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Merging Cultures Need Strong Leaders

By Doug Robbins |

Being able to merge or acquire two different cultures is an art that can greatly enhance your ability to survive and thrive in an environment of constant change.

In order to accomplish a merger with as much positive impact and as little damage as possible, you may need to seek help from a group of professionals such as a lawyer, accountant, financial institution, and business intermediary who will guide the leaders in your company through the entire process.

Some people go with the flow while others resist any type of change.  Almost no one deals well with uncertainty, especially if they feel that their jobs are at stake.  The more information available, the better.  This will help to reduce the potential damage   rumors and incorrect information can cause.

It is wise to focus on communication between the merging companies; to your employees; to your customers; to your shareholders and to others that you are accountable to, and of course, do not forget the public.  Public relations activities need to ramp up during the merging process to keep a positive company image in front of everyone who counts.

Mergers are not always friendly endeavors.  The level of respect and communication shown to each other, especially at the highest level of leadership, tends to establish the tone for the whole process - so be careful what you say and how you say it!

A business intermediary can help the leaders in a company to plan communication strategies.  This will ensure each of the many steps involved, especially during the due diligence period, are handled in the most expeditious and thorough manner.  Due diligence can take months beyond the time expected if not handled correctly right from the start.  It is a difficult time to begin with, so it is important to simplify and handle the process with concentrated effort at the outset.

The attitude of your employees will filter to the public, to customers, suppliers and to shareholders.  Employees are probably the most powerful force a company has to either bring a company through a successful merger or bring the company on its knees with a disastrous marrying of company cultures.

Be as open as you can within company guidelines.  Immediately set up contact points for employee questions and answer them as quickly, completely and honestly as possible.  Even when the answer is not what they want to hear, answer the questions quickly to eliminate fear.  Not knowing what is really going on can produce worse results than knowing the facts and learning to deal with them.

Spend the time exploring the merger from the customers' point of view.  What benefits do they have with the old entity that they might lose with the new?  If any products or services are being lost, like the latest communication technology, show them how you plan to communicate with the customers and clients to keep providing service excellence.

Provide your customer service staff with the answers to customers' questions, in the form of newsletters, scripts for call centers and personal meetings with your key customers.  Be sure that they understand the benefits of the merger, and be sure that they know you are committed to satisfying their needs.

Continue customary marketing, advertising and public relations initiatives.  Do not fade into the background in the middle of a merger.  Everyone will wonder what happened to you if you disappear for too long.  One of the features you bring to the table as a strong merging partner is your customer base.  It would not be wise to do anything to compromise that key component of the merger.

It can be easy to slip into the habit of blaming the merger for every complication that happens.  People can wind up telling customers that their shipments are late because of the merger; telling suppliers that payments are delayed because of lost paperwork; or telling other departments that new internal processes are slowing them down.

Be honest about the extra time and effort required - all the while keeping the vision of the benefits of the merger out in front of the people as well.  Communicate the big picture of larger territories for each sales person, with more support staff to help them out or whatever you expect to realize as a result of the merger.  However, don't overdo the vision if it isn't likely to happen.  People don't like to be disappointed or discouraged.

The strong leaders in the organization need to work closely with department managers as they tend to become territorial when threatened.  Provide them with incentives to be co-operative and open.  Let them know where they stand and how important their role to ensure a successful merger takes place.  Communicate with them often and keep them in the loop whenever something new happens in the merger process.

A merger is an opportune time to recognize and replace outdated processes.  Since systems will need to be redesigned, don't wait to start planning.  Get new systems into place right away.  The improvements can usually be done at very little cost and will get people start to get accustomed to changes that will be taking place.

Assign task forces to investigate new technology and different ways of doing things while mapping out new work flows between divisions.  A gradual merging process helps everyone to adapt at a pace that isn't too scary.

When you run into a problem or unique situation, ask the merger partner to collaborate with you.  Enlist the help of computer programmers, accounting staff, key managers, etc. and brainstorm for solutions.  This is a great way to get the problem solved and make relationships grow stronger.

Maintaining two separate operations is expensive.  Take advantage of opportunities wherever possible.  You may not need two HR departments, for example, and having two may create confusion and rivalry if not merged carefully.  Combine departments whenever possible on a functional and geographic basis and utilize the other resources on a new project so everyone's talents are being maximized and recognized.

Change frightens people.  Mergers and acquisitions are agents of change, and are looked upon with a certain amount of distain.  These feelings will be eased when you enlist the assistance of professionals, such as a business intermediary, to work with the leaders in each company in order that they feel confident and empowered to roll up their sleeves and make the merger work, whatever it takes.

Mergers often breathe new life into an organization and can create an exhilarating atmosphere to motivate employees to put their best foot forward.  If handled well, mergers and acquisitions help everyone to keep an open mind, be less rigid and more flexible and to remain positive even when the working atmosphere is chaotic.

When merging companies embrace the many changes they will face, and equip their leaders with the tools that they need to carry out the transition in an expeditious, professional and cost-effective manner, all along enlisting the support of everyone involved in the merger, then it can be said it was all worth it and was a success.

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