One of the most difficult aspects of bringing two companies together is the integration of two cultures into one homogenous culture. I would put air quotes around homogenous, because we are not asking for both entities to lose a sense of self, but we are asking that they learn to assimilate new practices, new ideas and new processes into a broader, more integrated macro-culture.
I like to think about it like the European Union. If you think aligning the cultures of two organizations is tough, consider how difficult it must be for the French to integrate into a broader cultural exchange. Not to go into a political science lesson here, but the French are simultaneously trying to integrate immigrants into the French culture, maintain the cultural legacy of what it means to be French in the midst of globalization, and adapt to the new social, cultural and political realities brought forth by the European Union. So if you are struggling through a cultural integration at your company, remember it could be a lot more challenging.
There is not a one size fits all remedy for how to bring together two disparate organizational cultures. However, there are a set of tools and practices that when used correctly will help you get through the integration. Most importantly, you need to start the aligning the two cultures during the due diligence process. It is often overlooked, because the focus tends to be on the books, the numbers and the efficiencies, but if you cannot get the people to buy in, then you have a much larger issue at hand.
Running a diagnostic up front allows you to assess the cultural readiness of the organizations and will give you insight into how the employees from both organizations feel about the merger. This is not to say that you use the assessment to prevent the merger from occurring, but it certainly gives you perspective into the areas that you’ll want to address early on in the process.
Forming a steering committee is a good way to start evaluating the two cultures and the practices that are up for debate. Most organizations that we’ve worked with also bring in outside help because it provides a fresh set of eyes to point out various cultural aspects that may go unnoticed by incumbents.
It’s no easy task to bring two cultures together, but with the right preparation and right tools, you’ll see great improvements and ultimately a better pay off in the long haul.