By Russ Levanway, President
Am I Getting Through?
At one year after CIO Solutions brought on TekTegrity, we have a lot to celebrate, and a lot more still to do when it comes to integrating. It’s sort of like a marriage after one year: the vows have been spoken, the cake has been cut, the honeymoon is over…and now the real work of converging sets in.
Mergers done right from the beginning talk about finding a shared purpose, about establishing joined core values, putting them into practice, committing to authenticity and creating a circle of safety around the people involved. The good news about TekTegrity and CIO Solutions is that both companies have emphasized these things from the beginning. That’s the foundation, and it’s very solid for us, fortunately. But there’s a whole other level to address: that of finding a common language. Business books tend to forget or avoid this part of the merger and acquisition process. It’s not as easy to define or seemingly as important as the big hi-lights of the first few months.
Visiting versus moving in
Discussions at our company can hit certain roadblocks. None of them relate to interpersonal issues of sincerity, intent or purpose (for which I’m grateful). These roadblocks have nothing to do with our willingness to work together; it’s more an issue of communication mechanics.
Our two companies are in technology, so we speak similar languages. But, one year in, we often still speak with different accents. It’s like TekTegrity speaks English with a New York accent and CIO Solutions speaks English with an Australian accent. Both speak English, yes, but their lexicons are different.
Let’s say a New Yorker goes to Australia. He or she is able to communicate well enough to get around. But what happens when they aren’t just visiting? What happens when they move and set up a new life there? Suddenly they’re dealing with something completely different. Their lifestyle, their way of doing things is different. The government’s involvement in their life is different, as are ideas around the properties of a community. All of this comes to a head and has to be addressed before you are able to really feel at home.
Lost in translation
How does our language impact daily operations?
One example: both of our companies use the word “backlog.” In the old TekTegrity culture, backlog defines the amount of work that hasn’t yet been scheduled. So, if we have 30 days’ worth of work to do, that’s the backlog. It was a routine statement that didn’t have a negative connotation in and of itself.
From the CIO Solutions culture, however, backlog has a negative connotation. It means we’re really backed up, that we’re dropping balls and unable to execute or deliver. If we have 30 days’ worth of backlog, it means we’re 30 days behind.
If the word backlog surfaces in a meeting, one team thinks Okay, that’s the work that has to be done and the other thinks Yikes, we’re way behind! If the word backlog is taken to the sales team, which is responsible for bringing in more business, they can read it as either Great, we’re right on track, or as Well, if we’re way behind, why add to the pile?
Truthfully, it took quite a few discussions to discover that the connotation of the word backlog is different for both teams, even if they understood in the abstract that it refers to work to be done. One group has an attitude of business-as-usual, and the other comes from a place of scarcity: there isn’t enough time, aren’t enough resources, to do the work well.
Another word we found as challenging is “assign.” For the CIO Solutions team, assigning something means giving a task to someone to put on their to-do list. For the TekTegrity team, it means giving someone a task to tackle at a specific time, like 2 P.M. on Friday.
This has led to frustration. If it’s assigned but it’s still not completed, when can I expect it to be handled? Or, conversely, I don’t need anyone to tell me how to manage my time. Can’t I decide whether I complete the task at 9 A.M. or 4 P.M.?
Finding our shared mother tongue
When you take two teams and combine them, one definition of the word “backlog” and “assign” must be chosen. Their definitions represent huge differences in our lexicons. But the process of breaking words down to discover their best usage and implementation can only come about after having worked together for some time. To converge and understand what those words really mean, it takes time, trust, and a really solid understanding of the day-to-day environment. Friction and discomfort are par for the course.
I suppose the moral of the story is this: you can do everything right at the culture and value level, but you can still veer off track if language isn’t addressed. When it’s just a vacation, you can make due, but if you’re setting up home in a new land, making due won’t integrate you into the culture. Only tough conversations, experience, and commitment to the course can do that.