…When Cultures Collide in Mergers and Acquisitions
Business consultants tell entrepreneurs to know their exit plan, and many focus on a merger or acquisition market as they build their businesses. This is especially true in the technology or engineering space, where valuations are done of a technology which may be attractive to larger firms looking to grow their offering.
When a valuation is being performed on a company prior to merging or acquiring it, that valuation is usually based solely on the financial side of the business. A careful calculation of the assets and liabilities, the varied business market, the intangible assets like trademarks or patents, financial reporting and more. A company does their homework before any merger or acquisition, and typically if a sale goes through, they feel confident they’ve made the right move.
But there is one thing that is rarely done… and that is a careful study of the differences between the company cultures. Culture is about shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that make up the “personality” of a given company. Personalities are important. Imagine, if you will, two people discussing getting married and they both have children and homes.
Of course ‘marriage is of the heart and this is business’, you say?
Well, two companies coming together needs to be treated like a marriage. If you were considering marrying someone, you do need to consider your partner’s financial health and see if it matches yours, but is that all you would look at? I would think you should see if there is compatibility of the values, attitudes and practices. How you raise your children and how they raise theirs may be so far removed from one another, you could be creating Armageddon rather than a loving, caring blended family. It could be that you are sending a child or two on a run-away spree, or will be forever burdened by being the nasty, horrible and wicked step-parent no matter how hard you try.
This little analogy is very apropos for M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) and cultural evaluations are starting to make headway in some M and A analysis of companies. Why?
Because after you buy the company and by the time you ask a consultant to come in and help with the messy change management of the two cultures, it can be too late.
It is imperative the company buying takes a careful look at the culture of the company being purchased and consider this in their valuation. A company purchasing a heavily creative and innovative group whose mandate it has been to focus on the customer may find their new family clashing with a process driven conglomerate whose focus is global spread and, trust me, that can be disastrous. In fact, in technology, the key component to a wise purchase is in determining how to retain the knowledge held by the employees. Your software is only as good as the people writing it, and you want them to stay.
I am not saying it cannot be done or to avoid the purchase, what I am saying is, you better already have a great plan in place for merging not only the technology or the company, but the cultures too. Doing your homework needs to be holistic, not finance specific, know what pitfalls and roadblocks you will suffer if culture is left out of the equation, or that beautiful valuation sheet may very well be worth far less once the knowledge has walked out the door.
There are things you can do to prepare in advance:
- bring someone in who understands how to evaluate cultures and
- work at building a plan of action toward a healthy merger or acquisition, upfront.
It behoves you to do so, because business is of the heart, and shouldn’t be about wasting money or losing talent.
Patti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations to develop
Happy Workplaces world-wide guiding them toward mastery and leadership
through consulting, advising, coaching, speaking, and delivering training.