You’ve got to show respect when you’re buying another company, especially one with the legacy and prestige of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. So Tim Maloney tried to use a great deal of tact in the days, weeks and months following the purchase of the well-known wealth management firm by the 288,000-employee Bank of America Corp.
“The first step that we dealt with, and frankly continue to work on every day, was to get people to lower the gloves,” says Maloney, market president for both Illinois and Chicago at Bank of America, which took in more than $100 billion in 2010 revenue. “There can be a defensiveness or concern that somebody is going to lose in this trade or that somebody is going to get steamrolled.”
With the people Maloney came in contact with, he focused on the many good things that both organizations brought to the table in the deal.
“The first step was to get people to understand that there is inherent value and worth in each of these institutions and that we didn’t have to worry about one coming in to overwhelm the others,” Maloney says. “That wasn’t the intention and that’s not how we’ll be successful. Now that takes time and you have to prove that over time.”
Create opportunities for people on both sides to get together and get to know each other so you begin to chip away at those “sides” and start to create one team.
“It really ultimately comes down to having people develop a relationship and a sense of trust with their new colleagues,” Maloney says. “The mythology starts to melt away and people understand that these are skilled, honest and earnest professionals who have similar goals and objectives that I do. They want to take great care of their customers and serve them well and help us grow this company. The most essential step is to get it out of the theoretical and at the relationship level and help people to get to know each other and develop a sense of trust.”
You can’t force people to get together and if you try, it probably will only hurt the integration process.
“Natural selection does work,” Maloney says. “We’ve found people have gravitated and developed relationships that we wouldn’t have scripted in our infinite wisdom, yet they are working very effectively because we made it safe for them to do it on their own and they have taken advantage of that.”
Maloney has found success, particularly in the joining of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, by finding early adopters or supporters and encouraging them to bring others on board.
“Do everything you can to support and encourage them,” Maloney says. “Make sure you share them back with the broader universe of people who may be taking more of a wait-and-see attitude or being a little bit more deliberate or cautious in pursuing this. Supporting those early adopters was a critical step for us.”
As long as people aren’t bringing others down or being overtly negative about the transition, you can afford to be patient through this process.
“There are going to be people who are either extremely cautious or reluctant,” Maloney says. “That’s OK. But what isn’t OK is anyone taking the position that they are going to undermine or be a detractor.”
Don’t expect your people to do all the work, of course. You need to be out there communicating and providing clear and candid updates on what’s happening.
“Here’s what the issues are and here’s how we intend to tackle it and here’s the help we need from all of you to help us get to this vision or end state that we think will be beneficial for our company, our employees and our clients,” Maloney says. “It’s the authorship up front and the frequent, candid communication that can help all employees row together to get the right answer.”
How to reach: Bank of America Corp., (888) 550-6433
Keep an open mind
When you’re in the process of bringing two companies together, you should enter the integration phase with a willingness to consider all options.
“We have two organizations with lengthy real histories of putting clients’ interests first and lengthy real histories of working as a team,” says Tim Maloney, market president for both Chicago and Illinois for the 288,000-employee Bank of America Corp. “That’s a great place to start from. What is then important is that you are respectful of the strengths that have made those different organizations successful in their own right. Try to build upon those.”
It’s not a matter of trying to make everything the same or trying to make everything different.
“They may take different business approaches and have different methods for very good reasons,” Maloney says. “So those practices that make sense to extend horizontally across the enterprise, we do that consistent with a shared set of values and authorship to drive it out. But at the same time, we’re a stronger company because we do have distinct companies. We do have distinct brands that represent distinct values and distinct ways of engaging clients. We don’t necessarily want to change those.”