When two companies merge or when one acquires another, it is not just a matter of combining operations, customers, and resources, says Arusha Gupta.
One of the most critical and often underestimated aspects is the process of integrating people coming from two company cultures into one organisation.
Company culture encompasses the shared values, beliefs, norms, and behaviours that shape the working environment and overall identity. While each company brings its unique culture, shaped by its history, leadership style, employee dynamics, and organisational structure, merging these cultures can be challenging. They may have different approaches to decision-making, communication, persuading, leading, evaluating, working styles, and even beliefs about the purpose and direction of the business.
As a result, effective management of the integration process is critical, otherwise, you run the risk of creating a fragmented and tense environment for employees. But with careful planning, thoughtful strategies, and effective execution, you can foster collaboration, innovation, and a stronger sense of unity. Here are my recommended steps on how to achieve a successful integration:
Prioritise Employee Engagement
During the integration process, it is crucial to listen to employees and ensure their voices are heard. Actively seek feedback from individuals at all levels of the organisation and create platforms that encourage open dialogue. This could involve regular town hall meetings, anonymous surveys, or dedicated communication channels. By involving employees in decision-making and problem-solving, you empower them and create a sense of ownership in the newly formed company. This inclusive approach fosters trust, promotes a positive culture, and mitigates resistance to change, resulting in increased motivation and productivity.
Establish a Comprehensive Transition Strategy
The integration process should begin with a well-defined transition strategy. It is recommended to conduct a cultural assessment of both companies to identify similarities and differences. That will prioritise and channel energies where required.
One effective approach involves creating three distinct roles within the organisation: Change Ambassadors, Change Champions, and Change Leaders. Change Ambassadors act as liaisons between the two merging entities, fostering communication, and building relationships across teams. Change Champions drive integration initiatives within their respective departments, ensuring that the vision of the merged company is effectively communicated. Finally, Change Leaders, often comprising top-level executives, are responsible for overseeing and guiding the integration process at a strategic level. This multifaceted approach helps facilitate a smooth transition and encourages integration across all levels of the organisation.
Foster Collaboration Among Leaders and teams
Effective collaboration among leaders is vital for successfully merging company cultures. Encourage leaders from both merging entities to work together, identify common goals, and develop shared strategies. Emphasise the importance of open communication, active listening, and mutual respect. By establishing strong relationships between leaders, you create a solid foundation for collaboration and facilitate the alignment of different approaches and perspectives. These united leadership efforts will set the tone for the entire organisation and help bridge the cultural divide.
Let them engage in fun-based activities where they can understand each other better as individuals beyond the lens of role and position. Also, define a shared vision, mission and values for the newly integrated organisation and partner with employees to make it the guiding force for actions and resolutions.
Communicate Clearly and Transparently
Communication plays a pivotal role in managing cultural integration. Develop a comprehensive communication plan that outlines key messages, timelines, and channels for sharing information. Ensure that communication is clear, consistent, and transparent throughout the entire process. Employees should be kept informed about the progress of the integration, any changes in policies or procedures, and the overall vision and values of the newly merged organisation. By providing regular updates and addressing concerns promptly, you can alleviate uncertainty and maintain employee engagement and confidence.
Be transparent and honest, address the elephant in the room, and proactively steer the conversation to challenges or concerns that the team might have. Acknowledge challenges and be honest about the solution or lack of it. Treat your employees as adults and make them part of the journey. Ensure they understand that it will not be easy, however, when they are consulted and involved in the process, they will be more accepting of the change and supportive of others.
Encourage Cultural Exchange and Learning
Creating opportunities for cultural exchange and learning can help employees understand and appreciate the diversity brought by the merger. Organise workshops, training programmes, or mentorship initiatives that allow employees from both entities to interact and learn from one another. This promotes cultural integration and fosters the sharing of best practices, ultimately leading to a more unified and productive workforce. Additionally, consider establishing cross-functional teams that bring together individuals from different backgrounds to work on common projects. These collaborative experiences can further facilitate cultural blending and create synergies within the organisation.
It is important to understand the differences in the culture as it all starts with being aware. This will open up the conversation and help employees be more understanding of each other’s actions and ways of working.
Creating a thriving future
Successfully merging two different company cultures after an M&A is a challenging but essential process for creating a strong, high-performing organisation. However, by adopting a thoughtful and strategic approach, it is possible to combine these cultures and pave the way for a promising future. Culture thrives on Communication, Care and Collaboration. The key lies in open communication, empathy, and a shared vision that acknowledges the strengths of both cultures while embracing new opportunities. It is also essential to involve employees throughout the process, fostering a sense of ownership and inclusion. Then, with time, patience, and a commitment to collaboration, the combined organisation can thrive, leveraging the best aspects of each culture to create a dynamic and unified working environment that unlocks its full potential.
Arusha Gupta is Head of HR for Europe and Africa, LTIMindtree.
Arusha has worked for over two decades in the technology sector in various HR functional roles across different geographies.
She is passionate about building simple solutions to business and people challenges. She is known for building high-performing teams and enabling people to be the best version of themselves. She won the ‘T A Pai Young HR Leader Award’ for her contributions to employee engagement and wellbeing during the pandemic. Her mantra is ‘be human first’.
Arusha has extensively contributed towards the simplification and digitalisation of people processes, DEI initiatives, talent development and retention. She successfully deployed a different approach to onboarding talent and helped the business attract talent during the period of ‘great resignation’.