Each company creates a distinct culture that “brands” it internally to the employees and if done well, it is the same brand that is shown externally to the clients.
Most mergers and acquisitions fail due to the inability to properly align both cultures. So how do you do it assuming the buy has happened and you are in a leadership position to align things.
Typically in an acquisition, the acquired company is the one that will need to adapt to the new corporate culture provided you intend to operate them as one. There are times when you acquire another company and you WANT it to be a separate entity. In that case, you would let the acquired company maintain its own culture.
So let’s focus on merging the two cultures as in the former situation.
As the acquiring company you need to share clearly defined values– both written and those that all follow but are not written down. I even have the CEO from the acquiring company directly with all the employees what those values are so there is no guess work. This helps new employees to understand how and why decisions are made the way they are, choose to leave if they don’t align with the new values and it gives the existing employees a clear platform of communication.
Example of this:
Company A is very conservative with how they handle finances and they acquire Company B which is very flamboyant with expenses. So now you have sales people from Company A who are used to no frills and sales people from Company B who are used to lots of frills. At first the CEO felt that he had to nurture the new sales people along because they were in mourning of the loss of their company. So he allowed some “in between” processing of decisions. Big mistake as it caused resentment among his current sales team. I had him sit down and write out the “hidden” values of the company through which all decisions are made. One of them was “spend frugally”. He then defined for the entire office how decisions he made are always done through the lens of how to save money and they would continue to be made that way. This led to a robust discussion on how that would impact how the sales team did expenses. Sales people from both companies participated and came to an understanding of what could and couldn’t be done with expenses. Sales people who didn’t like it, left and those who stayed new exactly what the new game was. This created a shift away from what was to what is and will be for all.
As a leader it is your job to help all people navigate the change by clearly outlining the cultures. Now if this was a merger, I would have both leaders clearly define the values they operate under and have a robust discussion on the ones that align and the ones that don’t. I would then come to agreement on mutual values we will move forward with. It would then be both leaderships responsibility to share jointly what the old values were and what the new ones will be moving forward. This way both companies see a united leadership moving forward.
TAKE ACTION: Ask your team what they think are the 3-7 values that you all operate under and what decisions they see being made that support what they see as a value. This way you will uncover the hidden values as well as the ones that are taped to your corporate walls
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