Acquiring and merging an organization represents uncommon growth. The situation calls for uncommon management, bold strokes, a rejection of status quo management. There are a number of phrases we frequently hear when companies describe to us the acquisition integration approach they are contemplating.

“We think we should move slowly ... we’re going to get it right the first time ... we don’t want to make any mistakes ... we don’t believe in knee-jerk decisions ... it’s important that we minimize the change.”

Well, these are the wrong words. These ideas don’t work. They reflect a conservative mentality that is highly inappropriate for transition management.

You’ve got to understand that when word of a merger leaks out or is formally announced, you’ve already lit the fuse on this thing called change. Problems are off and running. Top management can sit around the conference table believing in the weak wisdom of a careful, slowly paced integration strategy, but merger problems tend to set their own tempo. The cadence changes immediately, and astute managers will recognize this. Mergers often fail because management lets problems get way out in front, and then tries to play catch-up.

It’s the classic mistake, and these are the results:

  1. Problems swarm on you.
  2. Secondary problems develop.
  3. You end up trying to put out fires, and a crisis management atmosphere prevails.
  4. People start fighting symptoms instead of causes.
  5. The management resources of the firm become overcommitted.

Once again, you simply don’t have time to take your time. This is going to be the year of the two-minute drill, where decisiveness becomes the high virtue and caution becomes a curse. Allowing yourself the indulgence of a slow reaction time is positioning yourself(and your company) to be a victim.

“Change” is a wild horse you have to ride if you wish to control it. Just try to stay on it while it pitches and bucks. It won’t grow tame merely by your standing outside the corral and waiting for some time to pass. And if you try to stand in its way, it will run right over you and drum you into the dirt.

PRITCHETT developed a systematic leadership assessment process and over the years we have used it to evaluate thousands of managers and executives when performing our soft due diligence. Our findings are very consistent: the best merger managers are those who are very un-conservative. In fact, the best ones we’ve seen are more flexible than structured, more risk-taking than tentative, more aggressive than cautious, more decisive than deliberative, and more creative than concrete in their thinking.

During a merger, you need to become a bit of a gunslinger. There is real danger in waiting for problems to draw first ... and you don’t have the luxury of taking time to aim perfectly. We’re not advocating that you proceed with wild abandon, but we do want to emphasize that the conservative, slow, methodical approach typically doesn’t cut it in a merger environment. That can be the most reckless strategy of all.