? What’s her vision for the next five or ten years? 

Offer employees a variety of opportunities to talk with and about the incoming leader, and keep in mind that everyone has different levels of comfort with asking questions. Consider holding “Donut Wednesdays,” fireside chats, and other informal channels where leadership and teams can connect. You might also offer webinars where more introverted employees can submit questions virtually. As much as you can, provide ample time and spaces for teams to have conversations with transitioning executives as well.

The Need for Strategy

 Executive transitions—whether planned or unplanned—require strategy and careful planning. Storytelling, transparency, and diligence can help ease the growing pains of your company. However, it’s important to note that there are important and subtle differences in strategy for planned and unplanned transitions. 

For instance, employees are far more likely to feel insecure about their job and the future of the company amidst an unplanned transition. And without careful communication, rumors are more likely to distract from workplace goals. Honesty, diligence, and insight into company culture and employee needs are key for maintaining normalcy and retaining your valued employees.

 In all cases, I recommend you use a variety of channels and venues to soothe your most anxious employee and to engage your most checked out employee. Hold fireside chats, host Q&A sessions, send email updates from the hiring team, and create spaces for leadership to connect with their teams.

 Transitions can be chaotic, but they can also be opportunities to engage employees, customers and partners. A smart executive transition can open up a gold mine of insight into how these stakeholder sets are feeling about the company more generally. With the right support, you can use the transition as an opportunity to zero in on your systems and communications. If you’re willing to be present with the process, the results can be better than you ever imagined.

Want an experienced set of eyes to help guide your executive transition plan, or don’t know where to begin? Audacia can help. Reach out to us for a consultation here.

Photo credit: Young Businesswoman Receiving Praise From Her Colleagues During A Meeting In A Modern Office by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

executive transition

Smart Planning for Executive Transitions: When You See It Coming (Part 1)

Transitions, including executive transitions, are high stakes for companies for obvious reasons. They bring about logistical, bureaucratic, professional, and emotional challenges for everyone involved. That’s why we’ve created a two-part Executive Transition Series to help you out during seasons of change in your company. 

Executives can be a powerful retention mechanism, or the reason people leave. Consider the old adage, people quit bosses, not jobs. Alternatively, sometimes employees come to a company to work with a particular leader. What happens when that leader leaves? And what about when veteran employees have worked with the same leader for multiple years, and a new leader radically changes the culture? These are tough questions, and not ones you can sweep under the rug.

The key for dealing with executive transitions is communication. It’s important to tailor your strategy to the kind of transition you’re facing. On the one hand, you might be facing a planned transition—one that’s been on the horizon for months or years. On the other hand, you might have a leader—maybe one who hasn’t even been around very long—give two weeks notice. These are two very different situations, and having a strategic communications plan can help you make it through either one.

In this two-part series, we’ll consider both situations. First, we’ll consider some tips for handling a planned transition.

4 Tips for Planned Transitions

Executive transition is a specialty of ours here at Audacia Strategies. Let me share one of my favorite engagements and biggest client wins when supporting a client through a planned transition. Recently, Audacia was brought on board to help with an executive transition in a software company. The outgoing senior executive was the founder of the company and also an avid, talented guitarist. A low key rockstar, if you will. The company culture was centered around music: leadership documents were full of music analogies, guitars were given as gifts, leaders put their favorite song in their website bio–you get the picture.

The leader planned his exit and helped to identify a new CEO. The new CEO was brilliant—he had run billion-dollar organizations and grew up playing chess blind-folded! While this new CEO was a great fit to guide the company to its next phase of growth, he was different from the founder-CEO. An executive transition is one thing, but the reality is that the company was also about to undergo a cultural transition.

How do you manage the exit in a case like this? Here’s the playbook we advised.

1. Storytelling

As long as people have been around, they have connected over stories. We made space for the outgoing CEO to share his story, and time to celebrate his work with the company. Just like a graduation or retirement party, this allows for closure and creates appropriate professional space for processing the (big) feelings that come with transitions.

 2. Getting to know the new leader

 In addition to telling the story of the outgoing CEO’s time, we worked with the incoming CEO to help him identify and share his story. This humanized an ultra-smart leader and gave employees a chance to get to know him and understand his priorities and what makes him tick. 

We also advised on creating plenty of opportunities and multiple channels to engage with the CEO and ask questions. Unanswered questions can leave employees feeling ungrounded and many may be too intimidated to ask the hard (or even simple!) questions. 

We always advise to be as open as possible and provide opportunities for interaction in multiple formats (in-person, online, large group, small group, 1-to-1). Transparency and accessibility are key for maintaining and building trust.

3. Working with the team

The logistics and bureaucracy involved in a transition are not to be underestimated; however, it’s also important to work closely with the team. Share the transition plan, let your executive team know what is coming and let them weigh in on what they and their teams need. And, practically speaking, set expectations about which responsibilities will be redistributed, who will be responsible for training whom, and so on. Executives have questions too–give them time to process the transition and bring their questions to the new executives or trusted confidants. 

4. Mind your communications

We trade a lot in written word, scripts, and talking points. Emails and other written messages are important artifacts that preserve institutional memory long after the transition. Because everyone can look back and see where leaders followed through and where they didn’t, it’s important to be consistent across multiple mediums (video intros of a new CEO, webcast town hall, in-person meet and greets, welcome letter, and so on). 

Perhaps even more importantly, organizations should make sure messaging is consistent across informal communications as well. During times of transition, employees will first bring their worries and questions to direct supervisors and peers. The executive team and their team needs to be on the same page so they’re ready to help their teams navigate organizational changes. During times change most employees and customers will turn to their line manager or customer success contact for reassurance, make sure these critical team members have the information, resources, and support they need to succeed.  

Concluding Thoughts

 Planned transitions are admittedly easier than unplanned transitions; however, planned transitions can still be destabilizing to company culture. At worst, transitions can result in employee turnover, loss of trust, lost business momentum, and a decline in workplace climate if you don’t go in with a strategy. It’s important to keep in mind both the emotional and logistical challenges of executive transitions.

We often think about corporations as faceless entities, but in moments of transition, we are reminded that corporations are made up of people who have hearts and minds. The more you share your story honestly, transparently, and thoughtfully, the more you can weather this season of transition while building long-term trust and continuing to achieve your company goals.

If you don’t have the luxury of a planned transition and are facing an imminent unplanned transition, read the next part of our two-part series where we’ll discuss tips for handling an unplanned executive transition.

If you’re facing a transition—planned or unplanned—and you’re trying to find the right strategy, Audacia has you covered. Reach out to us here to schedule a consultation.

Photo Credit: Black Male And White Female Business Associates Shaking Hands In Hallway by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

Lessons learned

Reflecting on the Evolution of Audacia: 3 Big Changes and Lessons Learned

In business, there is often a tendency to set goals, chase them down, and then set more goals. Rinse. Repeat. Taking a step back from this relentless pursuit of achievement to take stock of lessons learned, though, is critical. 

