In Mergers and Acquisitions, Avoiding Conflict Is a Poor Communications Strategy

In Mergers and Acquisitions, Avoiding Conflict Is a Poor Communications Strategy

From our research at CEB, now Gartner, we know that most mergers and acquisitions are not clear successes. As with other forms of major enterprise change, there are many possible reasons why two companies might fail to integrate: culture clash, product mix-ups, stalled growth, complex technology integrations, and so on. According to INSEAD professor Quy Huy, another reason M&A can fail is because the communication plan is overly positive and too frequently impersonal.

Huy believes that part of the problem is what he calls the “trap of professionalism,” a symptom of modern corporate culture in which negative feelings are suppressed and politeness is overvalued relative to raising constructive tensions that can improve ideas. Additionally, once disagreements bubble to the surface, the response is often more rosy messaging rather than straightforward attempts to discuss and address any issues.

Huy discovered how this dynamic of productive disagreement plays out in the context of M&A by interviewing 73 managers across both organizations involved in an acquisition. At first, both sides were excited by the possibilities of their merger. The acquirer saw value in gaining specialized expertise within its walls and the acquired company was excited about having the resources to take on more ambitious projects. But tension quickly arose, initially due to differences in the philosophy of each organization’s sales strategy, and later due to challenges in IT integration.

The issue wasn’t that these tensions existed, but that they were never discussed or addressed.

Read more

The Midwest’s ‘Mid-Tech’ Renaissance

The Midwest’s ‘Mid-Tech’ Renaissance

While coastal cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and now Boston have gotten a lot of attention for their explosive growth driven by the tech industry, a different kind of tech job is emerging in the manufacturing powerhouses of the Midwest that were once the heart of industry in the US and the key to the country’s unprecedented prosperity. Quartz’s Michael J. Coren defines these “mid-tech” jobs, which are springing up in Midwest cities such as Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit, and St. Louis, as “skilled tech work that doesn’t require a college degree: just intense, focused training on the job or in vocational programs like those of blue-collar trades of the industrial past.”

Also known as “middle skill” jobs, these opportunities are popping up as a result of the massive expansion of high-tech products and services and savvy companies taking advantage of labor and office costs much lower than in their coastal outposts. Coren points to several examples of mid-tech development in the region, including a program set up in Kentucky by software firm Interapt that trains coal miners and workers with “technical aptitude” to become software developers, and Ai-Media, a company contracted to caption Facebook’s live streams that opened up an operation in Youngstown, Ohio last year.

“The modern factory job is a mid-tech job,” Patrick McKenna, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and venture capitalist who helped broker the Ai-Media deal, told Coren.

The Midwest’s startups have also gained attention from venture capitalists, particularly after acquisitions like McKesson’s recent purchase of the Ohio-based company CoverMyMeds for a $1.1 billion. Overall, 2017 was a banner year for the region’s startups, with 37 Midwest-based startup companies exiting for a total value of $5.1 billion, according to VentureBeat.

Read more

The Digital Workforce of the Future Includes More Than Just Coders

The Digital Workforce of the Future Includes More Than Just Coders

The saying that every company is now a technology company, in that every organization needs digital talent, has become a cliché among contemporary management gurus. Less often discussed, however, is the need for employees in roles that are not explicitly technical to also develop a level of technological expertise. While engineering, cloud computing, and cybersecurity skills are highly coveted, simply having the ability to work with and understand enterprise technology is almost as valuable, given that technology appears destined to transform nearly every role in the organization—if it hasn’t already.

In LinkedIn’s most recent survey, the most in-demand skills for 2018 are predominantly technical, 57 percent of the leaders surveyed said soft skills like leadership, communication, and strategic thinking were more important than hard skills. LinkedIn’s list of this year’s most promising jobs illustrate that point, as several among the top ten—Engagement Lead, Customer Success Manager, Sales Director, Program and Product Manager, and Enterprise Account Manager—are roles that require those soft skills as well as a familiarity with technology. Likewise, tech-specific roles like data scientist and DevOps engineer were high up on Glassdoor’s list of the best jobs in the US this year, but managerial and business operations roles also made up a large portion of the top 50.

In other words, technical specialists may be some of the hottest talent on the market, but it takes an army to enable that talent to generate business value—whether by interpreting data, bringing technologies to market, keeping a project on course, servicing clients, or finding new ones. All of these employees now require some digital skills, but not the same skills software engineers and data analysts need.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a similar argument in an op-ed published at NBC News last week, noting that “the focus on code has left a potentially bigger opportunity largely unexplored.” Pichai points to a recent Brookings Institution report finding that jobs requiring “medium-digital” skills had grown to nearly half of all available jobs in 2016:

Read more

Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Tech Giants Step up Competition in Voice-Activated Enterprise Tech

Last year saw a sharp rise in investment in AI-driven voice-command technology for workplace use, with Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana beginning to take on enterprise roles, amid growing investments by these companies in AI. Based on how heavily voice-activated tools were promoted at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018), this year will see Google, Facebook, Samsung, Apple, and Cisco make moves in that market as well.

Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan pronounced Amazon the “winner” of CES before it even began, noting the omnipresence of the Alexa virtual assistant in everything from speakers to smart mirrors and automobiles. Sullivan noted an eMarketer survey which said that 45.4 million Americans will be using an AI assistant this year, 68 percent of whom will be using Alexa. HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo all launched Windows 10 PCs with two virtual assistants, Alexa and Microsoft’s notably less popular Cortana, but at this moment, it appears Alexa has the strongest foothold in the enterprise market.

“As we begin 2018, Alexa shows the strongest partner ecosystem — with the most hardware partners and the most skills — and an increasing presence in the office with Alexa for Business,” Forrester vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder told Computerworld.

Sullivan noted that Google made its presence felt at CES as well, but they did it with aggressively placed ads on buildings and public transportation. Still, Google Assistant is not far behind Alexa and has some built-in advantages. Amazon was the first to launch such a product, releasing Alexa in 2014, but Google has a wealth of institutional knowledge in the AI space and also has the widely-used Android mobile platform to drive adoption and streamlined integration of Google Assistant. So far, Assistant is on touchscreen-enabled devices by Sony, JBL, and Lenovo, and also slated to go into LG and GE appliances, in addition to cars through the Android Auto offering, according to VentureBeat.

Microsoft’s Cortana has a chance to succeed in the workplace market thanks to its presence through Office 365 and LinkedIn, but will have a long way to go if it hopes to supplant Google and Amazon. Another new entrant, Cisco, has an advantage with its new voice-activated technology thanks to its well-established enterprise communication infrastructure. Apple’s Siri is another notable competitor but would need a big push to make gains in the enterprise adoption of its computers and phones to penetrate the workplace market.

New VR Tools Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

New VR Tools Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

Psious, a virtual reality and augmented reality technology company, originally designed its products to help therapists combat anxiety disorders in patients via immersion therapy. For example, as Helen Lock of the Guardian reports, for patients with a crippling fear of insects, the therapist could expose them to their fears using VR without having to find a bunch of bugs in real life. The company has now expanded its offering to help businesses promote mental health. The vision is that instead of venting angrily around the water cooler or seething internally, there are always-on methods to support employees with depression or anger and provide an outlet to direct their feelings in a healthy way.

The technology can be used to manage a variety of maladies, including stress, ADHD, and fear of public speaking, according to the Psious website. But they aren’t the only ones: CleVR offers a range of VR systems that treat phobias through exposure therapy, while Guided Meditation VR can transport employees from their cubicle to a calm, quiet field, where they’ll be walked through breathing and meditation exercises. Some of these solutions are also suitable for treating PTSD, which can be helpful for veterans or victims of traumatic evens such as sexual assault.

Back in July, NewPathVR launched a portal called RE:NEW, which directs users to a catalogue of wellness applications. Charles Singletary at Upload highlights Google’s Happinss, the “rhythmic casual game” Thumper, and Fearless, another exposure therapy offering, among the different apps available.

Read more

Amazon Is Bringing Alexa to the Workplace

Amazon Is Bringing Alexa to the Workplace

Voice-activated technology is one of the new frontiers in how people are interacting with technology. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all developed voice-command assistants and have begun incorporating them into their enterprise software offerings. This week, Amazon joined the club, announcing the introduction of Alexa for Business at its annual AWS re:Invent conference.

The first rumblings of Amazon’s expansion of the popular voice-activated home assistant came in August, when the Seattle-based giant began posting job listings for a “new AWS/Alexa service” that would be “part of a growing family of SaaS offerings from AWS such as Amazon Chime, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon WorkDocs.” Jay Greene and Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal report that the company has added hundreds of engineers to the Alexa team and is giving this initiative preference in hiring in order to keep up with the other tech titans in this highly competitive emerging market.

The technology will allow employees to book conference rooms, start presentations, make calls, join teleconferences, turn lights on or off, obtain Salesforce information, and more. CNBC obtained a list of the break-out sessions at the re:Invent conference showcasing the Alexa for Business offering:

Read more

Can Angela Merkel Revamp Germany’s Outdated Labor Laws?

Can Angela Merkel Revamp Germany’s Outdated Labor Laws?

Over the past decade, the German economy has developed a reputation as one of the most successful in Europe and has garnered widespread praise for its apprenticeship initiatives, approach to automation, low unemployment, and for avoiding stumbling blocks such as the European sovereign debt crisis. As business confidence continues to soar, Chancellor Angela Merkel is working to help the country modernize its labor laws, which were last updated in 1918.

Current German law stipulates that workers cannot be forced to work longer than eight hours in a day and that they get a 30-minute break at least every six hours, in addition to 11 hours of off time between shifts. But global trends are shifting away from the concept of the 9-to-5 workday. With more flexible or remote arrangements and continuous connectivity, these century-old laws don’t do a great job of accommodating modern workers. For example, there’s nothing in them for freelancers, who require a different set of protections. Or if a salaried knowledge worker wanted to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, current laws would not seem to allow it. Additionally, if a manager is contacting an employee at all hours of the day outside of the office to complete work, there is no specific protection against that.

In order to allow for such flexibility and continue to protect workers’ rights in today’s rapidly evolving labor market, the laws in place need to change. German policy advisors have recommended changing the maximum hours timeframe to one week instead of one day, thereby abandoning the eight-hour cap on the workday, and reducing the mandatory break between shifts to nine hours from 11, according to the Washington Post‘s Ashley Nunes.

Read more