At a recent conference on acquisition integration, a speaker was addressing the importance of corporate culture. This is a good thing; in a world of bankers and lawyers (or – worse yet – bankers or lawyers turned corporate executives), softer stuff like culture has gotten short shrift for years … to the detriment of a lot of otherwise good deals.
So The Merger Verger was listening. Until the speaker came out with this:
“In a true merger, no one culture should win.”
What? Are you trying to make me barf?
The explanation was that adopting one culture over another would leave the losers feeling like (OMG!) losers.
Dammit; give me a minute while I clean off my shoes.
There are lots of meaty issues to consider here but let’s focus on two.
Issue #1 – There is no such thing as a “true merger” or “merger of equals.” That ship sailed a long time ago and anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to sell you something or has lost all conscious contact with history. (See: Worst Integration Deal of 2014)
So do not plan your cultural integration (or any other part for that matter) around a striving for universal equality. Your wings will melt and you will fall into the sea.
Issue #2 – Just because an aspect of your deal – culture, for example – is “soft” doesn’t mean that it should be dealt with softly. We are business people, leaders. Our job is to choose between the good and the better. Not to do so is pure abdication.
Are you, for example, going to have a collaborative culture or a hierarchical one? You can’t have both. Maybe it’s the target’s culture that is more conducive to realizing the future objectives of the combined companies. The acquirer doesn’t always have to be the “winner.” But make the choice. Do it thoughtfully but decisively.
Then communicate what choice you have made and why it is the right one. Articulate it. Support it. Sell it. Then leave it to the team to decide whether they wish to mourn what was or jump on the shiny new bus with you.