Experiencing Growth? How To Swim Before Your Organization Is Sunk

*As originally seen on

Are you in the midst of a mergers and acquisitions adventure? Growth can be threatening, but it doesn’t have to be.

My client had already acquired three competitors, tripled their headcount, and quintupled their revenue in only a 4-year period. Revenue had surged from $50 million to $250 million as they moved rapidly through 2 key inflection points. Though mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are an exciting and powerful path to rapid growth—they often bring tremendous stress, leading to Critter State behavior.

Assess: What We Found

The amount of change due to the acquisitions, had hurt employee retention due to four competing cultures. One culture was very conservative (ties every day in every role), one culture was very laid back (jeans, flip flops, t-shirts), and one culture was middle of the road, like the parent company was.

Since the cultures hadn’t been integrated into a singular cohesive one, silos had formed, slowing effective information flow and decision making. And trust was low as a result. Now that the basic integration was done, it was essential to ask “Who are we going to be together? What is our tribal identity?” It was time to create trust and tribe.

And when fears collide with a belief that the system is failing, or that one doesn’t and never will belong, trouble results. As distrust and fear increase, the negative impact on employee morale, engagement and performance accelerate. The end results are disengaged employees, frustrated management, and lower profits. And the problem comes from four key emotional experiences:

  1. A sense of injustice – the experience of unfairness tamps down the insula, the part of the brain responsible for emotional hurt and intuition. If a person is experiencing unfairness they will spend more time in critter state, which adversely affects performance, decision making, collaboration, overall peace and happiness.
  2. Lack of hope – the experience of hopelessness is even more painful than unfairness, and its below Critter State on the emotional range. In neurolinguistics, the states of hopeless, helpless, worthless, and grief/terror are considered Baseline States. It doesn’t get worse than this.
  3. Lack of confidence – depending on the person and degree of lack of confidence we’ll likely see procrastination, reluctance to take risks, playing “small”, and yes, more Critter State.
  4. Desire for change – this is encouraging as there’s some energy here. Desire for change means we can envision a possible future where things are better. This lights up the Ventral Striatum where we anticipate reward. If we can increase this experience, we can get into Smart State.

Act: What We Did

In this case, we had to release resistance, make new meaning and establish a new identity, and enroll and engage.

First, we did an SBM Index to gauge how everyone felt, and determine what they needed most. We found that people really wanted belonging (no surprise), and we did culture coaching for a year to create the cultural rituals to help people come together.


The new blend of leadership team then took a roadshow to all sites to make everyone feel everyone is in it together, and to make clear that no single site is better than others. The main communication: “You are safe here, we are all in this together, and everybody matters.”

We also had to acknowledge the grieving. After all, some well-loved employees had lost their jobs, and you can’t have two HR departments and two finance divisions. And some product lines and service offerings were cut as well, since they weren’t profitable or relevant to the new entity. So we designed parting rituals to minimize the grieving, and acknowledge and appreciate the parting people’s contributions.

Together we forged a new vision and set of company values (and of course dress code: business casual). And we made sure to set up cross-functional teams (that were of course diverse) for all new initiatives; cultural, sales, marketing, or operational. In a word, we created more collaboration, communication, transparency and mutual respect. Everyone owned that rebuilding trust is a shared responsibility. They were in it together.

Mission – Why are we here as an organization? Why do we exist? What are we going to make happen because we exist? The mission is a long-term proposition that is lasting— that doesn’t change.

Vision – A vision is a picture of what you want, as far out on the horizon as you can see, as an organization or as an individual. This can be three to five years, or even longer.  What’s the clear future you see for the organization? What do you want your world to be like / to have achieved in the future?

Values – Values are what you honor and believe in, which will govern how you will behave as you are fulfilling your mission and creating your vision.  Values determine standards of behavior, the code of conduct that you will not compromise.

Building sustainable trust was key. This means taking employee engagement and empowerment to a new level, and ensuring leadership is engaged and empowered too. Engagement and motivation happen when people solve their own problems, and create their own aspirations and expectations. That’s why boosting communication via the Outcome Frame tool and the Feedback Frame is so powerful. Additionally, it was essential to:

  • Use inquiry over advocacy—ask questions vs. giving orders, and use the Outcome Frame for deep insight and clarity creation.
  • Hold team strategy and problem solving meetings at every level–meet to do the work not to talk about the work
  • Have team members create their own goals and action plans.
  • When we added empowerment to engagement, we witnessed even more profound results. The leaders that they could heal and prevent significant distrust by first understanding what a person is experiencing, and then intentionally helping them shift into engagement and empowerment.

When we give people what they crave (more safety, belonging, and mattering) their Critter Brain calms down and we can guide them into their Smart State.

