the Chart, Changing the Heart
to Accelerate Recovery from Organizational Change
by John Scherer & Mark Yeoell
"Your mission is to
safeguard the human spirit through this merger
process," said the
CEO. We remember wondering, stunned, "Did he
just say what I think he said?!" We looked
around the room at the other executives sitting at the
conference table, who all nodded in agreement. What an
amazing request to receive from a client!
But there was a hitch. Not a
hitch, exactly, just a little addendum. Our clients, it
turns out, had also hired another consulting firm—one
with an international reputation for bringing mergers
home on time and on budget. As the conversation
unfolded, it became clear that their job was to handle
the organizational redesign and to ensure the merger met
the financial targets anticipated from the integration
of the two companies. Our job was to make sure the
merger "took" at the human level and assure
the wellbeing of the company's most precious assets—its
people—during a process when they were most vulnerable
to becoming discarded, dispirited and afraid.
At this point, however,
experienced consultants and business leaders could be
thinking, "What in the world did that CEO have in
mind when he proposed 'safeguarding the human spirit'
during a merger?"
When we asked this man what
motivated him to make this unusual request, here's what
he said: "Before I took on the role of CEO—when I
was a Vice President, even Chief Operating Officer—I
knew it wasn't really me who was ultimately responsible
for the impact of my decisions on large numbers of
people. As CEO, I've become very sensitive to the
realization that a simple 'Yes' or 'No' in this room
affects people. Lots of them. For life. Plus their
spouses, kids, neighbors, even communities.
"As we started into this
merger, it was clear to me that we were going to be
fiddling with people’s lives, not just jobs,
but their entire being. I wanted to do everything
I could to make sure that the individuals whose jobs
were eliminated by this merger—and those who remained—were
treated with dignity and respect."
As the merger project unfolded,
it became clear that there were two worlds that had to
come together: changing the chart and changing the
heart. Changing the chart is the work that most
business-consulting firms do to downsize or reconstruct
a company. Re-draw the org chart. Move the right people
into the right positions. Eliminate the weaker players.
Deal with the fallout. In fact, the leader of the merger
consulting team told us and the client, "It usually
takes from two to three years for a merged organization
to heal after we're gone."
Our client's mandate, however,
suggested another scenario. What if these two companies
could be merged so that it did not take two years
to heal? What if the employees and their work teams
could actually become stronger, healthier and even more
effective in the marketplace as a result of moving
through the trauma of the merger?
If the experts—not to mention
most of the thousands of merger veterans—are right,
the traditional way to conduct a process like this
leaves a trail of bodies. This results in a dispirited
workforce and a wounded community which has to slowly
forget its way out of a valley of despair and back to
something close to status
But this client wasn't buying
it. He believed—insisted actually—that the chart and
the heart had to be worked on at the same time and that
it all had to happen in 90 days. In our conversations
with him and the Steering Committee, made up of the two
CEOs and COOs of the two merging companies, we worked
out another option, a Scenario B. We took the position
that it was possible to reduce the time needed for
recovery considerably and to leave the body stronger and
more alive than before. (Maybe it's no accident that the
word "corporation" comes from the Latin root corpus,
and refers to the human body.)
Let's take this body metaphor
one step further. The merger process was designed to be
an outright attack on the duplicate structures of the
two companies and whatever inefficiencies were
discovered. But the merger would also be an attack on
the heart and soul of both companies and the individuals
in them. In fact, you could look at any major
organizational change as a potential corporate
"heart attack." Some people die from that
trauma. Some companies do, too. Some not only survive,
but get a new life out of the experience as they learn
to live a leaner, more active existence.
80 days into the process, the
new organization charts and implementation plans for
each division had been developed by teams of managers
and supervisors. This success was made more difficult by
a last-minute request from the parent holding company.
Not only were the two organizations to merge
successfully, but they also had to find $10 million in
budget cuts while they were at it! The implications
became clear: what had begun--and been promised--as a
simple integration would now have to include downsizing.
This news sent a frisson of frustration through both
organizations, but the teams dug in and stayed the
The work was hard and grueling
for the team members, all of whom had regular jobs to
perform at the same time. Their colleagues had to pick
up the slack as they backstopped team members, which
meant long days and short nights.
"Overwhelmed" was the most-overheard word in
the elevators. But they did it. They made the tough
decisions. They found the $10 million. They brought the
merger-planning process home within the 90-day
framework. And they attended to the heart all the while,
assessing and addressing on a constant basis how well
they were taking care of the human spirit.
