Your company has merged or been acquired; or, your company has acquired another business. But if no one is getting along, and the cultures are so different it’s as if the officers and employees speak different languages, then what do you do?
I first learned about corporate culture clash many years ago when I went to work for an off-shoot of a magazine publishing company, which had started a new company with an electronics company. The company self-destructed within three years for two reasons: 1. There was no market at the time and their customers could not afford the technology required, and 2. The culture clash. If the latter hadn’t been an issue, they might have come up with a way to modify the products and work with prospective customers. All 300 employees in two offices were laid off and an opportunity to make technological history was lost.
Over the years I read about different mergers that went amiss and predicted the AOL/Time Warner meltdown as well as others. I thought about what I had learned, both from my own experience as well as a lot of reading, including the study of both business history in the United States, corporate culture, marketing, advertising, and history in general.
This is what I came up with to avoid problems. It must be noted that to do this before a merger or acquisition could cause problems, particularly if an outsider is brought in, as this could lead to accusations of insider trading. However, thanks to the internet, it is possible to study the history of a company online, including in newspaper archives, but companies must be very careful.
After the merger, a lot can be done utilizing the disciplines of corporate anthropology, sociology, and history, as well internal marketing and branding and the power of dramatic presentations to help the merged companies avoid corporate culture clash.
Assign a team who can be the bridge between the parties involved in a merger or acquisition by:
1. Translating and communicating information about each company's culture
2. Facilitating the integration, particularly of the staff
3. Transforming the parties to the merger into a viable new company which will create a new history
Telling stories and providing content from the history of each company will bring people together.
The team can also be considered a "displacement" team. Companies send those down-sized to out-placement firms. Those who are retained usually feel displaced and their needs need to be addressed. If integration issues are not addressed, there will be problems.
In sum, the team studies the who, what, why, where, when, and how of a company which is what the corporate culture evolves from, and on which it is built. Then it develops a plan to deal with the problems companies encounter after a merger or acquisition to facilitate a successful merger and the integration of the staff and to ensure that all employees feel at home in the new company.
This process does not advocate holding onto the past, but rather uses the past as a road map. It is a method which will counteract issues resulting from the tension on both sides between with "the way we do things" and "the way they do things."
This will also lead to continuity in customer services and should include training customer service people. Customers might be wary of the new entity and their concerns must be addressed both individually and in marketing, public relations, and advertising.
The lessons learned can also be used to train people located in, or moving to offices in, other countries where culture clash can be both business-related and personal. Doing due diligence on how companies in other countries operate and what their corporate and national cultures are is vital.
One possible technique is to create and produce issue-based plays, scenarios, and improvisations. Issues include the role mergers play in the areas of ethics, diversity, down-sizing, and work-life balance.
The Plan for Avoiding a Culture Clash:
1. Create a team to study the history of each company in the merger or acquisition, which includes people from each company.
2. Study the history of both companies, using archives, online resources, and repositories such as historical societies and libraries.
3. Create presentations using visuals.
4. Create an exhibit for the website and reception area on the history of the companies.
5. Have people tell how they picked their fields and professions, and went to work when they did.
6. If one party to the merger has an upcoming anniversary, plan and celebrate it together with both parties in the merger.
Phyllis Barr is president of Corporate Culture Marketing by Barr Consulting Services, which helps companies leverage their history and heritage. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.