When Sides Collide: How to Integrate Cultures after a Merger

by Trevor Willingham, Copywriter - 03/22/17


Bringing multiple teams together under a merger or acquisition is no easy task. There’s uncertainty in the air, confused conversations echoing through the building, and possibly a decline in productivity. However, it has the potential to create boundless opportunity for both sides involved.

With a 70% increase in hospital mergers and acquisitions since 2010, the ability for healthcare organizations to accelerate the integration process is critical to future success. In order to make a merger or acquisition successful, numerous aspects must come together in an efficient and productive manner. This is especially true when it comes to the people involved.

A Bain & Company survey—which targeted executives who have managed through mergers—found that managers cited “cultural clash” as the No. 1 reason why their merger failed to meet its goal and promised value.

When a merger takes place, the decision is usually based on product or market synergies. However, cultural differences—such as access to management, flexible work schedules, and workplace values—can go largely ignored. Failure to acknowledge these things can lead to frustration among an organization’s personnel and push some key team members and talent towards the door.  

These three guidelines help merged teams move through the integration process—from the initial forming stage through to storming, norming, and finally, performing—so everyone can realize the value.

Diagnose the Differences

In many cases, the differences between the acquirer’s culture and that of the acquired can be significant enough to cause rifts and tension as the cultures come together. However, it may be difficult from a management position to not only recognize these differences but also understand just how substantial they are.

While differences such as geographical locations, size of team, and basic functions can be determined quite easily, others may be harder to recognize. That’s where diagnostic tools come in handy.

Using the following diagnostic tools, an organization can get a solid grasp on the differences between their teams:

  • Management interviews to get an idea of management style
  • Process flow maps indicating how work is done
  • Decision paths to discover who has the final say in key/pressing decisions
  • Customer testimonials to better understand the community’s perception of each team
  • Team member surveys gauging each person’s opinion and values in regards to the organization
  • Create a word cloud where each team member selects three adjectives that they feel describes the company

Once key differences are discovered, it’s important that everyone in the organization is aware of them. This will help teams from different backgrounds understand where tensions may be coming from.

Commit to a Culture

With the differences recognized, it is important for organizations to settle in on one, unifying culture for everyone to follow—a process that’s one of the trickiest challenges for employees.

When creating a culture, it should be as clear as possible for team members to follow. It should not only include vision, value, and mission statements, but also be concrete enough that managers from both merged teams can follow through with it on a consistent basis.

While it may be tempting for the acquirer to maintain its own culture, it may be best from a team morale standpoint to infuse certain aspects of each culture to create a new, better one.

A great way to create this new culture is by hosting intent workshops that allow people from both sides to come together to discuss their visions for the organization and its future. Including people from various levels within the company will help paint a complete picture of how the entire team is handling the changes.

Once a culture is set, everyone—from the CEO and down—should actively manage and represent the new culture. Put compensation and benefit systems in place to reward certain behaviors that match the company’s new set of values. After all, it’s just as important to sell these changes internally to the team as it is to help them be embraced by shareholders and the community.

Attend and Adapt

Understand that this is going to be an uneasy process, with a lot of changes taking place in often a short amount of time. While it’s a good idea to commit firmly to certain decisions, that doesn’t mean they’re locked into place forever.

There are certainly going to be some dissatisfaction with some of the directions the new company is going in. It’s important for the managers overlooking these changes to keep their ears open for any unrest or unhappiness with the new system. While its unreasonable to assume everyone will be satisfied, the last thing any organization wants is for its top talent to begin eyeing the exit.

Paying close attention to the aftermath and the decisions that were made will also help organizations be better prepared if the process were to happen all over again.

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Topics: Healthcare Industry Insights & Trends

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