The success of the Integration
Teams was due in large part to the continuous hands-on
support, number-crunching work and prodding by the
change-the-chart consulting firm. They labored
tirelessly in the operational trenches, making
sure each team was working with real numbers and was
headed in the right direction.
We worked in the human
trenches, coaching VPs, managers and supervisors in how
to attend to the heart while getting the work done. We
also functioned as troubleshooters and third party
conflict facilitators, loosening logjams and resolving
potential "show-stoppers" wherever groups or
individuals were stuck.
Then came the week for
unveiling each division's re-designed organization chart—with
its boxes showing the proposed positions and those being
eliminated—first to managers,
then to supervisors, then to
front-line performers. The emotional impact was
immediate and intense as people counted the boxes and
wondered if they and their friends still had jobs.
This put the process at a
watershed. "Merger" now had morphed from a
nice-sounding concept into a real life experience
for everyone involved. A moment of truth for
the organization—and for the CEO's decision to
simultaneously change the chart and the heart. The week
that managers and supervisors fanned out among their
people to hold life-changing conversations would tell
whether or not it was working.
Is It Working?
Frankly, the results have been
beyond our—and the clients'—expectations. At
precisely the moment you would expect the morale of the
two workforces to be devastated, they were, in fact,
continuing to move forward on the journey of the
heart. We knew this because we had been taking the pulse
of 137 managers and supervisors as they entered our
training sessions throughout the process. Our
measurement was a simple scale showing where they saw
themselves on what we called the
"below-the-waterline" (changing the heart)
We explained to each group of
managers and supervisors: You are about to move
yourselves through a set of visible, tangible stages
"above the waterline." You will also be moving—or
not moving—through another set of stages "below
the waterline" at the emotional and personal level.
It is this hidden passage where changing the heart
occurs and if that does not happen, you will never
actually arrive at a merged organization. The chart may
change, but until the heart changes, people don’t
Measuring Progress in
Changing the Heart
To track progress in the heart
domain, each person in the management group was asked to
indicate where they were on a scale of 0-10 correlating
with the classic stages of the grief process, which are
present in any major life change. A score of from 0 to
2.5 meant they were in the Shock and Denial stage; 2.6
to 5 meant they were into Anger and Resistance; 5.1 to
7.5, Growing Acceptance; 7.6 to 10, Full Commitment. In
the first weeks of the merger process, their average
score was 4.6, just beyond Shock and Denial into Anger
and Resistance. A score below 5.0 indicates someone who
is still trying to hold on to the past, either in denial
or fighting. When someone gets beyond 5.0, they are
beginning to let go and move on, opening to the future.
On the day the new chart came
out showing who stays and who leaves—the day everyone
was dreading—their scores showed an amazing
"heart shift." Prior to that point, the
average was 6.6, itself surprising, given all the
uncertainty in the situation. That day their average
jumped to 7.3, well into Growing Acceptance and almost
to the point of Full Commitment. No one thought
they would be that far along on the heart line at this
point in the process.
Let's be real here. Out of the
2,000 employees in the two organizations, there were
several hurt and angry people who left so upset that it
tore the fabric of their work groups. There were two
work teams who refused to accept a new boss from the
other company. There was high anxiety among staff at all
levels, even among those whose jobs were secure. But the
most frequently heard reports from the front lines were
that the overwhelming majority of people were finding
ways to let go of their attachment to the past and were
opening themselves to the new reality, complete with its
threats and opportunities.
When we asked the CEO what the
signs of a successful chart-heart integration process
would be from his point of view, he listed these:
• No setbacks in the
• No erosion of
• An invisible transition to
• Maintenance of adequate
improvement—of the team spirit in both companies
• No huge dip in performance
At this writing, one year after
the integration process started, the dust has settled
and the results are clear. Not only did the new merged
company find the mandated $10 million, they astonished
everyone by saving an additional $7 million! And the new
company not only did not lose a single major customer
during the process, they increased their market share.
From all that can be
ascertained at this point, it appears that the CEO's
decision to address both the chart and the heart has
What's to be Learned?
We are still learning. It's a
rocky road attempting to integrate these two concerns,
like riding two horses at the same time, each of which
has its mind made up about where it wants to go. But the
stakes are worth the effort. Since any major structural
change holds the possibility of a corporate heart
attack, every major difficulty encountered in the
process should be seen as an important obstacle to be
overcome, not a reason to back away.
In the spirit of going to the
blackboard and showing our work, here are two principles
we followed, four processes we used and a five caveats
we suggest you consider.
Our two most frequently applied
principles in the chart-heart approach were these.
Working on changing the organization chart and changing
the hearts of those involved are most easily seen as
competing agendas. In this traditional way of thinking,
you have to choose one over the other.
