by Judith E. Glaser
When Bayer, a $7 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, acquired a smaller $300 million diagnostic company, Rolf Classon the CEO, chose to call it a “merger.”
He wanted to immediately establish a “power-with others” relationship with the new organization. I was part of a consulting team who facilitated a multi-day vision, values, and leadership session to help the leadership team create the new direction for the culture and the business.
“We are becoming one company,” Rolf told the top hundred people from both companies at their kickoff meeting. He went on to convey that he wanted to set new ground rules for working collaboratively in a new environment in which “together we can create something that never existed before.”
The executives discussed changes that needed to be made in the organization to maximize the new partnership. Then they broke into smaller teams to craft the new vision and values, with the intent of reporting their insights to the larger executive team.
When the executives reconvened, a spirit of trust and collaboration had clearly emerged. They had worked together to create a vision of shared success and in doing so released a new sense of hope for the future.
Rolf once again stood before the group and asked, “How many of you have been through a visioning session before?” Everyone raised his or her hand.
“How many of you have left those sessions and returned to the workplace, only to find that nothing had changed?” Mostly everyone raised his or hand. He then declared, “For us to be successful as an organization, we need to realize that we can’t create the organization we want without making fundamental changes in ourselves.”
Candor Opens a New Door to the Future
As the event unfolded, something magical occurred. Rolf, by his example, taught the executives the true meaning of leadership.
“Change begins inside each person. So I want to let you know that over the past few days I have been looking at what I’ve been doing to unknowingly prevent change from taking place.
“I’ve discovered at least sixteen things I want to change about myself! Here are my top three: my arrogance, my control, and my lack of trust.”
At lunch I want you each to think about what change means to you, and what you can do personally to inspire your own growth. After lunch I want to hear from my top executives — from the podium — expressing their personal insights.” Rolf Classon, CEO Bayer
The CEO allowed himself to be as transparent and vulnerable as he had ever been in his life when he acknowledged the personal work he needed to do to make this merger a success. As he left behind his flaws so did the other executives, which made room for cooperation and partnership to grow.
Rolf continued his talk about the future. He engaged others in conversations about the “big challenges” and the “big picture.” The key was creating a shared context for change. By setting the stage in this way, he enabled others to find a common ground on which to build the future. The Bayer merger became the most successful in the company’s history.
Candor Unlocks Culture Change and Transformation in Organizations
Through our research and client projects over the past decade, we have identified that candor is the behavior that best predicts high performing teams and the single most important success factor in transformation and change. Organizations that exhibit high levels of candor produce the highest and most successful performing teams.
In my next post, I’ll share the 5 ways to elevate every day – and experience a release in the capacity to create and sustain change, growth and transformation.
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best-selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence. Follow her @CreatingWe or connect with her on Facebook.