We see this tendency all the time with our clients working through big transformations. If they become overly focused on getting through what they think of as the “hard part” – the merger, the transition, the restructuring – without picking their heads up, they can miss what’s even more important. Without understanding how that big transformation fits into the overall strategy, there’s a risk that you’re simply going through the motions, making change for change’s sake. There’s almost nothing worse than a checklist untethered from a strategy.

At Audacia, we periodically reflect on where we’ve been, so that we can move forward with our eyes wide open. In that spirit, let’s look at the biggest changes and lessons learned from the past (almost) seven years.  

1. The Team is Growing

One of the most visible changes that we’ve made over the years is our growing team. In the beginning, it was hard to think about bringing others on. Sure, I was happy to quietly partner with people I had worked with throughout my corporate career, but the thought of developing my own team… shudder, at least in those early days.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, entrepreneurship doesn’t run in my blood, and the idea of being responsible for other peoples’ livelihoods was scary at first. But, of course, the stories my mind invented were much more terrifying than the reality.

In fact, building out our team of experts, partners, and employees has been one of the greatest joys of running the business. Today we’re 14 strong and growing. Together, we have created a culture of trust and transparency. Because I can trust my team, I have more space to think strategically, and I can focus on the big picture without getting lost in the details.

Not only that, but we’re also able to leverage our collective experience and talent to deliver bigger and better solutions for our clients. And diversity of thought, experience, and perspective, enables us to deliver those solutions to a broader range of clients. 

This is not to say we’ve got it all figured out; we are a work in progress. But I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made and excited to see where our path takes us next.

Lessons Learned:

  • We are better together.
  • Don’t let fear hold you back from making a bold move. (I’m still a work in progress here!)
  • Building a reliable support system is one key to being successful as a business owner.

2. We’re Getting Clearer About Who We Are

This change may be less visible from the outside, but it is crucial to finding ideal clients, honing our service offerings, and boosting our credibility – not to mention, strengthening our messaging. Getting clearer on our superpowers and how our values express themselves through the work we do has allowed us to back away from saying “yes” too often.

Over the years, we have zeroed in on what we do and how to position ourselves in the market. Living through pivotal moments in our business has helped us figure out how to help our clients through pivotal moments in theirs as well. We can confidently talk about how we work with organizations experiencing structural transitions including: 

These types of transformations have internal and external ripple effects to be aware of from the beginning, but those effects can be invisible to teams on the inside. Our team comes in, gets the lay of the land, and develops a coherent communications strategy to carry you through the transition and beyond.

We provide much more than a coherent communications strategy, though. Developing such a strategy requires you and your team to think through crucial details about the transition and the fundamental changes on the horizon. In strategy sessions with Audacia, clients have breakthroughs that improve operational efficiency, usher in a new era of cultural transparency, and spark innovative ideas that lead to even bigger transformations.

Lessons Learned:

  • If you want prospects to understand what you do, you need to be clear about what you do.
  • Having a coherent communications strategy is about so much more than communicating well.
  • Teams that know their value deliver above and beyond their value.

3. We Answer Client Concerns Before They Have Them

Perhaps the most important change Audacia has made over the years has been the way we approach our clients’ needs. In the beginning, we were mostly reactive. When a prospect reached out to schedule a consultation, I listened to their concerns and devised a solution connecting all of the dots. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s one that yields success for many, including Audacia in the early stages.

However, we’ve evolved beyond this reactive approach. Today we are more proactive, anticipating our clients’ needs even before they have them. When I sit down with a prospect, I listen. I want to hear not only the text, but also the subtext. Our advisory is unique to each client and their situation. We are constantly formulating and reformulating strategies to present solutions for clients in all different stages of transformation.

As a result, we’re adding more strategic value to our clients and we’re more engaged across their transformation journey. Our average client engagement has grown from three months to six months. 

We’ve also seen more repeat business in recent years as clients come to value our strategic perspective, ability to “get *ish done,” and tangibly/actually move them forward. Because we have been around the block, we are well positioned to lead our clients through the shifting sands of transformation, and having access to that kind of reassurance in the midst of chaos or crisis can be absolutely priceless.

Lessons Learned:

  • Helping clients see around corners is the cornerstone of a true partnership. Often solving one problem leads to another and organizations need help recognizing when this is the case.
  • Small shifts in the way you think about client work can have outsized benefits.

Looking back on the early days of Audacia, I can’t help but feel gratitude for what we’ve built. Here’s to setting more goals and chasing them down, but also taking time to reflect and learning from the past.

Photo credit: Business Associates Sitting In Board Room Having A Meeting With Coffee And Tablets by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

transformative change

“Are We There Yet?” — Change, Communications, and Culture

If there’s anything that’s more difficult than transformative change, it’s communicating about transformative change. And let’s face it, the past two years have been defined by change.

As leaders of organizations living through a profound period of global change, we’ve learned some powerful lessons:

  • The future will not be more stable or more certain.
  • Black swans feel much different when we live through them (sometimes multiple times), than when we read about them in economics textbooks.
  • Disruption or large scale change cannot be contained to one aspect of life.

In short, societal shifts spill over into personal and business life, business upheaval impacts personal and societal security, and uncertainty about personal health throws a wrench into every aspect of life. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, transformative change comes for all of us.

With the hindsight of the last few years, now is the time to review our approach to change and ask ourselves how we can better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s take a closer look at the core aspects of strong communication here.

The Pulse of the Organization

Exhausted organizations do not handle change, let alone transformation, well. Think about how well you operate after a series of all-nighters. Even the thought of having to eat — to survive! — feels like a monumental task. Similarly, exhausted organizations can barely perform key functions, which doesn’t bode well for facing changes with grace.

When leaders continually keep their fingers on the pulse of their organizations, however, they are less likely to lead exhausted organizations and much better positioned to handle transformation. Keeping your finger on the pulse means recognizing when your people are being pushed to their breaking point and making the necessary adjustments needed.

How do you take the pulse of your organization?

  • Get to know your employees and customers: Use pulse surveys (Voice of the Employee (VoE), Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys), “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs), virtual and IRL coffee chats, town halls, skip level meetings, “walking the halls” (for those back in the office).
  • Get to know your leaders: Keep tabs on your people leaders and customer leaders too. Managers can often be the linchpins of culture and influencers of others.
  • Ban the “just deal with it” mentality: Of course, decisions need to be made and transformative change must go on, but if your strategy is to tell your people to “just deal with it,” then you have a failed strategy on your hands. Instead, build a plan with the tools, support, resources, and aircover they need…and be ready to adjust. 

Transformative Change and Culture

Taking the pulse of your organization is only the beginning of figuring out how to communicate about transformative change. To really pull this off, you also need to consider the culture on a deeper level.

Having a change playbook is important, to a point (and lord knows you can find a consultant who will sell you one), but remember that a guide is just that — a guide. There may be times when what your team really needs is for you to set that playbook on fire (maybe even literally).