Our colleague, Barry Johnson,
author of Polarity Management , has introduced another
way to work with what appear to be "either/or"
situations. In our case, each pole was represented by an
on-site consulting firm. One had made its reputation
from the way it was able to guarantee merging companies
that they would hit their business targets if they
followed their process to the letter. The other firm had
made their reputation from the way it was able to
unleash and focus the human spirit of their clients,
enabling them to think, relate and produce in
Which firm was right? Which
pole should be pursued to the exclusion of the other?
Johnson says, "What if one
pole is not right or even preferable? What if the right
thing—and the smart thing—to do is to hold a
creative tension between the two worlds? Let them move
back and forth, pushing and pulling each other into a
resulting synergy which is better than if one of them
gets the upper hand."
We took the position, as did
our clients, that the two agendas of changing the chart
and changing the heart were not actually opposed to each
other. Rather, we operated as if they represented a
fundamental polarity which had to be managed so that
neither pole won—nor lost. Success in either agenda
without success in the other would fail to produce the
results the merger was meant to create.
The body is not the
only thing that comes to work in the morning. There is a
mind and a spirit that walks through the door, too. Any
approach designed to "safeguard the human
spirit" would have to work with this
body-mind-spirit continuum. Any change the chart effort
needs to avoid creating a downward spiral in workforce
commitment and energy. It needs to leave them ready and
eager to put their hearts and souls back into the new
enterprise. This is not accomplished by appealing only
to the mind.
Recognizing that reality, we
peppered training and conflict-resolution sessions with
short "centering" and focusing exercises,
stretching and even self-management coaching. As the
flight attendants direct us before takeoff, "If
you're traveling with a small child or someone who needs
assistance, put your own mask on first."
Evaluation of our sessions uniformly reflected people's
eagerness for even more body-mind-spirit training.
In addition, communications
were infused with "heart talk," which touched
people at an emotional level. We coached leaders and
managers to speak the truth and not hide behind safe,
corporate-sounding, neutered phrases. "Let
employees have their feelings," we advised.
"People are going to have their reactions, so
accept the fact and work with whatever is so for them;
don't insult people by trying to talk them out of their
Questions to Ponder
Before you undertake the next
big change project, you might want to ask yourself:
• What would be the benefit
of changing the chart and changing the heart at the same
• What would be the likely
consequences of doing the project without attention to
• How much additional time
and cost would be involved in doing them both?
• How would we manage and
integrate a two-track process?
• How would I sell the
chart-heart concept to colleagues at work? To customers?
To other key stakeholders?
What would such a commitment to
address the chart and the heart together look like?
Given the extremely tight timeframe, here's how we
operationalized the mandate to 'safeguard the human
spirit'. We prioritized four crucial areas of focus for
1. Equipping managers and
supervisors to attend to their people's hearts.
We delivered 16 days of
training to about 150 of the 200 VP's, managers and
supervisors in both companies. The agendas included a
half-day on each of the following topics, timed for when
the topic was "hot" for them:
• Opening to Change
• The Power to Accomplish
• How to Talk with your
People about Their Job Situation
• Making a Matrix
2. Launching and providing
ongoing support to the 12 Integration Teams tasked with
redesigning their functions for the new organization.
We took the position that the
merger of the two companies had to happen first
on the Integration teams, since they were composed of
people from both organizations. In most cases they were
strangers to each other. In other situations—based on
past history—there was downright hostility between the
departments. So we devoted a lot of time and attention,
especially in the early going, to helping these groups
become teams. Only real teams were capable of
doing the tough work of deciding the shape of the new
functional area without getting protective about turf
In the feedback, people said
one of the most valuable aspects of this training was
the chance to get acquainted with colleagues from the
other organization. "I am finding out that 'they'
are really just like 'us,'" as one person stated.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of working
with merging groups to get beyond history. Without
this step, people will appear to be addressing some
re-design problem in the group, but, in reality, they
will be working out their unresolved "stuff"
regarding the other company. Decisions then end up being
made off the wrong criteria, generating lots of
unnecessary work downstream during implementation.
In addition, after each team
meeting, we had them reflect on their meeting using a
simple teamwork effectiveness checklist and apply the
results in improving their process. We kept track of all
the scores from all the teams. That way, when we saw a
team's scores drop, we could consult with the Team
Captain and suggest an intervention to help them get
back on track.
3. Contributing "heart
material" into the communications process.
