Managing Change: How to Lead Your Engineering Team Through a Merger or Acquisition
August 19, 2021
Even when it’s exciting, change can be hard. It can be even harder when you’re also leading others through a big change. But like anything, getting yourself informed and prepared makes things go much more smoothly.
No matter where you fit into the organizational picture, mergers and acquisitions unavoidably come with a lot of change. Teams become bigger, tools and processes change, cultures collide—all at once. When it’s done right, though, it can lead to incredible results.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic’s economic impact, KPMG predicted the mergers and acquisitions market would be “immensely active” in 2021. Likewise, PwC expects to see these types of deals “resurge on a global basis over the second half of 2021” in the industrial manufacturing sector. Whether or not a merger or acquisition is likely to be in your future, becoming a leader who can skillfully manage change is a smart move in a world where digitalization shows no sign of slowing down.
This post offers guidance on how to get everyone on board and successfully lead your team through a big change.
Talk to Your Team
Sure, it might sound obvious. “Communication is key” has become a cliché for a reason. But when your engineering team is going through a change, it’s extra important to make sure you don’t overlook it. Taking the time to thoughtfully consider how you’ll communicate with your team—and how you’ll create ways for them to effectively communicate with you—will go a long way in facilitating a smooth transition.
After all, there’s a lot to consider. You’ll need to decide when and how to deliver information so that your team doesn’t feel overwhelmed, blindsided, or worried. Regularly scheduled one-on-one check-ins will be one important way to open up communication with your team and shouldn’t be skipped, but you’ll likely also want to offer other ways for people to give their feedback.
For example, you might want to have an option that allows anyone to ask questions or provide input anonymously and then address submissions in a group meeting so team members know they’re being heard. Not to mention, if one person on the team has a question or suggestion, it might be shared by others. Letting your team submit feedback anonymously can help you find out what people are really thinking or wondering without anyone needing to feel pressure or self-consciousness about speaking their mind.
Champion the Vision
Leading a team during a time of change means you need to be a steward of the vision. A critical part of managing change is being able to effectively communicate where your team is now, where you’re going, and how you’ll all get there. And it’s not something you do once—finding and taking every opportunity to remind everyone of the vision you’re all working toward (and why it matters) is how you lead.
When your team can picture what success will look like and understand the role they play in getting there, it becomes a lot easier to get on board. The more you help create that picture in everyone’s mind, the more momentum and cohesiveness you’ll feel. Just like you wouldn’t want an engineer to start on a design without a clear understanding of the requirements, you don’t want to start managing your team through a change without giving them a clear understanding of what you’re all ultimately trying to achieve.
If you do it well, championing the vision allows your team to focus on what’s exciting about the change and to take greater ownership over their part in successfully transitioning. That means you should also be watching for opportunities to celebrate the wins along the way, big and small. As a leader you have the chance to set the tone for your team. So when you champion a compelling vision and offer positive reinforcement as you all work together to make it happen, you create the conditions needed to succeed.
Project Manage It
Treat a big change the way you’d treat any project, and manage it! Again, it might sound obvious, but it can be helpful to remember that the skills and tactics you’ve already developed can be applied to managing your team through a change. While the situation might be new and unfamiliar, and your project management approach might need to be adapted, treating a transition as a project is a useful way to frame what you need to do.
Working backwards from your vision of what success will look like when the change is fully implemented, you’ll be able to develop a plan for moving forward. Like any project, you need to decide on a timeline, goals, and set of actions. Figure out how to break the transition down into the steps you and your team will need to take so that you know what needs to be done to stay on track.
And, like any project, be prepared for things to get off track. The engineering design process isn’t a straight line and managing change isn’t either. But when you communicate well with your team, deliver a clear vision for success, and treat organizational change as a project—you’ll be well-positioned to steer back onto the track, and lead your team through to the finish line.
Mergers and acquisitions aside, today’s engineering leaders will need to lead their teams through big changes as the industry evolves along with technology. Are you ready for the shift to Model-Based Definition and the Model-Based Enterprise? This one-hour webinar with mechanical engineer Mark Morreale and U of T assistant professor Dr. Alison Olechowski can help you prepare.