Here are some areas to consider when it comes to culture: 

  • Consider what is authentic to your organization. What is the general tone of communication? And if there was ever a time to be more transparent, more honest, more plain spoken…transformative change is that time.
  • Consider who is trusted in your organization. Perhaps the Board of Directors is more trusted than management (I’ve worked there). Or perhaps long-tenured middle management is trusted more than the new or newer executives? Understanding these relationships and building that into your strategy is crucial.
  • Consider why you’re doing what you’re doing and have a good answer. Just because “all the other $1B organizations” use top-down communications for layoffs, doesn’t mean that you have to. Keep in mind, “because I said so” is not a successful strategy for successful change.
  • Consider what you are asking of your team and customers. Transformative change, or any change (hello, Atomic Habits), requires commitment. It’s about the larger purpose and that’s generally an emotional ask. You are asking your team and your customers not just to help you make a business change, but to take a journey with you toward achieving your organizational purpose — which will solve more customer problems, make the world a better place, make the organization a better place to work, or any combination thereof.

A Few More Do’s and Don’ts

Once you have thought through the lay of the land and have the big picture in front of you, here are a few more do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

1. Don’t sand down the edges on the executive team. 

Whether it’s a layoff, a major acquisition, or an IPO, your people are your biggest asset — yes, even in the metaverse. And employees, customers, and the media are all looking for leaders to lead and exhibit humanity.

In a recent interview, Brian Chesky, the CEO of AirBnB, said it well, 

“I think CEOs and leaders are more human than they come across. I mean most of these people are real people. They do have feelings. I think the problem with corporations is the lawyers and the HR people and the others, ‘sand the edges’ off the person in an effort to protect the person. And, that is a major disservice because they just reduce them to something that’s not even a human being anymore, they’re just this very cold person.” 

Of course, you need to work with your executives to communicate in a way that complies with the law and represents the organization appropriately, but this is very different from turning them into robots who are afraid to show any glimmer of vulnerability.

2. Do acknowledge the suckiness, if it sucks.

You may be surprised at how much resistance to transformative change can be relieved with a simple acknowledgment of how difficult it is. When it feels like you’re the only one feeling the pain, change can be a really lonely place. Often your people just need you to see them doing their best through an objectively sucky situation. And if it sucks for you too, talk about it.

3. Do acknowledge the excitement of the future, as appropriate.

As hard as it can be, change also usually comes with a lot of excitement. Don’t be afraid to embrace the excitement and display appreciation for the teams that will make the change happen.

4. Don’t promise a return to the status quo.

Never offer to “stop the change.” It may be tempting to try to relieve the pain of transformative change by promising a return to the status quo on a particular date, for example. This falls into the category of promises you can’t keep, though. Sure, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, a product launch, a closing date on the merger, but even those flashpoint events aren’t likely to spell the end of change. 

We’re all changing, all the time. Our environment is changing, the market is changing, society is changing. All we can do is remain in a ready stance — flexible, fluid, optimistic, and ready to roll with the next pivot or “tweak.”

Finally, I want to leave you with some more words of wisdom from Brian Chesky because these two sentences are really all you need to know when it comes to communicating about transformative change: “Just do whatever you think is the right thing at that moment. Take care of people and then they’ll root for you.”

And you know Audacia Strategies is here for you. We’re ready to help you better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s talk!

Photo credit: Businessman Applauding With His Colleagues During A Presentation by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

planning for the future

What’s On the Agenda for 2022?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen, heard, and read one too many articles about trends for 2022. I even published a 2022 trend article myself. And as much as I enjoy thinking about and planning for the future with Audacia’s incredible clients, I’m also a realist.

Has anyone effectively predicted anything during the past two years? Fortunately, we don’t need to predict the future to build a solid strategy. What if we, instead, accepted the uncertainty and focused on building flexibility and the capacity for resilience inside our organizations?

With this in mind, let’s discuss what’s in, what’s out, and preview the flexible plan we’re implementing at Audacia Strategies this year.

What’s In

As we continue to watch workplaces shift and organizations rethink how productivity happens, some corporate culture trends have real staying power.

1. Building corporate trust.

The pandemic continues to erode public trust in large institutions. Early last year, when we were mostly feeling optimistic about a swift return to normalcy, we talked about ways corporations could begin rebuilding trust. Back then, public trust of businesses stood at 61%, higher than any other institution, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

Now, after enduring another year of working from home and dealing with the uncertainty of the delta and omicron variants, many of us have given up on the concept of “a return to normalcy” entirely. And the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that business holds onto its position as the most trusted institution, with even greater expectations due to government’s failure to lead during the pandemic.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • By an average of a five-to-one margin, respondents in the 28 countries surveyed want business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce re-skilling and addressing racial injustice. 
  • All stakeholders want business to fill the void, with nearly 60% of consumers buying brands based on their values and beliefs, almost 6 in 10 employees choosing a workplace based on shared values and expecting their CEO to take a stand on societal issues, and 64% of investors looking to back businesses aligned with their values. 

“Business must now be the stabilizing force delivering tangible action and results on society’s most critical issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “Societal leadership is now a core function of business.”

2. Establishing credibility as a trusted information source.

The 2022 Trust Barometer also revealed that trust in news and information sources has eroded over the past decade. Trust in all news sources has dropped (with the exception of owned media, which rose one point to 43%). Social media experienced the sharpest decline at eight points to 37%, followed by traditional media dropping five points to 57%.

In addition, concern over fake news being used as a weapon has risen to an all-time high of 76%. And the most credible source of information is communications from ‘My Employer’ (65%). 

Clearly, trust is at a premium now, which means there’s also a huge opportunity for organizations to establish credibility as a source of reliable information. Doing so will likely require skillful repetition of the truth and transparency in your internal and external communications.

It’s more difficult than ever for consumers to sift through all the available content and find useful information. Making increasing trust a part of your firms’ strategic plan in 2022 could be a serious differentiator.

3. Staying nimble.

Also, with all the challenges to public trust and uncertainty in the air, perhaps the best strategy for thriving in 2022 is to stay nimble. Where can you keep your strategic options open?

If you’re working on an M&A deal this year, for example, positioning your organization for the sale is key:

  • As your business model and corporate strategy shift with the times, you may need to re-evaluate how M&A fits.
  • Keep in mind that there are more options for M&A available now, such as SPACs and other non-traditional financial configurations.
  • Make sure your due diligence covers more than just the financials. The unfolding of the criminal trial and conviction of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of the debunked medical startup, Theranos, has driven home this point. Many Theranos investors have been criticized for not doing the proper due diligence.

What’s Out

With the above in mind, let’s turn to what’s striking a discordant note with consumers, investors, and trend-setters.

1. Overpaying for an acquisition.

We’ve seen some of the highest M&A deal volumes ever in the past year, and multiples are at record highs. Still, the M&A market remains competitive. While many deals are worth the multiple, there’s no good reason to overpay for an acquisition. 

