Beyond the merger: How to create a resilient company culture
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Beyond the merger: Creating a resilient company culture

Beyond the merger: Creating a resilient company culture

Merger and acquisition deals are often drawn-out processes that bring a lot of speculation and, ultimately, uncertainty for employees

Gulf Business
Ella Fordham Global Chief People Officer, on going beyond the merger to build a stronger company culture

As company culture becomes a hot topic in the boardroom and on hiring platforms, it is clear that businesses are taking note and employees are taking a stand.

Covid-19 may have accelerated the evolution towards new ways of working, but the focus on culture had been gaining traction even before the pandemic. As a result, there is pressure on businesses to take this seriously.

For companies, harnessing a people-first culture speaks to the fabric of the organisation. However, at the same time developing markets are experiencing a boom in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, which presents a different challenge, integrating other business cultures.

Off the back of Beyond ONE’s acquisition of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa and Virgin Mobile Latin America, this challenge has become very real. The merging of these large businesses under one roof, across different geographies and cultures, has provided many learnings.

These insights will be valuable to anyone trying to create a harmonious organisational culture. Here are some things to consider:

1. Transparency is highly valued and easy to offer

M&A deals are often drawn-out processes that bring a lot of speculation and, ultimately, uncertainty for employees.

Explaining the business vision, including why this particular acquisition was strategically important, will be a useful first step for providing clarity and alignment with new employees and existing ones.

Strong, engaging internal communications will play a pivotal role.

2. Create unity through brand post the merger

An aligned brand goes beyond what the customer sees, it is also about instilling a sense of belonging for colleagues. Unifying colleagues across locations requires rallying them around a common purpose and a shared vision. This creates a deeper connection beyond the day-to-day activities, emphasising the collective impact and shared direction of the company.

Additionally, a common values framework established through collaboration between leaders and employees from various business units creates a shared culture. This is crucial in a post-merger environment, unifying colleagues across acquired businesses through shared behaviours, principles and work styles.

Simple touches like sending out collateral – such as branded water bottles, notebooks and other useful workday items – are impactful ways of creating unity.

However, go a step further – encourage employees to update their LinkedIn by providing toolkits, professional headshots and workshops on how to best utilise LinkedIn, as an example. This not only shows a willingness to support employees, but it also has the added benefit of creating a professional brand.

3. Cross-functional work can be key to breaking down silos

Creative organisational design will unlock greater collaboration across the whole organisation, irrespective of business function and geography.

Central teams such as finance, legal and people teams are not limited to working within their function, instead, their day-to-day work often involves supporting other teams. This harnesses unity through the alignment of shared goals and strategic objectives.

Taking it a step further, silos are broken down through organizing strategic initiatives and special projects as “missions” where a cross-functional task force comes together to solve a complex business problem.

A mission team could be launching a new product or service, optimising a process, or improving a part of the customer journey. Instead of efforts being coordinated across functional processes and hierarchies, these teams are non-hierarchical and consist of colleagues who are specialists in their areas who work as one team for the duration of the mission and are driven by shared goals.

4. Integration doesn’t happen overnight

Understanding that change can be unsettling for many, especially for those who may have been with the acquired company for a while, is critical. Encourage gradual integration by allowing colleagues to experience the new organisation and its culture without suddenly bringing in new ways of working and eroding a brand that many will be familiar with and see security in.

It is natural for there to be heightened scepticism among colleagues, which is why instilling a harmonious company culture requires incremental changes and shared decision-making. Involving all regions and parts of the business to have a say in the new direction will allow everyone to feel part of one mission.

As with any business, whether it’s integrating with another organisation or not, a company’s culture needs to be nurtured. These insights may have a focus on acquisitions, but as fundamentals, they apply to businesses of any size.

While every organisation is different, having a shared voice, shared objectives and shared vision will be the core pillars to harnessing unity and overcoming geographical and cultural barriers.

The writer is the group chief people officer, Beyond ONE.

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