Editor's Note: The following is a guest contribution from Aldor H. Delp, Division Vice President & General Manager of ADP Resource.
When two organizations or companies unite, leaders must bring together not just the businesses and balance sheets, but the values, sensibilities and cultures of two unique employee groups. It can be a difficult path to navigate.
At its most complex, uniting teams can be the result of a corporate merger or acquisition. But did you know that, according to a study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 30% of mergers and acquisitions fail within three years due, in part, to clashes in organizational culture? As a leader, it must be discouraging to envision the synergies two organizations can achieve together only to watch that vision collapse under the weight of disparate cultures. Clearly, the goal is to build one unique culture. So, why is doing that so hard?
According to Deloitte, “culture consists of the long-standing, largely implicit shared values, beliefs and assumptions that influence behavior, attitudes and meaning in a company (or society).” It’s easy to see how two organizations — even ones from the same company — may have difficulty melding into one.
Employees in different organizations take their cues from their leaders just as employees from different companies take their cues from their own leaders. When two cultures try to join together, it’s the differences — not the similarities — that may become accentuated, highlighting distinct business interests and people, as well as discrete sets of values and beliefs.
However difficult this may seem, unifying organizations also can be an opportunity to engage both parts of a new organization to build a lasting, authentic culture — together. By engaging employees, companies can extract and emphasize the best aspects of each culture as they work toward developing a unique new one — with the strongest and most effective elements of each working in harmony to achieve future success.
It’s not easy, but here are four steps leaders can take to unify teams and build a stronger culture:
Communicate clearly and often. As the new organization emerges and evolves, it’s important to articulate the desired attributes of a new culture and routinely communicate with employees. Be honest about things that will change, and reassure employees about elements of the culture that will stay the same. Clarify roles and responsibilities as the organizational structure emerges.
Assess, then plan. Set the cultural agenda by determining the type of culture the organization will aspire to build. From there, identify the differences that exist and understand how they connect to each organization’s success. There may be cultural nuggets that leaders want to mine. Also, define the scope of the organization by naming the people, units, geographical regions and functions it comprises. By pinpointing similarities and differences, leaders may be able to use this information to chart a path forward and build the desired culture.
Uncover shared interests. Leaders can more effectively bolster areas of shared interest by understanding where gaps exist. Once the gaps are identified, find those passionate associates who are advocates of the culture change. They may be invaluable assets who can bridge organizational differences by highlighting shared areas of interest to further unite employees.
Foster collaboration. One of the most effective ways to build culture and unity is to solicit input, where appropriate and practical. Having a voice not only inspires a shared sense of responsibility in some employees, but also encourages new teams to practice collaboration. Establishing a shared approach to decision-making can set the standard that all employees should be working together to achieve a common goal.
Building a unified culture takes a lot of work and collective commitment. Leaders must periodically measure progress, monitor behavior and tweak programs accordingly to steer the organization successfully ahead.
Put simply, as American industrialist Henry Ford said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”