In fact, we see firms making this mistake for a variety of reasons:

  • Deal fever: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a bidding war. Instead, be willing to walk away from a deal that doesn’t really work.
  • Cutting corners on due diligence: Due diligence is like going to the dentist. If you don’t do the preventative work, you may end up needing a root canal.
  • Not getting real about your competition: The deal will have ripple effects. Do your best to anticipate how it will affect your competitors and the market in general.
  • Getting entranced by “synergies” [or insert your favorite buzzword]: Don’t fall for talk that sounds good but isn’t backed up by substance. Always have a gut check strategy.

What we recommend: A comprehensive integration strategy that goes beyond IT systems and benefits (both vital!) and addresses culture, leadership style, behavior expectations, and just plain “what’s in it for me?” And by the way, this comprehensive integration strategy should include perspectives from employees, customers, and investors.

Consider one of my favorite quotes from Dan Doran: “Value is analyzed, price is negotiated.” Write it down on a sticky note and keep it top of mind for deal negotiations.

2. Mixed messages to employees and customers.

Remember how we’re inundated with information and unsure whether we can trust any of it? Well, one thing that contributes to this paucity of trust is mixed messages. So replace complex, inconsistent, and vague messages with simple, consistent, and transparent communications.

And also, it can’t hurt to approach all messaging with a healthy dose of realism and empathy. For many, January 2022 feels an awful lot like April 2020. Pandemic fatigue is at an epic level and right now it’s hard to be an employee, a leader, a customer, an investor, a parent, a kid, a teacher, a doctor, a nurse…a human.

3. Everything being a top priority.

With everything we have to deal with on a daily basis, we don’t need the added burden of everything feeling urgent. So it’s best to think extra carefully about your real top priorities as an organization. 

Employee burnout is real. Customer burnout is real. No one has the patience to discern what’s a true priority. If you treat every task or project as if it’s Defcon Level 5, you’re likely to invoke a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Instead, pick your top goals, staff out each project appropriately, and give realistic deadlines, all with team input. Then maintain productivity by communicating your priorities and why to all levels and all stakeholders.

What We’re Doing at Audacia Strategies

Of course, by now, you know we at Audacia are always thinking about how we can walk our talk and 2022 is no exception. 

Here’s what we’re doing to build flexibility and the capacity for resilience:

  • Lots of deep breaths.
  • One of our guiding principles: Start with empathy.
  • Recommitting to our values and actively building our culture around them.
  • Focusing on prioritizing our business investments: We’re doubling down on what has worked by augmenting our offerings and building our capacity to support executive transitions, exits (IPOs, M&A), and refreshed marketing positioning.
  • Focusing on building our kick*ss team: We are proud to work with professionals who are the best of the best in their field, highly respected, customer-focused, awesome people with a fabulous sense of humor, and are no bullsh*t team players. We’ve already announced that IR pro, Mike Pici, joined the leadership team, and you can check out our team page to find out more about our strategic partnerships.
  • More deep breaths…

If the question of building a solid strategy amidst chaos and uncertainty has your organization reaching for the Magic Eight Ball, contact us instead to schedule a consultation

We haven’t been able to predict the future (yet!), but we do help clients develop strategies for dealing with anticipated and unanticipated transformations, and we can do the same for your organization.

Photo credit: Business Colleagues Having A Meeting Discussing Graphs And Figures by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

M&A trends 2022

Considering an M&A Deal in 2022? Keep an Eye on These Trends

With 2021 firmly in the rearview mirror, now is a good time to explore the merger and acquisition (M&A) outlook for 2022. After an historic year, fueled by a backlog of deals from 2020, soaring global markets, plenty of access to capital, advantageous changes to tax rates, and attractive valuations, investment professionals expect a still active but cooler market in 2022.

While many of the factors that contributed to global M&A volumes topping $5 trillion for the first time remain in play, they are less pronounced. And dealmakers agree that deal volume peaked in August of 2021. This coupled with the likely rise of interest rates this year, which will increase the cost of debt, could impact valuations and slow deal volume.

Despite these potential headwinds, if you’re considering launching an M&A deal on either the buy or sell side in Q1 or Q2 of 2022, you’ll likely find a busy dealmaking environment. So let’s discuss the M&A outlook and what to watch as you prepare your materials.

Takeaways from 2021 M&A Activity

During a panel discussion at the end of last year, my fellow panelists and I discussed strategic M&A opportunities for investors and the M&A outlook for 2022. To watch the full panel discussion, click here.

As we kept an eye on deals playing out at the end of 2021, here are our biggest takeaways:

  • Private equity will continue to play a huge role: Private equity firms played a huge role in M&A deals in 2021 and will continue to do so. According to one report, private equity now accounts for 30% of M&A activity. This makes sense because with the market surge, private investors have a record amount of dry powder (capital) available.
  • Valuation/multiples have been climbing but will likely level out: Most M&A professionals believe that valuations in several sectors have reached their peak — or are borderline frothy. It’s hard to envision a scenario where valuations would be significantly higher a year from now and likewise, few see valuations dropping significantly. Experts expect valuations to settle at a sustainable level in the next few months.
  • More selective deal strategies are on the horizon: While few practitioners expect a slowdown of the M&A market, many see more selective deal strategies on the horizon. We’ll likely see megadeals playing a transformational role and smaller, tuck-in acquisitions playing an increasingly important role for small- and medium-sized companies looking to build and scale capacity quickly with less integration risk.

Key Differentiators Remain

Looking at the big picture, key differentiators remain. Whether you are on the buy side or the sell side, you and your team will want to keep the following in mind:

1. Integration matters.

If you aren’t looking past the deal to the future, then you will be at a distinct disadvantage when negotiating. On the buyside, you’ll want to be ready to share your integration plan. Show your awareness of everything from projected revenues to cultural implications to talent management. Changes to the labor market, for example, could complicate your deal. Be ready to prove that you’re aware of these details.

On the sellside, you’ll want to make integration easy to whatever extent is possible. Identify and mitigate key risks early both in the external competitive market and in the internal workings of the company. In addition to risk mitigation, look for opportunities to create value. Be prepared to talk about how you can add value and the quickest path to increased profits as you see it.

2. Keep non-financial due diligence on your radar.

The M&A outlook also reminds us that there are a lot of factors that can affect deal success and financial performance, but which are non-financial in nature. In fact, 70-90% of M&A deals fail due to non-financial aspects. 

Show your deal partners that you know where the non-financial risks and opportunities lie for your brand. Dig deep into factors such as executive reputation, employee sentiment, culture, and communication style.

Management’s credibility is also important to convey. Develop your story connecting your managers and executives to the company’s mission, vision, and values. The more you can show leadership as standing strong together, the better your prospects for closing a great deal.

3. Pay attention to middle management.

More often than not, middle management — as opposed to the C-suite — controls the narrative for employees and customers. Because managers are often more accessible and work more closely with these stakeholders, they are trusted. So, you’ll want to give middle managers the same attention you give to executives.

