The Merging Of Two Cultures

Like me, you may be surprised at the continued dearth of work that is done on the people side of change when two organizational cultures merge. I am not talking about the research, it is ample. So are the case studies in graduate school classrooms, the Time Warner/AOL merger comes instantly to mind as a classic example.

Despite all of the evidence, companies and teams that are merging, still tend to ignore the people side of things. It is more about how the balance sheets line up and where the efficiencies lie than how the cultures align. But surprisingly, mergers and integration tend to fail because of the people practices.

This is about more than just wholesale integration between two companies, this work should be done when integrating functions or teams. Due diligence should include how the people will integrate with one another, how the cultures line up and how to get the most out of your people.

If you are thinking about merging teams or acquiring another organization, here are some things that you should be doing to make the transition smoother:

1. Create a change team that focuses solely on people

2. Examine performance policies and processes

3. Look at benefits and compensations

4. Understand what’s on the table, what the tradeoffs are and what the implications for change are on the impacted parties

5. Give both sides a voice and a vote

6. Work directly with the business leads to align with their strategies

Most of what I have seen in my experience is that processes, technologies and the hard aspects of business are cared for up front. However, is very typical and almost predictable that the people side of the deal will be left to the last minute. Then the inevitable happens, we get the call from the leadership team asking why it is not working. We get call from the new organization struggling to achieve their business strategy in the midst of internal workforce challenges.

Why are people going to back channels? Why are they not just simply following the new protocols? And, why is their enmity between the groups? It is not too late to fix when that call comes, but it is much more difficult and it takes a lot longer. It is of course better to do the hard work of building a cultural integration strategy up front, rather than hope for a snappy HR “people policy fix” at the end of the deal.

Give the people side of the deal the right amount of attention early on and you will see the difference pay off in the short term. Plan for the culture change needed up front. It is not only good for your business, it is also the right thing to do with and for your people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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