Stuff happens and so does change, sometimes when we least expect it and are least prepared for it. The best recent example is right in our own backyard – the takeover of Genzyme by Sanofi, the giant French pharmaceutical firm. Genzyme had to swallow a bitter pill – they were vulnerable with little ammunition to fight the unwanted advances of Sanofi and a takevoer was virtually inevitable. Change was heading for them like a northeaster out of control.
This very public struggle between the two aggressive CEOs of Genzyme and Sanofi is a great object lesson in the obstacles to successful change. Here's what we can learn from their difficult battle:
Accepting change means “letting go” and this takes time.
Genzyme's CEO, Henri Termeer was not ready to let go of the company he built. Change was more than just business to him - it was personal. It took almost 9 months for him to emotionally accept the inevitable and truly negotiate the take over. It is no different in your company. Accepting change is critical but most companies ignore that aspect until they are well into the change process and realize that the resistance they are experiencing is because they neglected to aknowledge and plan for the letting go stage of change.
Change is always personal
No amount of assurance from management will erase all the personal insecurities around change. Your staff needs to hear those assurances but as their leader, you need to give individual assurance, support and coaching – and you must watch for signs that personal attacks are about to emerge. The CEOs at Genzyme and Sanofi spent months hurling barbs at each other in the press further personalizing and complicating negotiations. Resisting change is normal and the desire to demonize the people asking for change is also human, but it is never productive and is almost always destructive.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
As the struggle between Genzyme and Sanofi continued, Carl Icahn, business tycoon and a shareholder of Genzyme, actively supported the takeover. This support was in direct opposition to thew wishes of Genzyme’s CEO, Termeer. What did Termeer do? Well, he took a bold strategic step and gave Icahn two seats on the Genzyme board. In your company, it would be wise not to ignore the “resistors” to change but instead to included them in committees, seek their input and work to win them over or at the very least to neutralize their effect. The closer you keep the resistors the more control you can exert.
Communication is absolutely the key to successful change
Throughout the ordeal between Genzyme and Sanofi, the two CEOs communicated mainly through advisors. They avoided direct communication for months. It was only when the two CEOs began direct communication that the climate improved and negotiations became fruitful. It is especially critical during change for senior management to communicate directly with employees. Emails and proclamations from HR or Marketing will do nothing to build a bridge between the architects of change and those who must implement and live with change. Your communication plan must be developed BEFORE you announce change – how you begin the change initiative sets the tone. Open, honest communication must continue through out the initiative from top down and bottom up. I can’t stress enough how vital communication is to building and sustaining the trust required for change to succeed.
The negotiations are over and Sanofi will soon swallow Genzyme and the real change work will begin. Given their vastly different cultures, both companies have a very diffcult time ahead with no assurances that the gains they hoped to achieve through the buyout will ever be realized. When you and your company are faced with change, look around at other who have weathered change and search for the lessons that will ease your path to successful change.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same".
Heard this before? Well, if you want to be sure that change at your organizaiton is real change, lasting change contact Catalytic Management early - put our experts to work partnering with you to strategize, plan and impelment successful change.
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