August 2018 | Point of View

Making culture count: Building a unified team in an acquisition

Making culture count: Building a unified team in an acquisition

At West Monroe, we believe that delivering the best results for our clients depends on investing in and nurturing the talent that makes it all possible. The first tenant of our values is “people first” – and, since day one, our leadership has focused on doing right by its people.

LA business journal

To be most impactful, any policy or process change must be rooted in a strong focus on people and culture. This truth is most apparent during times of change, and there is no instance of greater change than during a merger or acquisition, when combining two organizations, two ways of operating, and two cultures.

Acquisitions are an important part of our business and growth strategy. West Monroe has made four significant acquisitions in the past several years—including one last year in Los Angeles, when we welcomed CAST Management Consultants to our team.

The acquisition nearly doubled the size of our Los Angeles office, bringing tremendous change both for our new team members and our existing employees. To make this acquisition successful, we knew we had to consider our culture and our people throughout the deal process—from diligence through integration.

Inclusion is the key to realizing your acquisition's value 

As the Los Angeles office leader, making the team from CAST feel included—as rapidly as possible—was one of my top priorities. When employees immediately feel like part of their new organization, they are more likely to stay and thrive, and when employees stay, the client relationships they brought with them are also more likely to remain with the firm. That feeds a growing, profitable business.

Ignoring inclusion can lead to the development of an “us versus them” mentality that prevents true team integration and erodes trust over time. It can also lead to poor adoption of operational practices, particularly when acquiring a smaller firm that may not be accustomed to processes of a larger company. These issues can lead to loss of productivity, poor morale, lack of engagement and eventually, attrition and slower growth.

Before you sign, conduct a cultural diligence

Our culture is our single biggest differentiator in the market, both as an employer and as a service provider. When we consider an acquisition, cultural fit is one of our most important areas of due diligence.

What does a cultural diligence entail? We look at the people, roles, and types of jobs at the target organization to see how well they match with our roles. We look at travel and work-life balance expectations. We look at the types of work people do to ensure they will continue working on similar strategic initiatives.

Perhaps most importantly, we look at the expectations for spending time on team and culture development in their organization. If a target company’s employees spend 100% of their time on client delivery and no time on continuous improvement, we know it will be a tough transition to our employee-owner culture where we expect everyone to serve clients and contribute to building the company.

It doesn't stop on day one: tips for successful cultural integration 

Strong cultural fit is an important foundation – but the work doesn’t stop when new team members arrive at their new desks. Integration is an effort that requires a thoughtful, inclusive approach. Here are several lessons I took away from our recent acquisition to help ensure new colleagues feel included within our organization.

Be careful with words. Most importantly, avoid “us” and “them.” For example, it doesn’t feel inclusive when we talk about “their” clients and “their” people, or when employees are introduced using their previous company name (“This is Jim from CAST”).

  • Integrate new colleagues rapidly into existing work. The faster we can move beyond introductions to working together in the trenches, the more included our new colleagues feel and the less attrition we experience. Make sure to include new team members into team activities right away – for example, we asked one of our new senior managers to help develop materials for a quarterly company meeting shortly after the deal closed. This was a great way for him to build relationships while getting a crash course in our business and culture.
  • Be thoughtful in navigating people through change. Making sure team members understand even the little things, like how to report time and expenses, make a tremendous difference as we look to run a fun and profitable business. We assigned each team member a transition coach to help them navigate their new norms and serve as a sounding board.
  • Show an openness to listen and willingness do things differently. We haven’t cornered the market on good ideas. The firms we’ve acquired are successful for a reason, and chances are they do some things better than us—and we can benefit by listening to new ideas. For instance, CAST produced a regular newsletter to inform their clients of market trends and the latest financial services news. We’ve since adopted the newsletter and expanded the audience to our joint client base.

Ready to get started? Explore opportunities at West Monroe.