“Culture has been collectively learned over time and is embedded in routines that have become part of a group and even a personal identity. The key is to understand people.”
– Author and consultant Brain Baudis
A heartbeat. A mindset. The core from which everything else extends. No matter what word or term you use, it’s widely acknowledged that a company’s culture is vital to its business success.
AmyK, international award-winning speaker, founder and intelligence activist at AmyK Inc., and author of the Amazon best-selling book, “The Secret Leaders Keep,” says culture drives buy-in and engagement for meeting and exceeding goals.
Brian Braudis, an author, coach and consultant who works with executives, management teams and individuals to release human and organizational potential, says culture does not only define how a company perceives, thinks, feels and solves problems. It is also an accumulated and collective learning based on a history of shared experiences with a company.
Translation: Culture binds a company’s leaders, employees, ideals, thoughts and actions under one cohesive umbrella.
“Culture comes about as a result of a strong human need – you could call it a drive – for stability, consistency and meaning, which cause a variety of shared elements and experiences of a company to shape into patterns that become a culture,” Braudis says. “It is learned and instilled through the deepest fibers of a company.
The effective maintenance and nourishment of a positive, progressive and rewarding company culture would be a much more easily attainable goal in a business climate where corporate mergers, acquisitions and consolidations weren’t commonplace.
But the frequency with which these actions occur make the following questions apropos: How can executive leaders effectively blend cultures or establish a common culture? How can we find the human side of business? What obstacles hinder the creation of positive culture and how can they be overcome?
The Merger Quandary
Jennifer J. Fondrevay, a chief humanity officer and internationally skilled C-suite executive who has survived three multibillion-dollar acquisitions, says blending cultures after a merger or acquisition can, at its lowest point, become a turf war.
Fondrevay says she frequently sees large companies acquiring small, entrepreneurial companies for their products, spirit and outside-the-box thinking, only to rip apart those aspects at the time of integration. “There are several challenges in blending cultures. Does one culture dominate another? Who decides? What parts of the culture are maintained?”
Fondrevay says that one side might feel that all elements of their culture must be maintained when another side does not value them so much. “And the acquiring company might not feel that they have to adopt any of the acquired company’s culture. They are the acquirers so they may think, ‘Why bother?’”
AmyK says another barrier to blending cultures is the uncertainty that doing so will yield success. She says people actually crave change, but only when they know or believe it will result in positive outcomes.
“We often ruminate, ‘Will this specific change set me up for success tomorrow?’” she says.
Braudis, author of the e-book, “The Way Upward: Make Your Limiting Past a Limitless Future,” says most of the difficulty in blending cultures has to do with unlearning old, less effective ways or habits.
“Culture has been collectively learned over time and is embedded in routines that have become part of a group and even a personal identity,” Braudis says. “The key is to understand people. Recognize that their resistance to change is less defiance and more fear of violating or losing some aspect of their identity.”
Surviving the push(back)
Though the very nature of a merger or acquisition may foster pushback among employees, managing it is possible. To do so, AmyK says it helps to be proactive and immediately engage employees in creating a better, mutually beneficial company culture.
“Start with soliciting strengths from all constituents,” AmyK says. “Learn what each constituent brings to the table that works, lay out the common, shared objectives and then seek their input for how to best move forward together.”
Fondrevay, who has founded a merger-and-acquisition consultancy called DAY ONE READY, advocates proper planning from the moment a merger or acquisition is considered, thus allowing time for determining the best parts of both cultures and how they can fit harmoniously. She likens the planning process to a couple getting married and moving into a new home.
“It’s always best for both [people] to move into a new place together, and agree on what furniture to bring to create a new home,” Fondrevay says. She points to Boeing’s acquisition of aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglass as examples of successful planning, noting that Boeing went to great lengths to make acquired employees feel valued – even incorporating the McDonnell Douglas logo into its own.
Braudis says successfully overcoming pushback begins with actually leaning into it while understanding the human condition. Show people how learning something new or solving problems in new, more effective ways won’t lead to them losing themselves in the process. Ensure that identity, integrity, meaning, stability and consistency remain. “Understand and recognize that uncertainty in a change setting creates fear and anxiety,” he says. “Make the effort to create comfort during this time of perceived discomfort. Capitalize on established norms and existing strengths.”
The human factor
Whether they are employees, suppliers, stakeholders or customers, people are at the heart of every company. That’s why it’s important, regardless of how ingrained digital technology becomes in the business landscape, that leaders remember the human element.
Braudis says doing so allows a company’s highest source of potential value to be released. Employees must be treated as humans, not associates; environments of continuous growth and daily wins must be created; employees must be challenged with “meaty assignments,” he says. “More human involvement and less reliance on data and strategy is what will unleash human potential.”
It’s no secret that employees’ personal and professional lives intersect despite traditional notions that both should be kept separate. AmyK says such outdated mantras reject the current reality of personal and professional integration and the emergence of personal branding elements in our lives. This means a new level of personal connection and sharing, and businesses must adjust accordingly.
“Adapting to changing work-life environments, getting curious about a new generation’s needs and desires and letting go of beliefs that are no longer relevant move us all forward more fruitfully,” she says.
Even a surging digital presence in business shouldn’t replace a company’s cultural foundation. Fondrevay says to remember your company’s original vision for the product, service or solution that was created to serve a particular audience because those things — and what they stand for — attract people to not only invest in them but also to work for your company.
“There is no different implication for the digital manifestation of your brand and company then there is the static logo and brochure that have always existed for your company,” Fondrevay says. “It is the meaning you bring to that logo and brand that inform your culture, and vice-versa.”