Mergers don’t save companies that have lost their way

I have always questioned the logic of how two struggling companies can save themselves by merging and forming a much larger struggling company with weak management. Take the pending merger of Staples and Office Depot. Staples CEO Ron Sargent stated in The New York Times that, “Amazon just launched a business-to-business initiative so I am sure they are knocking on the door.” Where has he been? We stopped ordering from Staples.com and switched to Amazon over a year ago because they just weren’t dependable. I wrote to Mr. Sargent about this. In fact, I sent him a ‘Not Easy’ button to get his attention. Never got an answer. When a CEO doesn’t even have someone on his staff respond to a customer complaint, it speaks volumes. The truth is, customer service is not about economies of scale, it is about an organizational commitment that starts at the top to making each customer transaction excellent and if problems arise, addressing them in a way that makes the customer feel valued. (Write Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines with a problem and someone gets back to you quickly and thoughtfully.) The lack of customer service is just lacking on Staples.com. Walk into a Staples store and try to find someone to help you? I used to look forward to going there. Now, well, it just isn’t easy. Clearly, they are struggling and are trying to focus on high margin technology products. Ironically, this was the same strategy that Office Depot launched awhile back with the promise ‘The more you need. The more you need to know.’ Nice tagline but the only problem was no one in the stores were trained to deliver on it. More than twenty straight losing quarters later and another misguided CEO was gone. So, what was their solution. A merger with OfficeMax, after their proposed merger with Staples was turned down by the anti-trust folks. Now they are trying it again. As with all of these Hail Mary moves, thousands will lose their jobs and unprofitable stores will be closed. We have heard this story before and it rarely ends well. The truth is, unless there is a recognition that regardless of what they sell – paper, pens or computers – Staples needs to be in ‘the delighting customers business’, no acquisition, merger or restructuring will save them.

Collaborativity

In an open source world, there is neither room nor time for ‘closed door’ thinkers who prefer to solve problems on their own. Access to knowledge and technology is no longer privileged and the need to access ideas across far-reaching global organizations has forced the creation of new ways to do this.

Every company needs to make the shift from a ‘my’ idea culture to an ‘our’ idea culture and send the message out that game-changing thinking can come from anywhere. A local office manager can be the impetus for an idea that others can build upon and find a home for anywhere in the world. All that is needed is a forum for his or her idea to be heard.

Figuratively and literally, organizations need to tear down walls that constrict blood flow and start harnessing the creativity that lies dormant inside their walls. Group creativity should not be reserved for company off-sites. It should be an everyday way of doing business.

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In James Surwiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, he makes the point that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”

A group of passionate stakeholders in a business, bringing diverse perspectives and talents
to a particular challenge, can be an incredibly powerful creative entity. We call this COLLABORATIVITY and we believe it is the key to unlocking the creative potential
of any organization.

Alex Osborn, one of the founders of BBDO, the renown global advertising agency, first employed organized ideation efforts in 1939. He noted in his book, Applied Imagination, that at the time, participants described it as ‘brainstorming.’ The name stuck. The only problem is that 90% of what is called brainstorming is worthless.

Just getting people together for some friendly exchange over coffee and muffins rarely accomplishes anything. Structure is the ally of COLLABORATIVITY.

In their Harvard Business Review essay a few years ago, authors Kevin Coyne, Patricia Gorman Clifford and Renee Dye seemed to agree, stating that “the best ideas emerge from brainstorming sessions when people are actually instructed to think ‘inside’ the box, with clearly defined goals and objectives.”

Furthermore, it’s about the quality of the outcomes, not the process. Raw output needs to be synthesized, the best ideas need to be identified, built upon and brought to life. Done right, creating a culture of COLLABORATIVITY can help any organization get to better ideas faster, regardless of how complex the business challenge may seem. And in the process, get everyone thinking in the same direction.

This byline is written by Brett Shevack, CEO and Founder brandinitiatives

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