When Corporate Cultures Collide

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How to successfully merge divergent cultures into a single, healthy unit

In the world of mergers and acquisitions, financial accounting takes precedence over all else. When one company decides to buy or sell to another, the finance people work through the numbers to come up with an agreement acceptable to both parties. What tends to get lost in the initial negotiations, however, are the people. How will the new cultures fit together? Which employees will be retained, and which won’t? The answers to these questions come after a deal has been struck. What comes after that, however, is where the real work begins — merging cultures.

On the surface, the biggest issue is merging two different cultures on the macro level — will the teams fit together? How can we ensure that the transitions go smoothly?

But the real issue is deeper, at the manager/employee level. Ensuring that the individual employees and the people who manage them are on the same page is the real challenge — and if it isn’t overcome, the whole thing can fall apart.

According to research from Dale Carnegie, “relationship with my supervisor” is the number one reason people stay or leave their job, followed by “pride in working for the company” and “belief in senior leadership.” The lesson? Relationships matter. Sometimes, personalities and leadership styles clash. Management styles can be broken into three broad categories:


These leaders have clear expectations, but there can be a big gap between those expectations and the people they lead. Their teams are seldom asked for input — which can be frustrating to some employees.


These leaders provide little guidance to those they lead, something that can also result in frustration from employees. This is the least productive leadership style because it doesn’t address employees’ needs for predictability, consistency, and accountability.


These leaders provide plenty of guidance and encourage participation in the decision-making process. While these leaders retain final say, their team members are more engaged and motivated than those with less collaborative leaders.

Obviously, democratic leadership is preferable. Personality type, though, is not the only driver in selecting the best leaders to serve the organization. Technical capabilities often come first. As such, not every leader will have a democratic leadership style — and that’s OK.

But it is imperative that both leaders and their employees — particularly in cases like a merger — each try to understand each other’s approach. The onus to make this connection falls on the leadership.

Here are five things leaders can do to make sure a connection is made that results in a positive, fruitful relationship with their employees:

Get on the Level

When you’re hoping to develop a relationship with someone in your personal life, you do it from a position that is equal or close to it. Communicating with new employees should follow the same principles. Talk to employees individually. Get to know them as people first. Learn what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, and what they need from you as a leader.

Adjust Your Style

In order for leaders and employees with opposing personalities to meet on common ground, each has to give some ground to get there. Again, the onus here falls on leadership. In order to manage people who aren’t like you, you have to adjust your leadership style to fit theirs — or at least get close.

Communicate, Then Communicate Some More

Lack of communication is the number one reason relationships— in both work and life — fall apart. Job one is to communicate with your employees and communicate clearly. Try talking with them in a place, and in a style, they are comfortable with. Provide more than one platform for communication — one-on-one, town hall settings, etc. Find what works for your employees, and you’ll learn to understand their expectations and communicate yours as well.

Get in the Lab

Not everyone is a natural communicator. If you’re a leader who doesn’t feel comfortable with open communication, take steps to become more comfortable. Invest in leadership training to sharpen your skills and pick up new techniques. The world is changing fast. The new generation has different wants and needs than generations past. Keeping up to date and staying on top of your game is the recipe for success.

Give It a Minute

Merging cultures takes time. A day or a week of meetings with employees isn’t going to do the trick. Give it time and trust the process. After a few months — assuming you paid attention to the four points above — you will start to see cultures meld together. Once they do, though, don’t stop communicating. Keep doing the things that made the culture merge successful in the first place. If you go back to “business as usual,” the whole house of cards might collapse.

Contact FPMG today to discuss how to address the merger of cultures at your organization.



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