Mergers & Acquisitions

Six Ways to Help Create Cultural Alignment in M&A Environments

By Nichole Viviani, Chief People Officer, Xplor

Growth by M&A used to be the exception but more and more, it’s becoming the rule. Mergers are incredibly easy to get wrong and challenging to get right. Sidestepping culture is the number one mistake leaders make during mergers and acquisitions, particularly in a global context. It’s one thing to build a strong culture and sense of belonging when you have grown organically, but aligning global teams brought together by M&A is a different challenge altogether.

Using culture to tackle M&A challenges

Any M&A activity can create organizational anxiety. The bigger the deal, the greater the anxiety. Naturally, people worry about what comes next, what will change, what the new company will value and what it’s going to feel like to work there in the future. This anxiety can play out in many forms – and unless leaders address it in the right way, it can lead to loss of talent, lack of growth momentum and ultimately compromise the value of the deal.

On the flipside, if leaders can embrace and lean into that natural organizational anxiety, there’s incredible opportunity.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to lead global teams through multiple mergers and acquisitions across the payments and technology landscape – most recently as Chief People Officer of Xplor Technologies, a payments and software company formed by the merger of Clearent and TSG. From these experiences, I have identified six key enablers to successful cultural alignment in M&A.

1. Understand your shared history

You can’t chart the right course culturally if you don’t understand what made each business successful, how work gets done and what people value. That means understanding the values, working norms and history of the people you’re trying to unite. What parts of that history are crucial for the shared journey ahead? Which parts can safely be left in the past? Cultural surveys, focus groups and value mapping exercises can be a helpful way to understand a company’s past and ensure leaders and employees are engaged.

2. Communicate a clear, strong purpose

Why should your people care about what your company does? Why should they pour extra time, effort, and energy in your company, as opposed to any other? Crystalize the answer to these questions through your purpose. It should be simple, strong, inspiring – a rallying cry that unites. This not only establishes a focus point for all – it’s a foundation for belonging. In a company with many moving parts or different business areas, a simplified purpose can be a good solution. Simplicity will often resonate well with a wide group of employees and help everyone feel connected – rather than separate from – a corporate purpose.

3. Inspire and connect through fresh values

When you merge two companies of a similar size, consider creating new values that represent the new company and what you aspire to be. Bring people on this journey. If people can help shape it, they’ll be far more likely to champion these values.

4. Promote transparency

Just because you don’t talk about something doesn’t mean your people aren’t talking about it. During mergers, there are always narratives that arise – the question is whether you’re shaping them or reacting to them. By coming from a place of transparency, you’ll establish trust. This includes touching on areas that are top of mind for employees, even if you’re not yet at liberty to go into detail just yet. This will help you get ahead of some of the more awkward topics, that can bubble up if not discussed. 99% of the time, when you extend trust, you get trust back.

5. Engineer connection

In global organizations, with more and more people working remotely, connection doesn’t just happen. You must engineer it. How do your tools and tech allow people to connect? How does your approach to meetings give people the chance to build effective working relationships? For many people, work is a significant social outlet, which has been heightened by the pandemic. Being aware of this and building your internal structures to allow for it, will lead to stronger global teams and more committed colleagues. At Xplor, for example, we use Workplace by Facebook to engineer global connection. We launched the platform in mid-2020 and intentionally reduced all other forms of internal communication to increase adoption. The result? We’ve seen incredible connection that we never could have predicted. This was made possible by Workplace’s Groups functionality, that allows Xplorers to create their own groups that others can then join. We’ve got everything from your typical Dogs@Xplor, Women@Xplor, sports-themed and lunch and learn groups, all the way through to our Espresso Martini and Tiramisu group.

6. Create moments that matter

There are many moments that matter in your work life. From your first interview, to receiving your offer letter, getting your tech, your first week, your first performance review, it goes on. Each of these play a role in how people perceive the company they work for. What do the moments in your business say about your company? Many of these moments will automatically happen and you should think about how you can make them as impactful and representative of your purpose, promise and values as possible. But to take this further, what moments can you create that become powerful examples of culture, and something your colleagues will tell their friends and family about.

Creating cultural alignment across global teams isn’t easy and requires patience. Be intentional, seek to understand and openly communicate, and you’ll see people return your trust, with trust.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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