A strong organisational culture is a nimble thing, but even the most robust corporate culture can buckle under the pressure during a merger.
See, a merger can go one of two ways - the cola and mentos route (not good - think AOL and Time Warner), or the peanut butter and jelly route (very good - think Zappos and Amazon), and you can never be quite sure how things will pan out from the outside looking in. As such, it pays to go full boy scout in cases like these, i.e. be prepared.
Naturally, it helps if you’ve got a plan in place.
As such, here is our five-step guide to maintaining a strong organisational culture during a merger:
Step 1: Understand the culture on the other side
First things first, it's important to understand that you need data if you want to drive strategic cultural change.
As such, the assessment of both companies' cultures should form part of the initial merger paperwork, so you have some starting metrics.
A good rule of thumb is to gather your data in a way that provides insight into the trends among different demographics, e.g. departments, managerial levels, geographical locations, etc.
You may choose to go a simpler route, but the point is to form a strong baseline of where each culture stands before you chuck it in the metaphorical blender. This approach will point the way for long-term cultural change initiatives that will be required, and also give you a good idea of which practices of each business are worth keeping. After all, you want to be sure that you aren't chucking out any lucrative babies with the bathwater.
Step 2: Plot out where you're headed
Next up, you need to plot out where you're headed. Once the leaders of both businesses have come to grips with the outlines of the existing cultures it's time to zone in on the priorities you want to focus on in the months and years ahead.
You'll want to look at steps you can take to ensure that everyone gets maximum value out of the deal by promoting a high-performance culture and finding ways of working together to ensure that there is movement towards a single cohesive culture.
By drawing on the cultural data you gathered, boil your goals down to a series of 'from - to' statements that can be communicated simply and effectively. When your overall aims are formulated in this way, it's much easier to ensure that alignment can ultimately be achieved throughout the entire enterprise once it comes to the implementation of the strategy.
Step 3: Zone in on a few targeted cultural change initiatives
Merger times are tense times, especially if you're expecting your newly merged team to adopt hundreds of new behaviours on top of dealing with all the other changes they're facing in the workplace.
An overload of information and directives at this time is a recipe for disaster, instead, focus your collective efforts on one or two cultural goals over the course of the first six months. You may, for instance, choose to focus on 'effective collaboration' and 'clear communication' and break this down in simple messaging that can be repeated and broken down in different ways for each relevant department.
Step 4: Ensure that you have buy-in from the whole gang
Employees are notoriously skittish during mergers, and rightfully so - there are major changes afoot and they are unsure about how it will impact on their role within the company and if it could endanger their jobs.
This is why the average attrition rate for merging companies can be as high as 10%. And even if your star players do stick around despite the upheaval, their employee engagement could tank, affecting their productivity immensely.
This is why you want to be 100% sure that you have buy-in from every employee on every level of your newly merged company when you address cultural change and adaptation.
It starts by bringing leadership on board to give your messaging a strong backbone, providing context for the changes that are going on, and communicating your one or two big messages clearly using every channel you have at your disposal.
Step 5: Cement new policies into the operational model
Next up, it’s time to put the theory into practice by cementing new policies into your operation model. This will ensure that those great initiatives you identified make their way off the paper and into the day-to-day operations of your workplace.
For instance, if 'effective communication' is one of your goals, it should ideally be a tickbox on performance reviews, i.e. does the employee communicate effectively with their peers and superiors? It could also be a question that has to be raised at every meeting, i.e. is everyone clear on what was discussed and decided, as well as the next steps and what is expected from them individually? Desired cultural changes should be cascaded and reinforced wherever possible so the messaging can remain top of mind for every employee.
Following these five guidelines when you’re preparing for a merger will pave the way for a much smoother transition and a greater likelihood that you will emerge with a strong organisational culture once the dust settles.
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