Aligning Cultures

Jo Geraghty


Merging cultures

Date added: 20th Feb 2013
Category: Aligning Cultures

Why reinvent the wheel? In an “always on” “instant gratification” world where supply chains weave spiders webs back and forth across continents, it is perhaps not surprising that many organisations see business acquisition as the fastest route to new processes. But once the business has been acquired, do you try and integrate it within your organisation or simply asset strip the process and shut the business down?

Both options come with their own sets of problems. Asset stripping the process can mean a choice between losing the knowledge base and trying to integrate key individuals within an organisation which they may not have wanted to join. But those problems may be simple when compared with the challenge of integrating a small business within a much larger organisation.

Put simply, small businesses just don’t work in the same way as larger ones. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. There are some large organisations which have a fantastic innovation culture and vision that embraces flexibility and individuality but the majority of larger organisations work within a fairly rigid structure. Conversely whilst a few smaller businesses work within a rigid structure, they are far more likely to be flexible, responding to need and used to instant action.

So, employees who are used to finding a problem, having a quick chat with a colleague who instantly goes to work on producing a solution, with the problem being quickly resolved are not going to be happy about having to log the problem and waiting for it to be dealt with in time. No matter that problems in small databases can be swiftly resolved whilst larger databases may have many dependencies which need to be considered before a solution is implemented; for those used to instant action, any wait is tantamount to poor service.

And it’s not only the business employees who are affected. If a client of a small business is used to phoning up, speaking to “Jim” and getting their order sent out the same day they won’t be particularly pleased if in future they have to phone an anonymous call centre with their order being dealt with in turn sometime in the next week. The client may even previously have been a client of both businesses and then there is some careful work to do in managing the client relationship so that two sectors of the organisation don’t provide differing messages and levels of service.

The blunt answer provided by sadly too many businesses is that they have bought the small business and in future that business has to obey the rules. But to do so is to ignore why the smaller business was acquired in the first place. Was it because of its great reputation, was it because it had developed a product which would enhance the overall offering? If so, it could well be that the innovation culture and vision of the acquired business was the very reason why it had been so successful. Imposing organisational practices could squash any competitive advantage gained from the acquisition.

In truth there is no one answer to merging organisations and cultures. Sometimes the acquiring organisation does need to integrate the new business within the culture and values of the organisation; at other times it may be better to leave the businesses to work in tandem or even for the acquirer to assimilate some of the more healthy culture and practices from the new business. Whatever the solution, unless cultural due diligence is undertaken as part of the acquisition process and unless cultural fit is high on the integration agenda the acquisition is heading straight for conflict.

Why reinvent the wheel? Done carefully with an eye to cultural fit, acquisitions can lead to a measurable strengthening of an organisation in terms of offering, profitability and reputation. Get it wrong and you just may finish up with a square peg which sends the organisation off the rails.

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