According to Sarah Gershman, Executive Speech Coach, CEO of Green Room Speakers, and one of Audacia’s partners, it’s important for middle managers to feel prepared to communicate appropriately throughout the deal process. “Middle managers spend most of their time interfacing with customers and doing the work,” says Sarah. “And telling the story of the merger doesn’t come naturally when you’re in the weeds. So it’s a smart idea to find an expert who can help middle management understand and empathize with their audience.”

Beyond prepared remarks, there will be questions and plenty of uncertainty. Managers are the first line of defense in helping to stabilize nerves, and they are your best line of offense in sharing enthusiasm for the next step of this transformative event. That said, the key when answering questions is to show that you understand the question. “Deep listening is a critical skill here,” says Sarah. “You want to listen not only to hear the question, but also to understand what’s behind the question and what’s at stake.”

What if someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer? According to Sarah, as long as you have demonstrated that you have really heard the question, you can feel empowered to say the magic words, “I don’t know. Let me check on that and get back to you.” Remember, it is always better to share authentic and accurate information than incorrect information or speculation.

4. Clearly articulate the narrative.

For both the buyer and seller, it is essential to be able to articulate the narrative around why this deal, why now, and why this property is best in XYZ hands. “Keep in mind,” says Sarah, “people have spoken and unspoken needs.” Unspoken needs are usually driven by emotions, like fear. To clearly articulate your narrative, you need to drill down and find the precise emotion you’re after. “If you want to inspire your audience, that’s different from motivating them or energizing them.” 

With an M&A deal, addressing the other side’s unspoken needs goes far beyond explaining your unique capabilities and differentiated IP. You must also be able to demonstrate an understanding of your company’s markets, customers, opportunities, and competitive pressures. And telling the story of your company’s value within the context of the deal is key.

The bottom line: Despite the headwinds identified, the M&A outlook for 2022 is very good.

If you’re ready to ride the M&A wave this year, you need the right partners by your side. At Audacia Strategies, we’re prepared to work with you and your team as you navigate the next big deal. Contact us to discuss your M&A strategy.

Photo credit: Modern Businesspeople Having A Video Conference In A Boardroom by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

Investor relations

Ask an Expert: Managing Director, Mike Pici, Discusses How Investor Relations Drives Value by Looking at Ordinary Events in an Extraordinary Way

Communicating with investors and potential investors can feel like walking a tightrope. Investors want to know how you’re going to protect and ideally increase their investment. Investors and analysts don’t appreciate uncertainty and surprises can add volatility into your stock’s trading.

Enter the Investor Relations expert.

First things first: Investor relations is not about pumping up the share price or sweeping surprises under the rug. It’s about supporting an accurate valuation and understanding of the firm.

IR professionals are there to keep your investors and analysts grounded. They are the first point of contact between investors, the Street, and the company. And their job is to effectively communicate the management’s mission, vision, and strategy, while being prepared for anything any stakeholder might ask.

Do you know what your investors are thinking? Or are you walking a tightrope?

Interview with Managing Director of Investor Relations and Financial Transformation, Mike Pici

To get you started down the IR road, Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, sat down with Managing Director of Investor Relations and Financial Transformation, Mike Pici, to talk about the what, the why, and best practices for coming up with an investor relations strategy.

Mike brings to Audacia 20+ years of financial and capital markets experience including investor relations, business modeling, budgeting, forecasting, and planning processes, as well as thorough experience with financial statements, i.e., 10-Qs and 10-Ks. He has also been a key internal advisor on portfolio transformation activities including $1B+ of acquisitions, multiple corporate spin-offs, asset divestitures, integrations and associated stranded cost mitigation planning, strategic portfolio reviews, and transformation messaging. 

To find out how your firm can benefit from working with an Investor Relations and Financial Transformation expert, check out these highlights from Katy’s interview with Mike.

Q | Can you talk a bit about what a Managing Director of Investor Relations does and how Financial Transformation fits into the picture?

Investors and potential investors naturally have a lot of questions about the companies in which they’re investing. Of course, they’d love to talk to the C-suite directly, but this isn’t always feasible. So IR steps in to answer investor questions between earnings calls or annual shareholder meetings.

Now, when your IR professional is doing their job well, they are on the same page as the managers and effectively communicate the managers’ narrative in a way that puts investors at ease. Credibility and transparency are key here. When investors trust the IR liaison, they can better weather any storms that may affect the company. It’s a win-win.

For example, if the IR manager can explain how a CEO transition fits into the broader business model and overall big picture, investors will feel more grounded and comfortable staying the course. Without earning their trust, though, IR and leadership will face a barrage of questions that could trigger significant turmoil.

Here’s where the financial transformation piece fits in:

What kinds of questions do investors ask most often? Questions about the financials, of course. 

Clearly, IR professionals have to know their numbers. But they also need to be able to communicate about the numbers in a way that makes sense to investors.

There’s no degree in IR. Typically, you’re either a finance person or a communications person. I have a financial background (Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A)), so I’m often falling back on the numbers. This is helpful because the Street is always trying to build a model. So my financial background gives me the ability to think like an analyst and communicate in a way that steadies the waters for investors.

The real advantage in working with an IR strategist, though, is that they are always focused on the reality on the ground and how to best communicate about it in a way that aligns with your overarching messaging. Everything I do. Everything I look at. I always ask, how does this affect the numbers?

And this one-pointed focus is important because people get really emotional about money. So if you’re facing a potentially destabilizing situation, your IR professional can look past the perceived impact to the reality of the situation and be able to talk about the reality in a way that grounds your investors.

For example, right now there are shipping containers on ships stuck outside the port in L.A. How does or could this affect your bottom line? When investors inevitably call up and start asking how much of your product is stuck in that port, don’t you want someone who can help you answer that question in the most diplomatic and accurate way?

The ability to answer questions like these during some of the most trying times in the lifecycle of a firm makes working with IR a game changer. Yes, IR must align with the management team while finding a way to connect with investors. But the trust needs to flow from management to the IR person as well. 

It’s true that sometimes I have to speak truth to power. Part of the job is bringing messages back from the Street or from investors to managers and telling them hard truths. I often start these conversations saying, “I think this is what you pay me to do,” which is code for “I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

When management and IR can find common ground, managers trust IR, and investors trust the IR professional, then you have a streamlined system that sets everyone up for success.

Q | How does a typical IR process work? Are there best practices that companies should follow when coming up with an IR strategy?

When I start working with a new client, the first thing I do is gather information. Firms need to know, first and foremost, where they stand. So, I call up the analysts to get a sense of their perception of the company. I also call up the top 10 investors to get their perspective. Then I take this information to the managers and have a conversation about what I’m hearing.

This allows me to start shaping the narrative that can be proven out over time during quarterly earnings calls. We figure out what makes you different from your peers and why that counts in your favor. Then we make sure every earnings call references your special sauce.

