Thursday, May 12, 2011

Merging Corporate Cultures

Mergers and Acquisitions can cause difficult transitions. Very few, less than half, create the hoped-for results, much like any change program within an organization. For the people involved on both sides, there are a lot of emotions. Some could be described as exultant. Others as confident. From the other side, they may range from relief for the change to fear of the change and resulting insecurity.

Nevertheless, too often the acquiring company's personnel gloat and slide into arrogant stances. They will in subtle and overt methods remind the "others" that "they" were acquired. Condescendingly, they will be reminded that they were inferior in results and, by implication, methods.  As a part of "they", I once had a new boss tell me that his company was not going to adopt our methods and planning because his company bought ours. Even though our operational results were better, he was not interested in changing his processes. He was going to force us to revert to tried-but-ineffective strategies.

Meanwhile, the bought-out company know they were successful in some regards. Though the company may be failing, or not growing as much as the acquiring company, some aspects were doing well. Their old company was surviving. They know some things could be changed but a lot of things were doing well. Perhaps marketing was doing really well, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones, but operations failed to fulfill the customers' expectations. Perhaps operations was doing well, but new customers couldn't be found.

Just like individual success (or failure), corporate success and failure can depend on opportunities, luck on risky ventures and timing more than skills and intelligence. Organizations can be open to successful opportunities because their personnel are in alignment and collaborating. They are putting the organization's success above their own individual business unit's or department's.

Therefore, in mergers and acquisitions, it's important to ask some important questions and maintain a open-minded, humble attitude towards creating the best company going forward.
  • What financial or operational aspects are better in one organization than the other?
  • Which organization has the highest level of engagement and loyalty?
  • Which organization has the greater customer-centric focus and how does it permeate the organization?
  • What aspects of the corporate cultures will create the greatest synergy?
  • How do we learn from successful risk-taking ventures, and failed ventures, that both organizations attempted?
  • In the lesser successful company, which function may have been the obstacle to greater success and requires some immediate change?
Helping your staff retain their respect and dignity is important. Helping your staff understand that they need to respect and honor their new colleagues is important. Transitions are rough because emotions are high. In these stressful times, people dig in deeply to have their deepest needs fulfilled: to be correct and to do the best possible work, to meet a challenge, to know they're safe and to know they'll be recognized for good work. You need to set the tone of humility, open-mindedness and working each day/each moment towards the vision of a highly effective, combined organization.

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