blend cultures during consolidations

Consolidation is the reality for businesses today. In what can feel like the blink of an eye, employees often find themselves reporting to different leaders or working for an entirely different parent company. These changes may impact thousands of employees, and are often hastily explained.

As groups or teams come together, the blending of cultures can create uncertainty, confusion and even resentment. Culture can make or break the success of consolidations yet can easily be overlooked in the midst of seemingly more urgent challenges that are part of a transition.  If culture isn’t intentionally addressed during consolidation, it can quickly undermine the existing belief structures that support delivery of the brand promise to customers.

Behaviors Follow Beliefs

The simplest definition of culture is this: a set of beliefs shared by a group that drives how they behave. Businesses that practice internal-external brand alignment work to intentionally align the beliefs of the organization with the core principles of the brand and the overall business strategy. For these companies, culture becomes fundamental to delivering the brand promise because of its connection to beliefs and behaviors. As we always tell our clients, behavior follows beliefs. We behave in ways that support what we believe, and we often don’t sustain a behavior that doesn’t align with something we inherently believe.

If culture is not addressed during a consolidation, employees may begin to question their previously held beliefs, which can quickly impact how they behave. Employees may experience cynicism or resentment if a new culture is forced into place without proper context and transition. Think of the concept of “culture shock,” which is the feeling of disorientation or even anxiety when experiencing an unfamiliar culture or way of thinking.

It’s natural for employees to feel that sense of culture shock, especially if the changes happen rapidly. These shifts can introduce moments of weakness to an organization and vulnerability for brands. There are ways to minimize culture shock during consolidations or transitions. Recently we published an article about how to unify culture in healthcare organizations. The ideas offered in the article are not exclusive to the healthcare industry and can apply to nearly any business or industry that’s undergoing a consolidation.

Focus on Similarities Rather than Differences

One of the points in the article I find most interesting is the idea of focusing on similarities rather than differences when cultures come together. We crazy humans are generally wired to resist change, and we often complain when we feel like change is forced upon us. When undergoing change, it’s in our nature to look for all the ways that things are different. Somehow we often jump to the conclusion that “different” equals “wrong” or “bad,” which can make transition to a new culture even more challenging.

After guiding organizations through consolidations, I’ve noticed that many cultures may seem pretty different on the surface but have similar values and beliefs once you start peeling back the layers. While the language and phrases used to define them may differ, the essence can be very similar.  Identifying and verbalizing the commonalities offers a natural way to engage employees and reassure them with familiar elements during a transition.  An initial focus on common beliefs and values makes it easier to introduce new elements that will inevitably be part of a consolidation.

Be sure to check out our article on unifying culture in healthcare for other ideas on how to blend cultures during a consolidation.  The ideas in that article can apply to nearly any organization or industry. Unifying culture during a consolidation or transition will help to ensure that your brand continues to consistently deliver its promise to customers.

For other thoughts on culture, be sure to check out these articles:

How to Unify Culture in Healthcare

Five Key Elements of Company Culture

Getting Real About Culture: Five Truths to Consider

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.