Because of our neutral role as
outsiders, we were able to say some things to both
workforces that would have been difficult for the
internal people to get through their communication
"gates." Periodically we would send out
articles to all employees emphasizing some aspect of the
human part of the change process. One, which stimulated
a great deal of feedback, was entitled "The Game is
Changing: How to Manage Your Life and Career During
Turbulent Times". In it, we suggested that the old
psychological contract (work hard, keep your nose clean
and we'll take care of you for life) was null and void
in today's business environment. The new one was more
like, "Work hard, keep learning and developing
yourself and we'll treat you the best we can as long as
it makes good business sense."
There were also times when we
were moved to suggest to leaders that they express their
appreciation to the workforce—face to face and in
writing—for the way their employees were handling the
very difficult challenge of merging. Sometimes it's
tough for executives to speak words of encouragement to
help their people make it through tough times. This is
most true when the tough times are the result of
decisions the executives themselves have made. Leaders
and managers can get "target fixation" on
matters of the chart and forget that it will be matters
of the heart that will determine how fast the new
organization becomes productive—and profitable—again.
4. Troubleshooting hot spots
and potential show stoppers which might threaten the
people side of the merger.
One example here from among
several will tell volumes. Two of the VP's (one from
each company) were in an open conflict which was
paralyzing their integration team's ability to decide on
the shape of the new chart for the functional area. The
division in the smaller company was organized in a
traditional, hierarchical structure to deliver service
to the customers. They had consistently achieved a score
of 98% on a nationally standardized service level rating
and were darned proud of it. The same division in the
bigger company had just completed the first year of a
3-to-5 year restructuring into customer-segmented
cross-functional teams. Their service level score on the
same rating had dropped to 81% at the beginning of the
team approach, then climbed to 93% by this time. There
was, as you might guess, a strong difference of opinion
about which approach should be recommended.
They faced questions like,
"Why make everybody switch to a team structure when
the traditional approach is working so well?"
"If so much time and money has been spent by the
biggest company on the transition to a team environment,
how can we scrap all that and go back to a traditional
organization?" Team members, who looked to their
own leader for guidance, were stymied because of the
unresolved conflict between the two VPs. Sensing they
were stuck and blocking their team's success, they asked
We discovered a laundry list of
long-standing personal grievances between the two of
them. A huge one was that the VP from the larger company
had been given the division-head job in the new
organization, resulting in hard feelings in the smaller
company's VP and staff. One of them tended to be more
formal in their leadership style; the other more family.
The two of them were communicating professionally and,
on the surface at least, were doing OK. But under the
surface there was not enough trust and respect
("relationship money in the bank") for them to
engage in the kind of breakthrough thinking required by
the merger process.
We facilitated an off-line
conversation between the two of them designed to get
straight talk—and constructive power—flowing between
them again. In the process, they discovered they wanted
the same thing from each other, namely to be respected
personally and to have their point of view honored. It
also became clear that they triggered each other at many
levels. There were issues around gender and power and
management style. These are not things that can be
resolved quickly, as anyone who has been there knows,
but because they were willing to engage each other
candidly, i.e. heart-to-heart, they were able to clear
the air enough to commit to re-building their
relationship. This "heart work" made it
possible for the two of them—and their constituent
"camps"—to succeed at the "chart
work," creating a breakthrough option for the
organizational design and bringing the action plan in on
Just for the record, the
solution they reached was to phase the shift from
traditional management to teams over a year, making it
possible to evaluate what features from the traditional
approach should be incorporated in the teams. A simple
resolution, and to the uninvolved observer, an obvious
one, but without the interpersonal opening that took
place, an impossible one.
This chart-heart approach is
working. There is virtually no argument about that.
There are, however, some issues to be aware of which
take the form of caveats.
1. In combining the work of two
consulting groups with dramatically different agendas,
collaboration became the big issue. Even though we were
able to integrate with the other firm's team at the personal
level, it was difficult to integrate our work into their
pre-set process. We had to work around or
parallel to their agendas, which required more time from
the clients who had to schedule with us both.
2. Looking back, it would have
been beneficial for the two consulting teams to
experience something of the other's approach prior to
beginning. This was, in fact, suggested by the CEO and
members of the Steering Committee, but once the gun went
off, both firms became so preoccupied with the
day-to-day work of the project that we failed to make it
happen. Over time, we became better acquainted with
their task-driven, above-the-waterline "chart"
agenda and they with our below-the-waterline
3. Polarity management between
our two approaches was not easy to do in real time.
During meetings, the change-the-chart agenda of the
other consulting team often ran into ours head-on. Since
our client had mandated that we not interfere with
theirs, we had to find a way to work attention to the
heart into the nooks and crannies of their agenda. This,
following the adage that "hard always drives out
soft," meant that we were frequently fighting for
airtime with clients who really believed in what we
4. Given the above caveats, we
suggest you estimate the time to do the chart-changing
work, then add 30% for attending to the corporate heart.
