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Organizational culture: How does it affect a business acquisition

Learn how you can make your acquisition or merger a success by aligning organizational cultures.

4-minute read

Culture can be a make-or-break factor in whether or not a business acquisition ultimately succeeds.

Organizational culture can be defined as the explicit and implicit values of an organization and its people as well as the processes and behaviours that have been adopted based on those values.

Culture has a tremendous impact on how employees go about their daily work, interact and achieve the company's goals. It’s often what differentiates two companies that offer similar products or services, and it can make a big difference in how well a new employee integrates into a company—and how well two companies fit together.

What do you reward? What do you invest in? Do you make decisions based on detailed analytics or instinct? Does your team work collaboratively or do you adhere to a strict hierarchy? The answers to questions like those tell a lot about an organization’s culture.

When two businesses become one

Culture has an especially huge impact in merger situations—when two different businesses fold into one.

If the company you’re acquiring has a vastly different culture from yours, it may be difficult for employees to be productive as they struggle to adjust to new expectations and ways of doing things.

Even if your stated values are similar, you can run into problems if you approach them in different ways. You might both value providing a great customer experience, but if one company achieves that through solid processes and the other achieves it by empowering

employees to do whatever they see as necessary, you’ll end up with conflicting approaches and confused employees who don’t know what to do.

Conduct a culture audit

It’s a common pitfall that companies focus on all the ways they’re similar and end up underestimating the amount of work required to bridge the differences.

That is why it’s recommended that a thorough culture audit of both companies be conducted as part of the pre-acquisition assessment process. Because it can be difficult to identify and evaluate your own culture objectively, it is advisable to have a neutral third party conduct the audit.

Culture is an asset, just like facilities, intellectual property, customer relationships and employees. If you handle culture well, you can achieve great things.

How to align business cultures

After a merger or acquisition, leaders really have two choices: impose one of the two pre-existing business cultures on the newly merged company or create a brand-new culture. Both have their pros and cons.

Imposing a single, established culture on the merged company (usually the culture of the acquiring company) makes expectations clear and is often easier than trying to create a new culture, but it may be a big adjustment for some employees. However, in some cases, it’s likely your best course of action.

If your company is recognized as a sought-after place to work because of its culture, you’ll want to think twice before changing it too much.

Blending two cultures

Creating a new culture that blends the best elements of both companies can be a way of achieving alignment with less disruption to your new employees.

If you acquired a company primarily for its people, this approach can help ensure that few people leave as a result of feeling alienated. It can also be an opportunity to improve your culture by adopting values and processes from the acquired company or by introducing completely new ones.

Whichever approach you choose, the key is to be clear and deliberate. Communicate explicitly what your values are and how you expect employees to behave to fulfil them, and include plenty of examples.

Culture is an asset, just like facilities, intellectual property, customer relationships and employees. If you don’t treat it that way, you can seriously undermine the value of your acquisition. But if you handle it well, you can achieve great things with your newly combined entity.

Next step

Find out what it takes to successfully purchase a business in Canada by downloading our guide for entrepreneurs: Buying a Business in Canada.

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