But this early process only scratches the surface. To keep the momentum going, each quarter I approach quarterly earnings calls in the following way: 

  • About a month away from the end of the quarter, I get in touch with the FP&A group and ask them how the forecast is shaping up. This gives me a sense of how the firm is performing relative to the Street’s expectations
  • Then I get the analysts’ models — the most invaluable piece of information. I lay out all the models and compare them to the forecast. And I compare them not just on the metrics we guide (e.g., revenue, earnings per share (EPS), or cash), but also on what they’re expecting throughout the P&L. 
  • So suppose I see that our margins (profitability) are coming in a little lighter than what they’re expecting. I can also see, we’re bridging the gap because we have fewer Selling, General, and Administrative (SG&A) expenses than they’re expecting. 
  • Now I can start to frame a narrative that the firm can build on each quarter. 
  • Armed with all this information, I’ll have a meeting with my management team two or three weeks before the end of the quarter to talk about key themes for the next earnings call. Obviously, we will always talk about the financial results. But we can also discuss major program wins or new product launches. And of course, I’ll ask management what they want to deliver during the call. Often we discuss market trends or the competitive environment. There will be some give and take here.
  • Within hours after each earnings call, I do follow up calls with analysts to correct the record and make sure the note reflects what we want.
  • Prior to the earnings call, I proactively extend an invitation to the top 10 active shareholders to meet after the call as well.
  • Because accessibility is key, I also go on the road with management once a quarter immediately after each earnings call.

The above process reflects what I see as best practices in IR: consistency and transparency. Knowing where your firm stands is imperative, but you also want to have a plan for where you’re going, knowing that you may need to pivot, but all the while maintaining continuity of your messaging. When you maintain a credible message with the Street and with investors and you support that message with facts, then you have a brilliant IR strategy.

Remember, good numbers can fix a bad message, but a bad message can hurt good numbers.

IR is all about communicating the future and getting others to see your vision. So how do you know you have a strong IR message? You know you have a strong IR message when the questions on the earnings calls and in conversation with buy-side investors become more strategic, than tactical. At this point, you know they see your vision and they’re with you.

Other key questions to ask:

  • Who’s investing in our peers and not in our firm?
  • Who do we want to be investing in our firm? Which rooms do we need to be in to make this happen?
  • Which analysts are tracking our peers and not tracking our firm?
  • Who should management meet with when they do the next roadshow?

Q | If there were one thing you wish your clients knew to get better outcomes or something that would make the process easier, what would it be?

Keep your audience at the forefront. To get the best outcome possible, you have to make sure you’re hitting on the points that are most important to the person on the other end of the call. Whether that’s an investor, an analyst, or a member of the media, you have to understand how they perceive you, meet them where they are, and get them to walk the path with you.

For managers, this takes an incredible amount of situational awareness. It means proactively reaching out to the right people and addressing the right issues. But it also means considering key components of communication that often get overlooked.

Consider your tone of voice when talking to investors, for instance, it’s not just the words that you say, but how you say them. If your numbers are off and you’re calling down your guidance for the quarter or year, you know it’s going to hurt. But when you’re in this situation, call down the guidance, acknowledge it, own it, offer a solution, and show investors how you plan to move forward. And if you deliver even a less than stellar message with confidence, you’re far more likely to get the outcome you’re hoping for.

Q | So what can an IR professional do for your firm that even a combination of PR, media relations, and marketing can’t do? 

An IR professional offers your firm the unique blend of communications skills and financial prowess that allows you to gain the trust of analysts and investors alike. Like it or not, successfully wooing investors is a game of controlling the narrative around the numbers. 

The unique thing about IR is that it forces you to look at ordinary events in an extraordinary way.

If you’re ready to look at ordinary events in your firm in an extraordinary way, schedule a consultation and let’s talk about your next business transformation.

Photo credit: Businesswoman leading a video conference call from her tv screen by Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

c-suite change

C-suite Change Can Be Energizing or Panic-Inducing. The Choice is Yours

Does this sound familiar? Your organization is one of the bright, rising stars in your industry. It has taken years of hard work, but you’ve finally reached a point where you have strong leadership across the board, a steady vision for the future, and everyone from the executive team down to the employees on the frontlines are working together like a well-oiled machine.

And then…the CEO turns in their resignation letter. Does the prospect of C-suite change send a shock wave of panic through the company? Or are you ready to guide everyone through a smooth transition?

If your initial response is panic, that’s okay. This is the perfect time (i.e., before this scenario becomes your reality) to come up with a plan. Let’s look at how you can reframe c-suite change as an opportunity rather than a potentially destabilizing event.

Revisit Company Culture for Successful C-Suite Change

First, recognize that C-suite change is a natural part of company evolution. The person you had steering the ship during the start-up phase may not be the best person to lead you through the next stage and beyond. Thinking about how far you’ve come and how your culture has evolved will help you choose the right CEO for this next phase.

Also, if you’re moving from a founder as CEO to a new corporate executive, you’ll want to consider how much of the company culture is tied up with the founder’s personality and whether that makes sense going forward.

For example, suppose your Founder and CEO is a literal rockstar. He plays the guitar and performs regularly with his semi-famous band. He has even been interviewed by Rolling Stone. It’s an interesting draw and has given the marketing team lots of fun campaign ideas. But is this crucial to the DNA of the organization? In other words, is it critical that the new CEO also play the guitar?

Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that you need to figure out what is part of the DNA of your organization and look for a new CEO that shares the same values — someone for whom your culture is authentic to who they are as a leader.

Why is culture so important when considering C-suite change? Well, it’s likely that culture is one big reason that scaling and reaching the point where everyone is working together like a well-oiled machine has happened. So as you consider the selection and managing of the C-suite change for customers, investors, and employees, keeping the culture consistent should be your first priority. 

How to Keep Company Culture Consistent:

Once you begin to see your CEO’s resignation as part of the evolution of the organization, you can turn your attention to deciding, likely with the help of your board, what is crucial to the company’s DNA. Take your time here because decisions about how to separate the former CEO from the company culture will determine whether stakeholders perceive the C-suite change as energizing or destabilizing.

Keep the following tips in mind:

1. Have a good sense of the culture as seen through the eyes of employees. 

Find a way to take the pulse of your employees. One good approach is to use an external team to conduct Voice of the Employee interviews. You may be surprised that what you think of as crucial to the culture of your firm is really hidden from your employees and vice versa. So this kind of research is hugely beneficial for smooth executive transitions.

It’s also important to announce the transition itself to employees at the same time as you announce the C-suite change publicly. If you announce internally and externally at different times, rumors will fly and rumors are a huge source of instability during big transitions.

We recommend having a specific employee communication plan to address key cultural issues and how the C-suite change will affect the organization from a macro perspective. Also, as soon as possible, set up a town hall meeting where employees can be formally introduced to the new CEO and have their questions and concerns addressed.

2. Ground everyone back into the company strategy.

While the CEO may be changing, the company strategy is staying the same, especially if we’re sticking with the scenario where everything is going well and the CEO needs to move on. This means it’s a good opportunity to go back to basics. 

Let your mission, vision, and values drive you forward. Get everyone to recommit to company fundamentals and talk openly about what is changing and what will be staying the same.