5. Make sure the senior
leadership team is completely on board with the chart +
heart decision. We were fortunate in that, over the past
year, all of the VPs from both merging organizations had
experienced an intensive personal and professional
development program with us—coming in two's and
three's. The agenda for the four-day training focused
almost entirely on skill building at the heart level.
This gave them a common language and created a profound
"boot camp" camaraderie that went a long way
in motivating them to do the heart work with each other.
After a frenzied ten years,
leaders of the re-engineering movement have begun to
address something the rest of us have been noticing for
quite a while: many large-scale restructuring
projects fail to produce the positive changes intended. The
possible missing piece which we have attempted to
address here has also been identified by none other than
Mike Hammer, the best-known guru of re-engineering. In a
straight-from-the-shoulder piece on the front page of
the December26, 1996 Wall Street Journal , he admitted,
"Basically, we are engineers. This process looked
pretty good to us—but we forgot the human
factor." (Italics added)
Most people who have lived
through a heart attack talk about wishing they had paid
more attention to living a balanced life before a
near death experience. Our suggestion: go out and find
two consulting firms you trust, one for the chart and
one for the heart. Sit them down in a room and insist
that they put their biases aside and work together on
your behalf to not only change the chart, but do it in a
way that leaves your heart stronger and more capable of
getting on with life.
What we are recommending is not
convenient, takes more time and money, and will result
in a creative tension between apparently opposing
worlds. Anyone, however, willing to enter this
relatively uncharted territory has much to gain—and
just maybe a company's life to save.
information on how to put these principles to work in a
merger or downsizing project, or to find out more about The Scherer Yeoell
Group -- Center for Work and the
Human Spirit, contact us at 1-800-727-9115 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit their website at www.sygroupinc.com/.
John Scherer, president of The Scherer Yeoell Group,
is a 1962 honors graduate of Roanoke
College and was selected as one of the School’s 150 Distinguished Alumni for their Sesqui-Centennial Celebration. He is also an honors graduate of The Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and is currently completing his PhD in Executive Development. Prior to beginning his consulting career, John served as Lutheran Chaplain at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
John came to Spokane in 1973 to co-create the nation’s first competency-based graduate program in the Applied Behavior Sciences. In 1979, John and a colleague, Bob Crosby, developed
the first computer-scored, holistic organization effectiveness assessment “The People Performance Profile” since used in hundreds of businesses.
John is the creator of the Executive Development Intensive (EDI), a four-day solo program for senior managers and spouses, devoted to expanding the mind, stretching the body, and deepening the spirit. The Leadership Development Intensive (LDI), is the group version of the EDI for managers, entrepreneurs, and other professionals. Over the past ten years, business leaders from twelve countries have come to Spokane for these programs.
The EDI inspired John to write Work and the Human Spirit in 1993, detailing what happens to
executives and their spouses on their way to the top and what happens when they are given the opportunity to have a new experience within themselves. John has published numerous articles
and produced widely used video/audio tapes on organizational change and conflict resolution. His latest book, The Sword and the Heart: How Two Merging Companies Dared to Care, co-authored with Mark Yeoell and Larry Shook, is in process.
Mark Yeoell has over 20 years of hands-on experience as a manager and corporate executive. Fascinated by the challenge of sustainable peak performance, his favorite quote is: “All power to accomplish flows through relationship.”
Mark began his career as a commercial banker in Canada. More recently, he served as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and Chief Operating Officer for North America’s largest residential personal development center. The Center served over 10,000 program participants a year. Mark was also mentor to an International Network responsible for identifying, training, and coaching staff team leaders and managers for more than 160 affiliated chapters around the world.
Since joining The Scherer Yeoell Group
as a partner and vice president, Mark has been consulting to and coaching leaders from the United States, Asia, Canada, and Europe. Clients remark on his profound ability to hear what is going on beneath the surface and to produce actionable
alternatives not previously seen. He is a lead facilitator of the Executive Development Intensive (EDI) and the Leadership Development Intensive (LDI)
He is an engaging and dynamic keynote speaker, providing a refreshingly practical way of looking at the world of work and the human spirit.
Mark is an honors graduate in business studies from London, England. He has lived in Malaysia, Nigeria, Morocco, England, Switzerland, Canada and the United States. This international experience provides a unique basis for appreciating and celebrating human diversity and for his contribution to JS&A’s mission of transforming the world at work.