M&A: How Not to be Killed by Cultural Integration
M&A: How Not to be Killed by Cultural Integration

M&A: How Not to be Killed by Cultural Integration

Merger, acquisition, and takeover: these are words that are always perceived with a healthy dose of fear. Markets, leaders, and employees all suddenly become careful and cautious. Even the air gets a little heavier. Why? Because people feel like they are kept in the dark.

This series about mergers and acquisitions outlines four steps to move your people into the new era with more excitement than fear.

Step 3 Culture Conundrums: Cultivate it right

For most of us, our workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. Well, at least we are mostly awake. Considering how much of our lives will be spent at work, we cannot argue that the culture, value system, and environment at work does not affect the way individuals associate with their employers. Culture fit has become an important element in the development of functioning workplaces.

But what happens when two companies come together? The cultures clash. Or do they? How do we make the differences acceptable and integrate them with each other?

And more importantly, what are we talking about when we say culture?

From an employee’s immediate point of view, the following key elements are important and must be transitioned responsibly.

  • Autonomy: how people work, their relationships with their supervisors, everyday decision making. If people are accustomed to having more autonomy, taking this away makes them react strongly, and makes them less accepting of any other change. Alternately, if people are used to working with less freedom to make choices regarding everyday work, they may feel overwhelmed and see this as an additional responsibility.

Is there a real need to interfere with this apart from the leadership’s personal working preference — such as a monetary or tangible gain from changing this? If not, it’s best left alone. Trusting employees to continue to perform as before is important and should be reflected in your choice to challenge this norm.

  • Liberties and Benefits: If your employees were given the freedom to walk in at any time, telling them to swipe in by 8 every day is asking them to change every aspect of their lives, and that is unfair. They are, by law, required to follow this mandate, but consider the upheaval it may cause them. If lunch was provided and you now offer more monetary reward instead, you may not really be helping. Not everyone would want the extra cash because they haven’t set aside time to cook!

This is not to say you cannot make these changes, but without warning and enough time to adjust, this is not an ordinary demand. Going slow, introducing them as options, and phasing the old way out and then moving to make the new way the norm is usually a good idea.

  • Competitiveness, Collaboration, and Mentoring: Some environments require employees to constantly feel challenged within the system: a sales organization, for example. Others may require more teamwork. If your new entity requires you to make this shift, your reward systems and appraisals must be changed and clarified so people can identify and try a new approach.

If they were rewarded for outcome, move to rewarding for collaboration. If numbers were an earlier benchmark for performance, make sure the new benchmark conveys the need to move away from their previous approach.

  • Your social message: Which value is the identity of your organization? Acquiring a new core value and moving away from the old one completely, especially when this has been a message strongly propagated, is a fundamental question that should actually come up before the change itself. Anything that completely alters company identity is not only a bad business judgement, it also weakens the faith and attachment the people may have to anything you stood for and will stand for in the future.

So don’t suddenly discard everything you believed in because your new identity requires you to. Find a commonality and project that and incorporate it into what you stand for. If you stood for protecting the environment, then do not suddenly dispel this for something more profitable. For many employees, this may be an identity they also project to the outside world. Find a way to make sure that you stay true to this message even if you need to add more to your list.

Hopefully your team is so excited by the future possibilities that it sees any and all of these changes as positives rather than doubting your every move. But this recipe needs one last step before your dish is ready.

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