How To Merge Company Cultures and Preserve Brand Integrity
With any merger, acquisition, or business move, comes tremendous stress for employees and managers, but also for the communities being left and joined. To avoid any crisis pr or unwelcome messaging, a strong communications plan should be put into action to ease the concerns of everyone involved.
An effective communication plan may determine which of your employees choose to stay with the company throughout the change, and which ones do not. Furthermore, communities that are uneasy about a new company coming into their town may be fearful that the change will increase traffic or housing costs. All of this can shape your company’s culture, and if done poorly can result in decreased morale, thus affecting the company’s bottom line.
Research and Due Diligence
Before everything on the administrative side of a merger or move has been taken care of, the ball should already be rolling on developing a communications plan for your new and current team members. The first step is conducting the necessary research to understand how you should be communicating. Consider some essential questions to which you’ll need to find the answers:
- How does the new community feel about your brand?
- How does the new community feel about new businesses in general?
- How might your brand perception change among the community you’re leaving?
- How has your new community been partnering with the brand you’re acquiring or merging with?
- If you’re moving, how has your new community partnered with other businesses in the area?
In the case of a community that is skeptical of newcomers, perhaps you’ll want to start forming partnerships with notable local brands. Gaining the endorsements of local players could be key in introducing your company as a trustworthy brand for community members to support and form relationships. In the case of k2forma’s event activation to introduce the international brand Houzz to the Nashville community, we implemented several of these tactics. We knew that selecting a beloved community spot (Musician’s Corner) and partnering with a beloved community brand (Goo Goo Clusters), would position Houzz as a local team player and help minimize any potential skepticism by the general public.
While planning a move or merger, also consider the audience that you’re leaving. Often, companies make the mistake of focusing their communications on the new community and audience they’ll be joining, and they forget to extend their informational campaign toward their current community. Even if you have a solid relationship and good brand perception among your local community, you can’t assume they’ll continue to be loyal after such a big change. The community should be informed of why you’re leaving, when the change will take place, and how you’ll continue to maintain existing relationships going forward. Even if you’re physically moving, no one should feel as though they’re being left behind.
Introduce Employees to Their New Home
Reaching your current and new employees in a transparent, ongoing manner is paramount to a successful move, merger or acquisition. After all, your team should be the backbone of all your operations. Regardless of the financial opportunity that may have been the impetus for a business move, growth will surely flounder if your own people are not on board.
To begin, develop open, transparent lines of communication between managers and team members so that questions and concerns can be resolved as more information trickles in about the move. This should be offered for both current and new employees.
Next, develop a relocation package for your current employees that’s just as personalized as it is informational. The package should contain standard helpful contents, such as information about local realtors and moving services, temporary housing, and cost breakdowns. However, you can also take advantage of the relocation package as an opportunity to begin merging cultures. Consider the culture of your company. What do your employees enjoy about their location, and what do they enjoy doing when they’re off work? Decide how these activities can be preserved through the move. If your employees enjoy happy hours and opportunities for professional development, provide them with a list of local, top-rated bars as well as memberships to relevant, local professional societies. Your goal should be to ease your employees’ move in a way that reduces as much stress and change to their everyday lives as possible.
When merging any two cultures, the parent company should also be careful not to impose its own culture or change or strip everything from the business being acquired. Heineken provides a great example of this through their very hands-off acquisition of Lagunitas Brewing. Three years after the acquisition, Lagunitas has still been able to run their operations with little interference from Heineken and little to no change in their company culture.
A hands-off acquisition or merger like this isn’t always a possibility. However, even if change must take place, most of a business’s culture and policies should be absorbed into current practices rather than changed drastically or removed altogether. When doing this, team members on both ends of the change need to be introduced to updated policies far ahead of time so they can adjust appropriately. For example, if one team is inheriting the vacation policies of another, employees need to be aware of this at least a year in advance, so they can prepare for any changes to annual trips they’ve been accustomed to taking. If there are going to be additions to daily office policies, these should also be introduced slowly throughout the time up until the merger or acquisition, so employees can understand exactly what the change is going to look like before they decide if moving forward with the company is the right decision for them.
As time grows closer to the official move, your business’s communications plan should include formal methods of introduction to internal and external stakeholders. This could be in the form of a launch event, a dedicated landing page, new social media accounts, and direct mail or email campaigns.
Regardless of the methods you choose to introduce all of the businesses’ changes, your messaging should always focus on the shared commonalities between the companies and communities that are coming together.
When k2forma organized the media announcement event for the merger between Bucyrus International and Caterpillar, we incorporated the theme of “Shared Heritage” throughout everything from the décor to the event logo. More often than not, two businesses are merging because the results are expected to be mutually beneficial, and the companies share similar business interests, histories, or cultures – even though they may previously have been competitors. Wherever you find these commonalities, they should be emphasized throughout the entire process, so stakeholders can see that beyond a business decision, there will be a positive impact on everyone involved.
The best way that people will connect with your message is through imagery, both photo and video. Within your communications plan, the imagery should remind both parties of shared experiences that are now coming together for a brighter outcome. Our display timeline for Bucyrus and Caterpillar showed a visual representation of the two companies’ histories and how they had similarly grown and developed to the point where they were now merging together.
Video can be used as a way to open communications between team members so they can learn from one another and forge relationships well before they’re in the same office together. Consider interviewing team members and periodically distributing these videos to other team members they haven’t met yet. This opens up the opportunity for employees to get to know each other ahead of time and make connections through similar interests or work. It can also provide another venue of information that might be seen as more trustworthy than any informational packet or email blast.
Mergers and acquisitions are decisions that can affect companies and the way they operate for years after a deal is made. What’s more is that they also have the ability to leave a profound effect on individual lives – both inside the companies and within surrounding communities.
Creating a solid communications plan will ensure brand integrity while successfully merging the cultures that are involved. This, in tandem with a stream of continuous, transparent information, can ensure brand is preservation and a smooth transition.