November 14, 2014

Merging corporate culture with two diagnostic questions

On paper, two companies may look like soul mates for a merger. They may strive toward the same objective goals, observe similar metrics of success and converge at a time when a sale and acquisition makes good business sense. But problems can arise in a merger when you step into an office and get a sense of conflicting corporate cultures. One office may be more of a cubicle and water cooler operation, the other a dynamic open floorplan. Perhaps one is highly centralized and the other is built on independent pods of productivity. 

The term "corporate culture" extends beyond the cosmetic aspects of an office. More significantly, it plays a primary role in communication styles and employee expectations, so here are two diagnostic questions to guide your transition:

How do you make decisions? The best insights you can gain from asking this question of yourself and your employees are perspectives on collaboration. Managers will tell you the autonomy they have to make decisions on the job, and their subordinates will explain the level of oversight that goes into their role. A culture with highly verticalized management practices may not coalesce with an office that gives workers more autonomy. The question opens respondents to both the ethos behind decision-making and the degree of collaboration employees can expect in determining strategy on the job. 

What do you value? The aesthetic elements of corporate culture are usually tied to a guiding principle. Consider dress codes. Two companies that both emphasize a polished product may embrace different policies: "Your attire should be as immaculate as the service we provide" versus "You can do your most exceptional work if you feel comfortable in the office" are variations on the same value: quality. By looking for similarities between entities in mergers and acquisitions rather than differences, you may find those differences aren't irreconcilable.