ROI: How the Organization Benefitted

Within the first year of working together:

  • The organization shifted from 85% retention to 90%.
  • Our client successfully navigated the “people” work that had been missed, because of zooming through 2 inflection points.
  • Our client’s growth surged from $250 million to $400 million.

The best part is when you walk through the organization you see leaderboards tracking results, feel the enthusiasm and connection among this ever-expanding tribe, and hear people saying encouraging upbeat messages as they collaborate, joke with one another, and pat each other on the back.

Are you in the midst of a mergers and acquisition adventure? We would love to hear about it!


Featuring case studies and proven techniques, Power Your Tribe provides a set of powerful neuroscience-based tools to help managers identify emotions, release resistance, end isolation, focus on outcomes, and course-correct for continued success.

Learn More


Stuck? Do This And Get Your Leadership Groove Back

Is your life running beautifully like the proverbial well-oiled machine, or is it stuck or stalled in low gear?

Got Your Groove?

Maybe you’re thinking, “Everything is great, I feel totally connected to myself and my purpose, there is nothing I need right now.” If that’s the case, you can put this blog down and get back to your bliss.

But if you’re feeling a bit “off” or irritated or disconnected or unaligned with who you are and why you’re here, I hope the following will help. My experience is that life is about remembering and forgetting. When we remember we feel great, when we forget we need a little help to remember again. Every six months or so I need to rev up my engine and climb to the next level in my life. To do this I first reconnect to myself, and be ok with feeling a bit stuck.

As an Executive Coach I often see leaders who are tunneling toward their goal, working super hard, but then they somehow get off track, they hit a detour. They get stuck “in the weeds,” or they forget to implement a key part of their revenue strategy – or worse, they grow enamored with their vision of successand refuse to throw out the ideas/products/services that just aren’t working. And trust me, there’s no way to create growth and happiness if we’re tied down to ideas, products and people that just don’t work for us.

Get Back In Your Groove—In 10 Minutes

When this happens it’s key to stick your head out of the tunnel to see where your goal is and course-correct. And the best path is not always a straight one. Often there are things in your way that your executive coach will see – like bombs laid by your competition, blind spots that desperately need to be looked into, visionthat must be expanded or bottomless shafts of administrivia that could detour you forever.

Begin your assessment by asking some key questions about your own body, mind, spirit and successful vision. Here are a few to get you started.

  • Am I learning, stretching, challenging myself?
  • Where is my “edge”—that fearful place I bump up against and stop when I actually should jump?
  • Am I building my network of fascinating people that inspire me to stretch by at least 3 people per month?
  • Am I being honest with myself and others – about what I truly have time for, my priorities?
  • Am I showing up as authentic and not fake or defensive or something that’s not truly me?
  • What am I still afraid of?
  • What could I do to get to the next level?
  • Is my heart aligned with my behavior?
  • How does my body feel?
  • Am I intellectually challenged?
  • Do I feel connected to my version of God, the Universe, my form of spirituality?

Once you’ve done this, for real, you can begin to assess your vision, your actions and where you are on your path. This is why a reassessment is so vital.

Next, take 5-10 minutes and do an outcome frame. A shortened version is below, or I can walk you through it here.

  • What would you like? (Positive outcome you can create and maintain, reasonable size)
  • What will having that do for you? (Benefits and how you’ll feel)
  • How will you know when you have it? (Proof/criteria so you’ll know you got it)
  • Where/when/with whom do you want it? (It’s key to know venue/timing/target)
  • What of value might you risk losing by getting it (There has been a “benefit” of not having what you want—what is the pay off? Is it ok to have what you want?)
  • What are your next steps? (Time to get into action)

And Bask In The Afterglow

It is essential to assess where you are in your life; otherwise one or both of the following will happen. First, you could wake up years later, miles away from where you planned, or worse, buried alive in one of those tunnels. Or second, you won’t get the hang of letting go, which is essential in order to avoid burnout and redefine your vision as things change (like the market, the competition, your client base, etc.).

By working through the above I got back into sync with my heart, mind, purpose, body. The result? Everything is in flow, and when the big waves show up I grab my surfboard.

So… how are you doing?

Wisdom from Rules for Renegades

Goal Setting

Getting a GSD Degree (Get Stuff Done) also requires goal setting, which helps you both clarify your purpose in your career and plan your next two promotions. You may not be able to visualize yourself as the CEO, but what are the next two rungs you want to climb? What will it take to get there? Do the grunt work others aren’t willing to do. You may not always get credit for what you do; just remember, you’re out to make your name—and your “brand” (more on this in Chapter 4) synonymous with results. Ask specifically for more opportunity; this means more work but also more recognition. Treat your personal development like the development of a business—you need to be well rounded and have all “departments” thrive. Fun, personal growth, service, and relationships are just as important as finance, career, and health. How will you make your life a profitable, well-run company? 

To get some GREAT tools on goal setting, go to the “Cool Tools” section of (and get the free book while you’re there too!).