We can change culture if we change behaviour – Unknown
The organisation of one of my coaching clients is currently going through a merger which has created so much uncertainty and anxiety amongst the team members. The culture of the acquiring organisation is so different from the acquired organisation that staff are concerned that they might not fit into the new culture. She is concerned she might lose some of her staff to competition, and team productivity could drop.
I have experienced all the above in my career. I remember the culture shock I experienced on my first trip to the United States of America (USA) many years ago. I could not practice my religion openly for fear of what people would say about me. The food was completely different from what I was used to, and I had to starve most of the time. I had the same experience on my first trip to South Africa. In South Africa looking directly in someone’s eyes when having a conversation is accepted but looked at as a sign of disrespect in my country of origin. It is considered that you have something to hide in corporate South Africa if you do not look directly into the other person’s eyes when having a conversation.
Leadership change at any level of the organisation usually results in culture change where the new leadership believes it needs to change the organisation’s culture to help deliver on the new strategy. This results in change at the top management with the leadership bringing in new people that believe in their vision.
Change in Strategy
Organisations change strategies to reflect change in their vision in line with changes in the industry, technology, regulations amongst others. These changes often require change in corporate culture.
Mergers and acquisitions
There was also a time when I joined a multinational organisation with head office located in a different country. In my environment, it was common for people to argue and disagree openly and the next moment, they are out for a coffee together. In the head office environment, to disagree openly was frowned upon and everyone wanted to be known for being the good guy. This made it difficult for people to express different views openly.
Within the same organisation, there are different team dynamics resulting from different team cultures. Just like in the organisation, teams thrive on diverse cultures depending on the leadership, ethnic, sex compositions and unwritten rules. Some teams might embrace healthy team competition, excellence and support one another, whilst in others, the opposite is the case. An employee transferred from a team with high performing culture to one with low performing culture will struggle. Constant team engagements, staff rotation and cross team building is necessary to ensure uniform team culture.
Effect of culture change
The ability to embrace diverse cultures and diversity is essential to success in life. As human beings, we feel comfortable in our comfort zone. We become uncomfortable when it comes to embracing new culture and diversity. Differences in organisational cultures have been known to interfere with successful execution of mergers and acquisitions.
Managing culture change
Managing culture change from both personal and organisational perspectives requires effective communication and support in the form of coaching and mentoring.
Other measures could include:
1. Workshops and training
In the case of mergers and acquisitions, training and workshops are recommended in preparing the employees for the expected changes to acquaint them with the new culture. These sessions should be facilitated by employees and managers from the different geographies.
2. Coaching and mentoring
Workshops and training could be supported with one-on-one and team coaching on what to expect and how to deal with the change. Such support should be extended to those struggling to adapt to the new culture with feedback to HR on emerging trends from the sessions. The feedback can be used by HR to formulate policies to support employees who could be going through similar challenges. Through this approach, employees will be reassured that they are not alone in the journey and that the leadership consider them as essential to the change process. Mentoring from those who have gone through similar process in the past should be considered.
3. Effective communication
Effective communication explaining plans in place and what to expect is necessary in the case of mergers and acquisition. There should be constant communication during and after the merger and acquisition. This is necessary to prevent speculation and rumour mongering with respect to the process and planned changes.
4. Change management plan
Most culture change fail as result of lack of change management plan which leaves the employees in disarray. Without a plan, staff will not know how to get support when in need. Such a plan should include culture change champions, communication, coaching and mentoring.
5. Employee engagement
Employees should be advised of channels to follow when they have queries, their line managers being the first port of call. A temporary support team within the Human Resources (HR) department might be helpful. Regular communication with the staff to update them on the outcome of the merger and acquisition is required through town hall meetings where they should be encouraged to seek clarification and by emails.
6. Employee exchange
Temporary exchange of employees between merging organisations should be implemented to help educate them. Change in behaviour of employees that benefit from such exchanges will help to impact the other employees positively. Cross culture fertilisation through employee exchange is one of the best ways of learning and adaptation.
7. Employee feedback survey
Employee feedback survey should be conducted to obtain feedback on what has worked well and what needs to improve. The outcome should be published for transparency.
Change is difficult and it is important to ensure adequate support in any culture change process. For the individual transitioning from one culture to the other, adequate education is required before transfer and should be supported with coaching and mentoring to ensure smooth transition.
The success of culture change depends on:
- Effective communication at the various stages of the process.
- Awareness and sensitisation through workshops and training.
- Robust culture change-management plan.
- Constant employee engagement through town hall meetings, email communication and employee feedback surveys.
- Cross culture fertilisation through staff exchange.
- Support through coaching and mentoring before, during and after planned culture change.
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About the author
Abas Alhassan is an entrepreneur, a life, executive and business coach. He is an accredited coach (ACC) with the International Coach Federation (ICF), a Chartered Accountant with a master’s degree in finance and PGD in Coaching with over 35 years’ experience in the finance and mining industries, half of which was at an executive level. He went into coaching to give back to the society by helping professionals achieve their personal and professional goals based on his experience in the corporate world.