Imagine an iceberg, magnificent and commanding as it drifts across the ocean. Eventually the currents move it into proximity with another iceberg and the two perform a stately dance as the gap between them slowly narrows. For a while all is calm. But then as the icebergs converge the air is rent with a deep grinding noise accompanied by a series of sharp cracks as chunks of ice fly off in all directions.
Now imagine your organisation. It may seem as though it too is sailing serenely across the waters of business. However, every interaction with the outside world brings with it the potential for a culture clash which could, if left unchecked, destroy large parts of the company and its reputation. Mergers and acquisitions carry the risk, but so too do less formal support agreements as well as the relationship which you have with your suppliers.
Take the report which recently came to light about the merger of Air France and KLM for example. Compiled on behalf of the unions and leaked by the Dutch broadcaster NOS, the report reveals a clash of cultures which has led to resentment and apparent misunderstandings on both sides with accusations of money-grubbing and aloofness being thrown around. This has led the report’s authors to comment that “the extent to which employees are disillusioned is shocking. People are pessimistic, frustrated and burnt out because they feel they are not listened to.”
This isn’t an uncommon scenario following mergers or acquisitions. In fact, look at the reasons why mergers fail and in the majority of instances culture clash plays a very big part. That’s why it is so vital for organisations which are considering some form of alliance to carry out a full in-depth culture review which will act as the basis for integration planning.
However, whilst businesses are starting to wake up to the importance of cultural alignment in M&As, in far too many instances culture is still left out of the equation when building other types of business arrangement. When you appoint suppliers you may think in terms of product and price but unless you also think culture, you may well find that the relationship proves to be less than ideal. Potential culture clash may not matter as much when all you are buying is a packet of biros or some printer paper from a local supplier, but when you are relying on the supply chain to deliver a key element of your product it may be another story entirely.
And that’s before we start to look at all those collaborative relationships which are increasingly becoming a feature of modern business life. It’s hardly surprising that there is now an international standard for collaborative business relationship management (ISO 44001), nor is it surprising that leadership and culture feature so prominently within the standard.
Business relationships are far more than simply an exchange of goods or knowledge. When businesses take the time to understand differences, build synergies and engage with each other in a positive light then the relationship is far more likely to be a positive one. Anything else is just leaving the relationship to the fickle fate of wind and tide, standing back as a clash of cultures shatters the strength and reputation of one or both businesses.