When One and One Equals More than Two #Culture

Season_1_EndRemember when Mike and Carol Brady got married and merged two households (plus Alice)? The girls had to get used to a dog, the boys had to learn all about Kitty Carryall, and everyone had to adjust to six kids sharing one bathroom.

They never did a Christmas show during the original run of the series, but it would have been interesting to watch how these two groups came together to learn each others’ holiday traditions and favorite Christmas foods (“WE eat ham on Christmas Day! WE make a turkey!”). I’m quite certain, with the lessons we were supposed to learn, neither Carol nor Mike would have dominated but rather we would have seen the creation of a “new” Christmas tradition; “henceforth we shall have a Roast Goose for Christmas Day dinner but Alice will make ham and turkey on Christmas Eve!” Something like that.

The blending and melding of two in order to make “one” that still recognizes – and appreciates – what came before.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve had several conversations with organizational leaders who are grappling with cultural issues post merger, acquisition, and/or growth.

Culture is a powerful factor in the success of any of these situations; culture, after all, drives behavior. During the uncertainty that may arise (“is my position redundant? Will I have a job after this merger?”), employees often wonder if the history they bring will be remembered. Over the years I’ve regularly heard employees lament that post acquisition/merger the slate was wiped clean and there was no appreciation for what “came before.”

In addition, unfortunately, the culture thing is often viewed as something that can be dealt with after the fact. HR and operational teams find themselves focusing on the transactional necessities such as aligning acquired employees to benefit packages, adjusting payroll schedules, or re-calculating PTO balances and neglect the real people factors. There’s often more time devoted to getting performance appraisal systems lined up then there is time devoted to getting PERFORMANCE lined up…know what I mean?

While this is more readily apparent on an organizational scale it also happens even absent a merger/acquisition such as when two departments come together under one VP or a Department Manager is assigned another work group.

So what, pray tell, can we learn from Mike and Carol? I’ve thought of a few things:

  • Don’t go in in assuming that the acquiring organization, based on might or size, has the ‘right’ way of doing things. There may be traits inherent in the smaller work group that are behaviors that should be integrated within the whole.
  • Assess everything. What are the differences – and similarities – in things like leadership philosophies and decision making styles? Are there vastly different human resources models and employment practices?
  • Communicate early and often – not just roles and expectations but mission, vision and values. Talk about culture; the traditions, history, behaviors and the unspoken norms of both entities.
  • What will unify the new team? Is it taking on a competitor? Is it winning new market share? Consider a common goal – there’s the vision! – which can now be reached together through combined strength.
  • Build trust. Confer with every individual employee and regularly ask  “how’s it going? What challenges are you facing?” What can we do to help?”
  • Realize that culture – like family dynamics – is ever evolving. When the kids came back home for A Very Brady Christmas they brought with them new experiences, new ideas, and things learned in the big wide world. Even Jan.

Think about it this way…First, observe. Then consult. Then change.

You can remember what came before…and make something NEW together.

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