3. Be as honest and transparent as possible.

This third recommendation is a big one, so strap in. As soon as your executive gives you notice that they’re even thinking about moving on, you want to have a strategy in place. This will allow you to be as honest and transparent as possible. This goes for all of your key leadership, not just your CEO.

Perhaps you will want to call a board meeting to open discussions about all of the topics above. Perhaps you’ll want to make an announcement (internally and externally) early and reassure everyone that the transition period will last several months. Whatever your first move, having a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) around C-suite change is a smart idea.

In a previous blog article, we talked about the elements that plan should include whether your C-suite change is expected or unexpected.

4. Know your game clock.

Timing is also important here. The more you can be in control of the timeline, the greater your ability to control the message of the transition. Unexpected changes can raise questions about the stability of an organization. One way to ease these concerns is to share (at a high level)  your succession planning process with key stakeholders so that they understand the corporate calculus behind the leadership selection. 

For public companies: if you have a planned transition with a good amount of lead time, it’s good to make this announcement as part of your quarterly reporting cadence. If the transition is unexpected, public companies will likely have to disclose the leadership change via an 8-K within four business days, but make sure to consult with legal counsel to determine your specific disclosure requirements.

5. Teamwork makes the dream work.

If possible, make time in your transition strategy to allow the outgoing and incoming CEOs to work together. If appropriate, having a “pass the torch moment” can be a critical element to  transferring credibility and trust from the outgoing CEO to the incoming CEO. Part of this strategy should include coordinating their narrative. As an example, the outgoing CEO may talk about why they built the company and why the new CEO is the right person to carry the mantle forward. This gives the new CEO the opportunity to share their own vision about the future of the company.

Finally, make sure your new executive is prepared to take over. Is the new executive on the same page when it comes to the company culture? Have you defined your key messages? Have you acknowledged that C-suite change requires an acclimation period that can take at least 30 days? Have you organized listening sessions and key meetings with stakeholders? Do you have a comprehensive introduction strategy?

For our private equity-backed companies: if your CEO has experience with public company boards and they will be transitioning to working with your private equity board, do they understand what that entails? This is a helpful resource to share from McKinsey

C-suite change can be a powerful signal of an organization’s evolution. If you’re ready to move into the next phase of your company’s metamorphosis, our team can help make the transition energizing instead of panic-inducing. Let’s talk about your next business transformation!

Photo credit: Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

M&A deals

Over 70% of M&A Deals Fail to Meet Their Goals — Beat the Odds With These 5 tips

The last time we talked about M&A deals here on the blog, we were all wondering how the pandemic would affect the economy and watching some of the biggest players abandon deals in the pipeline or take the Covid chaos as an opportunity to get into the game. 

While the pace of recovery has varied among companies and sectors in 2021, U.S. deal volume and value are up from 2020 numbers and forecasted to continue to rise. Meanwhile global mergers and acquisitions for the first half of the year totaled a record $2.4 trillion, up 158% for the same period last year.

But even as the numbers continue to rise and many organizations sharpen their knives, M&A deals have also gotten more complicated. Let’s look at the why and how these changes should influence your approach to due diligence.

3 Major Changes Afoot

In recent years, M&A has become something akin to 3-dimensional chess (if players could constantly enter and exit and the rules were also a moving target). Three major changes contribute to the increasing complexity.

1. COVID-19 has hastened disruptive trends.

First, COVID-19 has hastened pre-existing disruptive trends across industries, drawing a clear bright line between business models that will succeed in the future and those that are outmoded. Rather than looking merely to deals that will create scale and cost synergies within an industry, organizations are looking to increase scope and add new capabilities, especially in technology, proprietary data, or scarce talent.

2. The M&A process is faster and more complex.

Second, the M&A process has become faster and more complex. Whereas corporate acquirers have always had the upper hand with deeper pockets and M&A deal experts to lean on, private equity players are giving them a run for their money. Nearly every deal is now an auction. Access to debt capital has been a nonissue during this crisis, so competition for attractive, high-growth assets is higher than ever. 

Add to this mix access to data, broadening regulatory scrutiny of deals on the basis of national interest, and a flood of major technology companies. Consider, for example, the involvement of Amnesty International in the Google, Fitbit deal. The organization sent a letter to E.U. regulators, arguing that they should block the deal unless Google addresses human rights issues like the right to privacy and nondiscrimination. Evaluating the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact is becoming an integral part of the diligence process. For many looking to make a deal, this is new territory.

3. COVID-19 has forced organizations to adapt their M&A deals.

Finally, COVID-19 has forced organizations to adapt quickly in a myriad of ways and M&A is no exception. In a 2020 Bain & Company survey of M&A practitioners, 70% of respondents reported that diligence was more challenging during the pandemic and 50% found it harder to close deals. Companies that adapted quickly, developing capabilities in virtual diligence and virtual integration, have made great strides.

The use of data in the M&A process is another differentiating factor. Smart M&A teams are leveraging data (and sometimes artificial intelligence) to screen for targets and create profiles, so they are ready even before targets come to market. During diligence, companies are using digital platforms to perform risk analysis and generate customer insights among other data collection to give themselves an edge.

As companies rewrite their M&A strategies for a post-pandemic world, some of the principles of what a good deal looks like still hold true. The most astute M&A teams understand the importance of proper planning and forethought in the months, weeks, and days before an acquisition. And they understand that due diligence goes well beyond the financials.

Beyond Financial Due Diligence

Given the above changes and the likelihood that M&A will continue to play an increasing role in revenue growth for years to come, it pays for leaders to get clear about their own approach to due diligence. In particular, it’s critical for organizations not to overlook the non-financial aspects of due diligence.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We aren’t trying to downplay the importance of financial due diligence. You need to run the numbers and they absolutely need to make sense. Still, all too often it’s non-financial factors that we see tripping up M&A deals. 

By non-financial due diligence, we have in mind:

  • Is this merger the right cultural fit for your organization? And, do you have a strategy for cultural integration once the deal closes?
  • Do you have a solid, agile, proactive M&A team in place and ready to jump into action when the right deal opportunity comes along?
  • Is this deal really the right deal showing up at the right time or are you suffering from deal fever?
  • Have you considered the intangibles? Here I mean variables like corporate reputation, brand promise, employee sentiment, and customer engagement? 

What can you do to position your organization for future M&A success?

We see five things leaders can do to equip their organizations for future M&A success:

Re-evaluate how M&A fits into your broader business strategy. As your business model shifts and you revise your corporate strategy, you will also need to update your M&A team’s goals. How has the pandemic affected your industry and sector? Does this change where to buy vs. build to remain competitive?

Consider non-traditional M&A. One of the ways in which M&A is changing is that companies are getting creative. Many are using a combination of joint ventures (JV’s), partnerships (with or without equity, with or without financial sponsorship), and corporate venture capital to tailor deals and integration. Also, organizations are partnering with other companies to explore opportunities for mergers and acquisitions. This lowers the risk and increases the likelihood of selecting the right deal.

