How can two cultures become one?

Any organisation implementing a leadership development programme would be highly regarded for investing in their leaders, right? What if the culture the programme was being delivered in was particularly challenging following a merger of two very different organisations with differing values and ways of doing things? Then this makes for a very different objective for sure.

What is the culture of an organisation? It is often described as the way we do things around here. It is a shared experience of the employees of an organisation. We often hear the term cultural fit. This is the extent to which individuals will be able to adapt to an organisations’ behavioural norms and meet their corporate values. As a result of a good cultural fit, individuals tend to stay in their role for longer, have greater job satisfaction and tend to make valid contributions more readily. Recruiting in this way has been very successful for some corporations such as Google, however, the downside can mean organisations recruit people who share similar personality traits and ways of thinking which can lead to groupthink (link to blog).

How can a poor cultural fit impact on an organisation? If two cultures are not aligned there is a risk of creating a ‘them and us’ scenario, which can subsequently become a very challenging hurdle to overcome. There is evidence which shows 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail because the promised benefits do not materialise due to culturally based issues. Successfully combining cultures is at the heart of creating a healthy organisational culture.

What can be done? My approach would be tackle culture in the way that any organisational change should be managed.

  • Communication is the key: everything begins and ends with communication. If people are involved from the outset and the reasons for the merger are clearly outlined, this means they are more likely to give their buy-in. If people don’t know what is going on, they will make it up. The rumour mill starts turning and before too long you have employees who are suspicious and unsupportive of change or worst case scenario sabotage the change initiative. The culture being created moving forward needs to be defined and this needs to be communicated across the organisation giving people the opportunity to voice their concerns. Use every possible means of communication possible to constantly spread the word of the new vision and strategies. Use email, focus groups, townhalls or team meetings. Create a buzz and get everyone speaking about it.
  • Creating buy in from the ground up – there may be times when discussing a merger or acquisition beforehand is not possible due to market sensitivity, however, at the first possible opportunity you need to create a group with sufficient power to lead the change and to ensure the group work together as a team. They need to create a clear vision to lead the change effort whilst remaining open to feedback from the team to remove any obstacles. Ensure the team leading the change are role modelling the positive behaviour expected from employees.
  • Embrace difference – difference need not be an obstacle to a successful merger or change in an organisation. It is about creating a vision going forward which takes the best from each organisation and engages all its people. It is important to speak with people across the business. Find out what their challenges are, what is going well, what is going less well to help create a big picture. There are also a number of psychometric tools which can help to develop greater awareness of the self and others and can have a positive impact in creating a positive culture.
  • Plan for visible improvement in performance. Aim for short term wins. If your organisation scores its culture 5 out of 10 ask yourself what does 6 look like? What needs to happen to create marginal gains? Create a plan to achieve those short terms and start working to achieving them. Also ensure those who delivered the wins are recognised and rewarded.

Creating a positive culture is just the start. It can lead into looking at whether your culture is aligned to your organisations goals and strategy. Are you aiming to create a culture where you are an employer of choice? If so are your policies and procedures appropriately written to achieve this? Are you developing your organisation by adhering to lessons learned? If not, why not?

Any change will not happen overnight. The right process to deliver change has to be created and followed. Some of the key points mentioned above can help to deliver successful change and create a positive organisational culture. When your organisation has a positive culture, employees will feel encouraged and inspired to act to achieve its values and goals thus creating a high levels of trust, positivity and collective identity.

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Zenith can diagnose what your cultural challenges are to design and deliver a programme to develop a positive culture for your organisation.

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