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June 12, 2019

We hear time and time and again that culture is essential in an M&A deal. It's this big word that most people even refuse to talk about because of its broad scope and complexities. 

Some M&A professionals even believe that cultural differences cannot kill a deal, but not Dawn White, Program Manager & Change Management Lead at Corning Incorporated. She believes that cultural factors can be deal killers and that we all should start assessing culture as early as possible.  

"Even if we're going into a situation where we know the cultures are vastly different, it doesn't mean the deal won't be successful. It just means we have to do a lot of work" - Dawn White

Importance of Cultural Assessment

If you plan to leave the acquired company as a standalone business, then culture won't matter much. But even in these types of deals, a light cultural assessment can be beneficial. You can help them increase their efficiency by sharing knowledge, technology, and best practices. All of which you will be able to determine in a cultural assessment. 

However, if you are planning on integrating, cultural differences have a massive impact on integration. It may hinder you from achieving some of the synergies you initially planned, which is the deal's entire purpose. 

Process of Cultural Assessment

As a product of various research, Dawn uses a 5 section cultural assessment report, including an executive summary, similarities and differences section, cultural themes section, paradox section, and a recommendation section. All were gathered via one-on-one interviews, focus group sessions, surveys, and onsite observations.

  • Executive Summary. This is an overview of what the whole report would detail. It provides information like the purpose, objectives, approach, and conclusion of the assessment. 
  • Similarities and Differences Section. This is a list of all the key differences and similarities that the two companies share across a spectrum of touchpoints such as:
  • --Management Style
  • --Decision Making
  • --Financial Accountability
  • --Work Environment
  • --Customer Service Approach
  • --Adaptability to Change 
  • --Employee Demographics
  • --Community Involvement
  • Cultural Themes Section. This section highlights the common threads or key things about the culture that emerged from the data collection, like how transparent the employees are, the company's focus, etc. 
  • Paradox Section.This is a section that calls out certain cultural behaviors that seem to contradict one another.
  • Observation Section. This is a list of items that the acquired company employees are looking forward to by joining the new company. 
  • Recommendation Section. This is a prioritized list of actions to be done to help ensure cultural alignment is attained. It's best if you put a schedule on these action items and assign an owner who will be accountable for delivering those actions. 

Data Collection

  • One-on-One Interviews. This is Dawn's favorite approach where she would approach the HR or the acquired company's leadership team to identify key people in different roles. Not just senior leadership, but also mid-level managers and frontline employees that could give a broad array of answers. 
  • Focus Group Sessions. This allows more people to participate. Engage people that wouldn't normally be included in the one-on-one interviews. You can also include the team that is working on the integration.
  • Surveys. These are generally for everyone. Keep it short, 1-3 key questions where you ask precise questions: the more participants, the better. 
  • Onsite Observations As a part of the integration leadership team, you will have the privilege of spending time at the location. It's important to watch and see what they do and take notes on how they work. 

All of these approaches have a place in the assessment process. Each will give you a different perspective and look at the entirety of their culture. It is also important to note that you need leadership buy-in for the recommendations. It will give you the authority to drive the completion of the work.

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