How Do You Eliminate a Them-Us Cultural Divide? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company acquired an office in a new geography at no cost – just a commitment to keep the office going. The immediate challenge is transferring the previous owner’s client base to the new owner’s service. The people in the distant location are OK, but it will take coaching for them to deliver the new owner’s level of service. However, these people are proud and resistant to change. How do you eliminate a them-us cultural divide?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Involve the person who facilitated the acquisition in the integration process. Get his opinion of what is needed.
  • Your prime commitment is to the client base and past practices that built the client base. Maintain or surpass this level of service.  As long as the team meets this level of performance, they are serving your objectives.
    • You and the key manager of the newly acquired office should meet with their most important clients. Help the manager convert those clients for you.
  • Your other implied commitment is to the manager and employees that you inherited through this deal. Educate them on your approach – “we will do all that we can to create success for our clients.” Connect with the manager, understand how this person serves clients, and coach the individual.
  • Be fair – the fairest method of managing is a meritocracy.
  • Manage by results, not process – if the core values between the two sites are similar, allow for cultural differences in local practice.
  • If all this doesn’t work and you want for “them” to become “us” you will have to have someone from the home office move to the distant office and manage it.

4 thoughts on “How Do You Eliminate a Them-Us Cultural Divide? Six Thoughts

  1. Rich Glomski

    Sandy,

    Though the specific type of business and other details regarding the type of office staff (sales and/or admin) and other details of the integration are not fully described, many of the thoughts are spot on! However, additional “food for thought” may include:
    o Ensuring that the entire office staff have input into and be a part of , as appropriate, in the integration/transition plan. This is one of the key components to effective change and one that can go a long way in reducing/eliminating resistance; and
    o If there are sales staff in this office they may be initially hesitant to transitioning current clients as well. That reluctance may occur because they see the change as a threat to the way they are currently compensated and/or do not clearly understand the rationale for change, how that change may impact their clients and/or are not sure of their future role under “new” leadership.

    With regards,

    Rich Glomski

  2. Lee Crites

    I sense, all too often, and especially in the field of acquisitions, that the “them” attitude is a factor of the acquiring organization, not the acquired one.

    First, when a new owner says things like “we love you and what you are doing” or “we have no plans on making changes to this organization,” then the people sitting there listening to them know they are bold-face liars, and discount everything else they say.

    Second, these people are, after all PEOPLE. If they are seen as nothing more than “resources,” then the us/them paradigm is justified.

    These PEOPLE did not come to work for you. They went to work for the other company. They were excited about their jobs and the company they worked for. They were loyal to that company. They were emotionally tied to that compeny.

    The one who is responsible for helping facilitate their transfer of loyalty and fealty is the acquiring organization. But I have yet to see that happen. It is simply expected that these newly acquired resources will suddenly become motivated and loyal employees of the new organization, simply because some suit stood up in front of them and pumped out some hot air. (…even if the “suit” was in jeans and a polo shirt…)

    The only way to break through the us/them paradigm is to treat these people like they are sentient, caring, human beings, and actually reach out to them in an honest, forthright way to bring them on board.

    You must treat them with ruth — you know, ruth, that quality which ruth-less people do not possess.

    You must reach out to THEM, and not expect THEM to reach out one inch to YOU. Remember, to YOU, this is an us/them paradigm, but to THEM, it is a them/us situation.

    You must go to these individuals, and work with them to help them understand what it is that you and your company offer them and their clients that is of worth.

    Remember: yesterday this was not YOUR office, these were not YOUR employees, and they were not YOUR clients. These people spent time, effort, and energy keeping THEIR clients happy. They poured their life force into their work. If you cannot justify to them, as individuals, why they should become loyal to you and your company products, then you do not deserve them.

    You cannot buy humans, only resources. It is your job to convert those humans from their old company to yours. You took on that responsibility when you bought the resources those humans represent.

    The old paradigm of rape, pillage, and burn as the natural result of acquisitions still exists in too many places. We have so dehumanized the acquisition process that this us/them paradigm will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to overcome.

    I believe it will take a significant amount of effort to overcome this issue. And, I believe, the first place this issue must be tackled is with the one looking back at you in the morning while you are brushing your teeth.

    Was that too direct?

  3. Bob Mok

    Both Lee and Rich have touched on very valid and important points.

    There are a few other points I like to touch on:
    1. Integration of corporate culture

    Differing corporate cultures between the “Predator” and “Predatee” companies can really give a long drawn “corporate ulcer” that could haemorrage the P & L. The two HR Heads should really understand the differing and congruent cultures and plan a stragegic but realistic integration exercise over a reasonable time. Rome was not created overnight.

    It is absolutely critical that the Movers and Shakers of the Predatee company be introduced to the Predator’s corporate culture at its HQ/RHQ. The sooner buy-in from the Movers and Shakers is secured, the easier it is to integrate the two different cultures. But change need not necessary be one-sided – if the Predatee’s company’s way of doings things is better, it will make sense to adopt best practices, instead of being arrogant about it. It is also important for the Predator’s HR team to be parachuted into the Predatee’s company to understand the “lay of the land.”

    It is also very important for the Movers and Shakers of the Predatee’s company to spend enough time at the HQ/RHQ to bond with their counterparts . A well integrated team of Movers and Shakers can really be formidable.

    2. Differing Pay Scales

    This situation must be seriously addressed. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of latent unhappiness.

    3. Corporate Communications

    It takes one PR booh booh to loose a significant number of customers of the Predatee’s company. Hence, no effort should be spared and expeditiously executed for newly acquired existing customers to be assured that they will be well looked after. Language nuances and barriers should not be treated nonchalantly.

    4. Standard Operating Procedures

    If insensitively handled, you’ll end up with WW III. Old habits die hard – it is important to convey why things are done differently and the reasons should be made known.

  4. Sandy Post author

    Thanks Bob,
    While I don’t believe that a predator/predatee paradigm is appropriate in this situation, you do point our some important variables that must be taken into account.
    Thanks!

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