culture shift challenge

M&A: Overcoming the Culture Shift Challenge

When I wrote the “Mentoring by FabMob” white paper, I was already hinting at an example of use of mentoring to facilitate the cultural integration in the case of acquisition of a new entity. I do not wish to go into the well documented difficulties that large companies face when they are merging or acquiring, how people issues come into play, and how the integration of different ways of working, thinking, communicating can put a real spanner in the works. Even though we all know it is a challenge, still very little M&A really work on the cultural aspect, and very little use mentoring as a tool for creating real human connections for a faster blend of cultures. 

Culture shift mentoring is one way to get people to really know each other (because it is over at least 6 months), not just having a one-off event where everyone is in the same room and builds a boat together. This form of mentoring allows for mutual discovery in a non-hierarchical relationship, hence getting rid of most of the political games that may be present early on during M&A.

The spirit of a culture shift mentoring programme is more about creating an evolving culture, rather than imposing the dominant one. Benefiting from all integrated cultures takes time and adjustments, but is well worth the investment.  

There are various scenarios possible of course, but the two examples here (translated from the whitepaper) give an idea of how it works:

  1. Teams in Asia have been experimenting and proving a new business model in recent years with their market and not only learning to operate but also thinking about the customer relationship in a different way. They will be able to mentor teams in Europe to help them transition to these new ways of thinking about their market. While not exactly cloning practices, mentoring seeks to help teams think differently and learn from colleagues in Asia.
  2. Following a new business acquisition, as Renault did with Intel for example, it is necessary to accelerate on-boarding and capitalize on cultural differences to integrate them into the global culture. The idea here is not to impose one culture over the other but to welcome the culture of the other to evolve the global one. Mentoring is called “mutual” and promotes mutual discovery for faster integration of best practices and mindsets. In their role as mentees, teams define learning objectives and in their role of mentors, they share their experiences.

Mentoring is here a vector for better dissemination of internal collective intelligence.

However, and especially in the acquisition scenario, there are critical pitfalls to avoid :

  • If the mentors belong only to the culture of the parent company, or the most important structure in size, the on-boarding is biased and called “colonialist”. It is therefore essential to have a balance between the two cultures for a real mutual discovery.
  • Also to think that the simple matching of pairs is enough is an error. The pairs need to set goals and make a simple and short reporting on their learning to better raise awareness and share with their peers. Since mentoring is based on informal discussions, learning can sometimes be subtle and profound, but not necessarily conscious. The “reporting” periodically allows to crystallize the achievements, but also to spread the mutual discoveries to a wider population. Hence not all people in the company need to participate in the CS mentoring programme, just a critical mass of people who will become ambassadors for the new culture. 

In the white paper, I go on explaining some key operational activities such as matching mentors and mentees, or measuring ROIS, to ensure the culture shift mentoring programme is well designed, implemented and supported. But from experience, I can say that each programme should be tailored to the company culture(s), strategic intent and specific context, as each M&A is unique.

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Stéphanie Mitrano

Insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.