Merger & acquisition series: Part 7/11 – Putting culture first during M&A
If you haven’t already, download our in-depth M&A playbook.
In today’s world, it’s impossible to separate the brand from culture. How an organization’s people act, come together, and connect with the brand are all core ways that mission, purpose, and experience come a critical step—if not the most critical—to creating a successfully unified brand.
After all, your people will ultimately bring the brand to life. While centering people and considering culture is an important task for every brand, it’s even more essential during an M&A. Bringing two or more unique, distinct cultures together can be a challenge, but it’s responsible for owning and delivering your new brand experience—and if you don’t bring them along carefully and thoughtfully, it’s unlikely to hit home. When culture is done right, people can become your biggest advocates and ambassadors. Done poorly, they may just become the biggest adversaries getting in the way of your new brand experience.
You don’t have to look hard to find examples of rocky cultural integration during an M&A—think Amazon and Whole Foods, or Google and Nest. The difference between these case studies and the success stories comes down to whether or not the M&A operates with an intentional focus on people from day one. At Monigle, many of the M&A rebrand successes we’ve witnessed firsthand haven’t just prioritized culture, they’ve been defined by it. For example, when LCMC Health decided to create a unified health system by bringing together five independently operating hospitals, their compassionate, people-centric and unquestionably New Orleans culture became the cornerstone and rallying cry of their new shared brand.
Through our experience, we’ve identified four key steps to putting people and culture first during your M&A rebrand:
In order to build a path forward for people, you need to understand where they are coming from. Conducting comprehensive internal brand research—or, as we like to call it, culture mapping—can help you get a sense of the current cultural landscapes at the different organizations, in addition to uncovering distinct employee mindsets, attitudes, and perspectives. Through this research, you can identify authentic cultural similarities or strengths to draw from and build on, while also pinpointing potential gaps or red flags that might get in the way of coming together. The core objectives of this research should be to understand the following questions:
– How do cultural experiences impact employee satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy
– What cultural strengths and unifiers do we want to hold onto going forward?
– What problems or gaps do we want to leave behind?
– What new culture-boosting elements do we need to create?
– How can we map employee values with consumer values to uncover rich and authentic brand territories employees can believe in and live
Conducting employee experience immersions or ethnographies is great for uncovering the kinds of underlying truths, beliefs, values, and habits that make up your culture’s innate “secret sauce”. Establishing a comprehensive understanding of where employees are coming from will help you build a brand from a holistic, people-centric lens that accounts for culture from day one.
Employees can be a powerful asset during your M&A rebrand planning process, so be sure to engage and invite them to the table from the start. Soliciting feedback through simple quantitative surveys, roundtable sessions, and open forums not only provides helpful input for building an authentic brand and culture, but also ensures employees from across the organization feel involved and included in the process. It can be easy for rebrand teams to get stuck in their siloes, so be intentional about building infrequent opportunities for employee communication, involvement, and two-way dialogue into your M&A rebrand plan and timeline.
Learn More: Disentangling Culture, Engagement and Strategy
When engaging employees, don’t forget to look beyond the brand and marketing team—be sure to capture, listen to, and include a diverse range of voices, perspectives and experiences in your planning and brand building approach. And remember, your influencers aren’t always your senior-most people. Seeking out those who many in the organization look up to and respect to help champion the effort will go a long way. And involving those ‘squeaky wheels’ early will help minimize having big wrenches thrown in the process. In some cases, confidentiality may cause you to want to limit awareness of what is happening. In these scenarios, we recommend defining a trusted panel of insiders who can represent the broader employee base at key stages but minimizes the risk of confidential information leaking early.
Remember that your best brand ambassadors are already working for you—and the more you get people involved, the easier it will be to identify those with the passion, interest and ability to help bring your brand culture to life at every level.
Having a plan in place for employee onboarding and brand training is an important step in cultural integration and should be a key component of your M&A brand launch plan. When designing your training approach, take steps to ensure it doesn’t feel like a lecture, or a stream of endless PowerPoint slides. Brand training should be interactive, tangible, and relatable. Games, quizzes, prizes, and other “hands-on” activities can help keep it fun and unique. Utilize your brand ambassadors to help deliver key messages and increase engagement. Focus on storytelling and sharing a “why” that gets people excited.
Brand training is also a great opportunity for employees from different legacy organizations to continue getting to know one another and start working together as part of the same team. Consider strategies for encouraging collaboration and cultural integration throughout your training events, such as grouping up employees from different organizations to work together on a task or appointing leaders from different teams to help facilitate key educational sections.
Training is all well and good, but unless you’ve created strategies that empower your employees to activate the brand, they won’t be able to deliver on it. This extends to culture, as well—make sure you are creating avenues and opportunities for your employees to truly live and reinforce the new culture throughout their day-to-day roles and interactions.
During the M&A rebrand planning stage, think ahead to how you want your employees to actually experience the brand and bring your values to life. When building new brand elements, ask yourself and your team to evaluate whether they are actionable, behavior-driving, and rooted in the culture you are trying to create. Establishing a plan for how you will incentivize people to embrace and activate the new shared brand is another critical step. Consider employee award and recognition programs, or even challenges and contests that drive desired behaviors and outcomes. Storytelling is also a powerful tool to provide examples of what it means to live the brand, and shows employees what they have permission to do. It is also important to evaluate your existing incentive structures to make sure they don’t conflict with goals. It is amazing how many times we have been brought in to help drive a more unified and collaborative culture, but people are compensated in ways that encourage more siloed actions.
Learn More: Leadership in the New Era of Experience
You can’t just tell people what the brand culture should be and expect it to appear overnight—you need to be ready to equip your employees with the tools, resources and reasons to actually bring it to life.
At the end of the day, culture is one of a brand’s most unique, ownable and inimitable elements, and establishing a strong one is a huge opportunity during your M&A. If your team is able to align both culture and brand (and ultimately your business strategy), it will catapult your ability to integrate smoothly and achieve your new, shared goals. While we’ve reviewed a variety of culture-focused strategies and considerations in this piece, there is truly only one thing you need to remember: put people first, in everything you do. If you can do that, the rest will fall into place.
And speaking of people, lookout for the next installment in our M&A rebrand series, where we will focus on engaging another essential audience: your consumers. In that piece, we’ll discuss how to tell a bigger story about your new “why”—one that will excite, inspire, and encourage your consumers to buy into your new brand. We’re looking forward to sharing the next step in our playbook with you.