Bring expertise into the process early. Given the growth in speed, scope, and capability deals, specialized expertise early on can help organizations better gauge fit. When you work with an external team like Audacia Strategies during the diligence process or even before, you get a set of eyes and ears in the room as an extra “gut check.” We know the transaction cycles, value creation opportunities — and how to avoid the trapdoors.  

Know the lay of the land and be ready to spring into action. The fierce competition for deals means that firms can no longer wait for bankers to come to them or rely on a singular source of deal intelligence. Companies need to continually scan the industry landscape, see how it’s evolving, and be ready to focus when an opportunity arises. Establish an ecosystem of external partners (bankers, tax and legal advisors, private equity experts, due diligence partners, etc.) who have access to data, connections, and can strike quickly.

Go beyond financial due diligence. When it comes to increasing capacity through an M&A deal, it’s not sufficient to simply understand the value of a target. You also need to assess factors like cultural fit, sustainability, and employee and consumer sentiment at the diligence stage. Consider also regulations and new challenges that may arise as your organization evolves.

The future of M&A is here. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, now is as good a time as ever to jump into the fray. The above will give you some orientation, but if you really want to ensure your deal goes smoothly, you need the right partners on your bench. At Audacia, we’re here to walk you through the non-financial side of due diligence. Contact us to talk about your M&A strategy

Photo credit and description: Group of people working around a laptop at an office by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

change fatigue

Change Fatigue in 2020: How to Reframe Change and Cut Through the Noise

When we look back on the wreckage that is 2020, one thing will stand out: the rapid and constant change. For months now, we’ve endured business and organizational change like we’ve never seen. All this while managing through the anxiety of perpetual Zoom meetings, online / hybrid / in-person school, job insecurity, family health concerns, a shaky economy, tectonic cultural and societal shifts…plus, a pretty brutal presidential election. Change fatigue is real!

Everyone has a lot on their plates. Everyone is tired. And the best most of us can do is keep our heads above water every day. But of course, none of this means life and business stops.

As a leader of an organization—which also needs change to reset and keep the doors open—what can you do to help you and your organization thrive through this climate of change fatigue? 

Let’s look at what’s really going on here and five practical steps you can take.

Acknowledging that Change is a Constant

Before we get to the practical steps, we need to do some reframing. Prior to this year, many organizations enjoyed an unprecedented level of stability. Sure, they dealt with leadership changes, they went through reorganizations, they shifted strategies from time to time. But relative to now, markets were barreling ahead full speed and the future seemed relatively predictable.

All that has changed. At Audacia Strategies, our team is currently working with clients going through: major leadership transitions, reorganizations, and strategy shifts—all at the same time! 

And for many of our clients, this has been an ongoing cycle:

  • One client has had five senior leadership transitions in as many years.
  • Another client has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs as they integrate a series of acquisitions.

So how do organizations experiencing this cycle of change deal with change fatigue? 

First, they realize change happens. It sounds simple, but it’s more than a cookie-cutter message made for Instagram, “Enjoy the journey!,” “Embrace change!”

What I mean is organizations that successfully deal with a lot of change realize decisions beget decisions. Organizations can’t stand still, in the same way that we as individuals can’t stand still. We’re all evolving all the time. It’s just that right now, the evolution feels more urgent.

Instead of bracing for the bump, skilled leaders accept that rough waters are coming and engage their entire organizations. 

Recognizing that change is a constant won’t necessarily make it any easier. After all, the results of the 2020 election played out basically the way we all thought they would (give or take some percentage points) and that didn’t make the week of waiting for the numbers to come in any easier. 

Still, we can’t wrap our minds around the practical steps we can take without first acknowledging the things we cannot control. So what do we do?

1. Treat everyone like adults.

Once we accept how much change fatigue is affecting all of our lives, it’s time to trust that good people will find their way through. Show your employees that you trust them by treating them like the adults they are.

Give them the information they need to 

  • (a) make decisions 
  • (b) take care of their teams and take care of their families 
  • (c) make the information simple, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to access. 

Then give them space to work within certain boundaries. 

This sounds easier than it is. When we talk about acknowledging the things we can control, managing your team might be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you try to micromanage everyone right now, you’ll quickly end up with a lot of burned out folks.

2. Gather the leadership team together often.

It’s always important to have leadership on the same page and it’s especially critical during times of change and organizing your gorgeous chaos. So, step up the number of conversations with your leadership team.

Get everyone together to identity key pain points for each big change coming down the pike. For example, if you need to furlough employees, you’ll want everyone’s input to figure out the best way to handle issues like:

  • fear of job loss in the remaining employees 
  • concern for the future without departing employees 
  • concern for the wellbeing of departing employees 
  • increased workload 
  • gaps in customer coverage 
  • lost customer and internal relationships

3. Address challenges head on.

Also, remind leadership and lead by example when it comes to addressing challenges. Change fatigue is difficult enough without challenges being swept under the rug. Instead, face them head on and be as transparent as possible.

Address the challenges by developing plans that are flexible and take alternative solutions into account. Remember, though, that not all challenges have solutions.While you can’t make an employee feel better when their colleague is laid off, you can acknowledge the challenge and the emotions. 

Your employees may not like the decision, but they will respect it if you give honest answers about why the organization is changing and show them that your organization is treating departing employees with respect and humanity. If that’s not the case now, it’s up to you to advocate for more humanity in your organization. 

4. Provide resources to help.

Be open to finding resources to help everyone at your organization deal with big changes and change fatigue. These resources could include:

  • Executive and life coaching
  • Relaxation and stress reduction training
  • Flexible time off and personal time policies

Make these easily accessible for all, including those working from home, at a client site, interacting closely with customers, etc. 

5. Over communicate.

I’ve put this one last because it’s a big one. In my podcast interview with Mike Regina, we discussed how we’re all being bombarded by messages daily and we’re all distracted by #2020life. It feels like we need to live seven times, seven ways. 

To cut through the noise, your messaging needs to be on point. So carefully review all leadership messages for tone, ownership, and future vision.

  • Focus on messages of those closest to employees (e.g., middle management and line managers)
  • Engage employees early in the process. 
  • Give employees opportunities to ask questions (e.g., comment box, anonymous email, town halls, AMA chats, drop in Q&As, pulse surveys, voice of the employee surveys)
  • Prepare leaders for hard questions and hard conversations. 
  • Give leadership resources to help answer questions. 
  • Give leaders space and outlets to share what they’re hearing, their experiences.

Encouraging managers share their experiences of change (through change stories) with employees humanizes the experience. These stories are your best tonic for dealing with change fatigue.

Change in 2020 is not really different from other moments of change. What’s different is the context in which the change is happening. Because of change fatigue, the messaging around change needs to be stripped down to its essentials: no flowery language, fewer Venn diagrams. Get to the point. Make the case for change. Speak simply and directly. Be respectful. Be human. Be kind. 

If your organization is struggling with ongoing change during this time of uncertainty, our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation and let’s figure out how to move forward together.

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from Noun Project