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In a true merger, no one culture should win. Having one side win over the other can be the kiss of death to the deal. Unfortunately, more often than not, what I have experienced in the merger frenzy are acquisitions disguised as mergers. There is typically an acquirer and an acquiree, and the lead company’s culture typically dominates. If you are the acquiring company in a deal and you are not interested in blending cultures or brand, we hope you will at least respect your partner’s culture. Respectfulness helps the “merged” employees see what you as the lead company have to offer in the way of structure, processes, and business behavior. One simple way to accomplish this is to ask people how and why they do the things. It has been my experience that many times a merger/acquisition is met by fear by employees on both sides: They are cautious to talk about the new situation and have an ominous view of things that may come to pass. Deploying a cultural assessment that can be conducted and analyzed in the first 90 days is the key to helping to settle the employee groups, on both sides.
During a merger or acquisition, the elements that make up the acquiring company’s culture are being threatened, and the status quo or aspects of the employees’ way of life may be changed or, worse yet, lost. The first step in managing a cultural collision is to understand both cultures. You must spend time developing a cultural resume (from both companies), which will support you in creating brand alignment. This process allows you to visualize where there is congruence and incongruence between the two cultures. This process prevents you from blindly jumping into the integration process. Who will be responsible for the cultural integration may be different in each acquisition scenario. This can all be dependent on size, scope, logistics, and national cultural differences. There is not a set formula for the ownership of the integration process, but a good rule of thumb is to create an assimilation team that is comprised of members from both organization and a cross section of senior leadership, Human Resources, line managers, and employees.
Creating a cultural resume for your company and the newly acquired company will also allow you to determine the potential fallout of imposing your culture on your potential partner. This information may cause you to have second thoughts about such an imposition or eliminating a culture that is deep-rooted and successful. There are significant financial gains to be made by organizations that honor those cultural differences and allow the successful company they have just acquired to maintain their culture.
Excerpted from Lizz Pellet, The Cultural Fit Factor: Creating an Employment Brand That Attracts, Retains, and Repels the Right Employees (SHRM, 2009).
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