M&A Buyer: Culture Clash - Manage the Process

Copyright CFO Insight LLC. All rights reserved.


Once the four major culture types are defined through observation or survey, how do you manage the culture integration? Assemble the leadership teams from both companies in an executive workshop to identify the issues.  There are several approaches to use, based on the types of cultures being integrated.

In all cases, clearly describe the strategic acquisition goals in a document of no more than 1-2 pages.  This document explains the anticipated investment required, and the financial results expected.  The summary will also describe the expected organization (reporting relationships, structure), physical plant (cities, facilities), and planned business processes.  This establishes a foundation for the integration process, and will be the basis for an Executive Workshop to develop detailed transition plans for the acquisition.

The summary will establish goals for the executive team participating in the executive workshop.  The summary is a clear, consistent documented road map for the future.  If there are major flaws in the strategy, identify the flaws early rather than late so that expectations can be changed.  Once the strategic goals are defined, manage the executive workshop so that you have identified and assigned responsibility for all major activities necessary to achieve the goals.

For those organizations that are task driven, be prepared to guide the discussion and analysis more aggressively, perhaps even using pre-meetings to identify some of the major issues.  Creative and proactive problem solving are not strengths in task driven organizations, and will require more work by the facilitator.

In role driven organizations, the workshop facilitator must clearly define the role to be played by the organizations within the companies.  Once the team understands their role in the business strategy, the executives will identify the issues, and solve the combination challenges.  Clearly articulate the vision and mission to be accomplished by the acquisition so that executives understand their role.

In power cultures, it is essential to gain the leaders’ (formal or informal) acceptance to be successful.  Once the leadership is fully engaged, they will direct the necessary activity to achieve the strategic goals.  In such power cultures, pre-sell the strategy to the leaders before the executive workshop.  This will avoid disruption during the meeting.  In such power cultures, leaders will often conduct their own executive workshops for organizations within their control, before the larger meeting.  A pre-meeting gives them more control over the outcome.  As the integration leader pre-sells the integration strategy, you will know if the leader accepts the M&A strategy. Staff accordingly.

Support cultures are the most independent and creative thinkers.  Once the strategy is accepted, the organization will creatively solve the business challenges ahead.  The challenge in this type of combination?  Make the integration personal to channel each individual’s creative energy into a common goal.  Pre-selling is helpful to understand “… where are the edges of the participants creative boundaries?”  During the pre-selling, define the creative boundary edges, and ensure that the boundaries are within acceptable levels.  If the edges are not acceptable, redefine acceptable boundaries in private so that the workshop is not chaotic.

In any culture integration pre-work will increase the odds of success, and the executive workshop will channel the team’s problem solving energy.