Consolidating two separate cultures into one is as important in enabling the success of the new organisation as aligning IT systems, financial processes or senior leadership teams.
When you fail to consolidate the corporate culture, different norms, behaviours and habits will pull people in different directions, wasting energy and reducing clarity of focus. (More on this here.)
So, what are the crucial steps in consolidating a new corporate culture in an engineering organisation? The tips below have emerged from feedback given during and after mergers and acquisitions by the individuals who really determine culture – the employees.
1. Consolidate in little steps
As with many business changes, there is always a sense with culture that, one day, the ‘perfect’ culture will be in place. Clearly that’s the point at which to consolidate the culture.
In practice, culture forms and reforms – it is constantly developing. Therefore, you will never reach the ‘perfect culture’ that should be consolidated.
Instead, good cultural practices will emerge and these need to be consolidated – little step by little step.
2. Be clear which culture you want to be dominant
It’s hard enough to develop a new corporate culture from an existing one within a single organisation.
The challenges are more than doubled when you are bringing together two separate cultures, especially when many elements of the separate cultures will run counter to one another. There may also be rivalry as to whose culture should ‘win’.
To facilitate the emergence of one new culture, it is essential to be clear which culture you want to be dominant.
If you are the acquiring an organisation, chances are your culture will dominate. Be honest about this.
If it is a merger, chances are that the culture that will dominate will be driven by the new Chief Executive. If he was in place in one of the organisations before merger, it is likely that culture will dominate.
And absolutely avoid the ‘we’ll take the best of both cultures’ approach – the lack of clarity this engenders will seriously hinder business progress.
3. Accept there will be casualties
If you try to consolidate a new culture when people are working in ways that are counter to this culture, you will struggle.
You really can’t consolidate a new cultural state if there are people who are working counter to it.
To fit in with the new corporate culture, some people will have to make significant personal changes or leave the organisation.
This may sound harsh but, ultimately, the new culture is not going to suit everyoneand tolerating all of these individuals – even if their skills are unique or because they have been with the business ‘man and boy’ – will ultimately impede results.
4. Recognise progress
Inevitably, in the process of establishing one new corporate culture, there will be many times when there seems to be nothing but a mess. And no-one wants to consolidate a mess.
At this stage, Kanter’s Law is only too true: in the middle of any change, everything looks like failure.
When you feel like this, focus on the progress that has been made rather than getting bogged down in the mess.
Get into details and be specific – generalisations will not be strong enough to ensure you know what to consolidate.
5. Be honest at all times
Bringing together two organisations is not simply a business deal. It is a deal involving human beings too.
The merger or acquisition has implications for the lives of those individuals. The way that the organisation operates – its culture – will matter to them.
Therefore, they deserve to be told the truth about what is happening. Time after time we find that people want to hear things in a straightforward way, without corporate speak and without spin.
Any time you hear (or think) the words ‘how do we put a positive spin on this?’ change them to ‘what’s the truth?’ and communicate that.
Consolidating a new corporate culture after merger or acquisition takes time and patience. These tips, based on feedback from employees who have experienced the pain and pleasure of finding ways to work together following a merger, are shared to give food for thought on how best to achieve one new culture.
- Consolidate in little steps
- Be clear which culture you want to be dominant
- Accept there will be casualties
- Recognise progress
- Be honest at all times