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									Culture Shock
Forget about passing on new sales skills—the hardest part of a merger may be getting your staffers
to adapt to a new corporate culture. Here's how to help ease the transition with training.

Kevin Wilde remembers the first time he         focuses on financial or other kinds of                       As seen in the
transgressed against a new corporate            operational variables, and the feeling is that           February 2006 issue of:
culture. Several years ago, Wilde left          we can sort out all the culture-merging
General Electric Company, where he had          issues later," says Mark Mendenhall, a
helped guide employees through a number         business scholar at the University of
of company acquisitions, to become the          Tennessee in Chattanooga. But incompati-
chief learning officer at Minneapolis-based     ble corporate cultures can play a major role
General Mills Inc. About a week into his        in sabotaging mergers. "Integration issues
new job, he addressed his fellow General        need to be looked at as part of due
Mills managers in a meeting, pouring out        diligence," he says. "One of the interesting
his thoughts on several issues. Behavior        things we find in the research literature is
like that was routine at GE. But it wasn't      that the way executives manage the post-
at the Midwestern food giant, and the           merger integration is more important than
reaction he got was markedly different.         the pre-merger factors."
                                                                                                 sales conference, Wilde conducted an
"Everyone froze and the body language           Fitting In                                       opinion survey of the combined sales
got weird for a few uncomfortable               When General Mills acquired fellow food          force. Scores were consistently high on
minutes, and then we sort of carried on,"       giant Pillsbury in 2001, it fell to Wilde to     issues like commitment and belief in the
Wilde recalls. Later, he realized he had        shepherd employees across the cultural gap,      merged company. But on a key question,
violated unspoken General Mills cultural        partly through training. "The role that          "I know how to get things done around
mores. "I was just bringing up a new idea       training can play is in educating leaders on     here," former Pillsbury employees gave
that might challenge the current think-         the new demands and new rules of making          an alarmingly low rating.
ing—but without letting some people in          a merger or acquisition work—giving them
the room know I was going to do that,"          the competencies or skills to make the new       "It was surprising to see that the Pillsbury
he says. In General Mills' culture of           team win," Wilde says. "The culture can          people felt less able and knowledgeable
"Minnesota nice," he says, it's considered      either turn positive or negative on you—         on how to get things done," he says. "We
customary to give a heads-up before             and you [as a trainer] will cast a shadow on     thought we had done enough to integrate
speaking out. General Mills is open to          that."                                           the Pillsbury salespeople on how to make
new ideas, he says. "But first they want                                                         the call, how to make things happen.
you to say, 'I want to talk about it, just so   Lots of training was required after the          That just shouted to us that we hadn't."
you know.'"                                     merger, which doubled a major corpora-           So General Mills incorporated some last-
                                                tion's payroll overnight. It started with        minute training into the conference to
Corporate culture, to borrow Wilde's            company leaders. "We brought people from         "look at how you make sure you have all
phrase, is the water in the fishbowl of any     across boundaries into a room," Wilde says.      the formal and informal connections to
business. Employees are immersed in it,         "I remember one of the officers coming out       make things happen," Wilde says. Six
inundated with it, but unconscious of it—       of our senior session, and he said, 'You         months later another all-employee survey
at least, until things change. When the         know, I really feel part of this management      showed ex-Pillsbury employees had
water from two corporate fishbowls is           team now.' So the way that you do the            reached parity.
combined, it often results in a shock to        training can be as important as the topics
the system for everyone involved. Yet in        that you're covering."                           In the old days, the typical method of
the scramble to make new business unions                                                         preparing staffers for an acquisition of
work and to get sales forces up to speed,       Much of the program, he says, has gone           their company was for executives to put
corporate culture is often the part of the      well, and some elements of the post-merger       out a bland message to the troops, while
post-merger equation that is neglected by       training continue to this day. But Wilde         giving senior managers a little more detail
training, experts say.                          experienced one hurdle when it came to           through memos that mandated a secretive
                                                easing the ex-Pillsbury sales staff into the     approach. There was little latitude for
"If anything, the due diligence before          fold. Six months after the acquisition, on       speaking openly to avoid fretting employ-
mergers and acquisitions all pretty much        the eve of the first post-merger national        ees; most of the resulting communiqués
contained only inspirational blather        merging company get on the same page.          bring two sales teams together:
about "one plus one equals three and all    "When people right away start to learn and
that tripe," says Rick Galbreath, presi-    speak the words of the new culture, they       Merge Best Practices
dent of Performance Growth Partners, a      become attached to it faster," she says.       Create a task force of members from both
management consulting firm based in         "That's where training can help."              sales forces, and have them look at the two
Bloomington, Illinois. People often felt                                                   companies' procedures and resources to
they were "being treated like mush-         Some people in the acquired company            form a new set of best practices. That way,
rooms," he says.                            might resent being forced to speak and         "the decision [on what kinds of practices to
                                            think in lockstep with their new bosses.       adopt] isn't made according to who has
The truth, however, is that most            "They have to deal with that," Taylor says.    power, but on what will make [the team]
employees take their cues about             "It's the new people who have to adapt,        most effective," Richardson says. "No one
corporate culture from management, so       not the old people."                           group is dominating."
it's important that training take place
throughout the organization, starting at    David Austin agrees. The chief operating       Hold a Teamwide Meeting
the top—which makes it easier for post-     officer at Contextware Inc., a software        Having all salespeople physically meet is a
merger cooperation to trickle down.         company in Annandale, Virginia, Austin is      way to not only welcome new folks into
                                            a veteran of many mergers. His company         the fold, but also to address any common
Once the consolidation process begins       produces portal-style software that helps      concerns within the sales force. Use the
in earnest, Galbreath launches into a       businesses through mergers and                 meeting as a chance to share the vision and
training assessment, starting with a        acquisitions (M&A) by identifying how          answer such expected questions as, "Why
series of critical conversations and due    employees should be performing business        did we merge?" and, "What does it mean
diligence analysis of the respective        tasks and enabling the information to be       for me?" Richardson suggests. In such a
organizational cultures. "You design        shared across company boundaries. Austin       teamwide gathering, managers can set
some reasonable data-gathering process      advocates moving training way up on the        expectations and educate salespeople about
where you talk and look over employee       M&A to-do list. "That creates a couple of      their resources.
surveys at each organization," Galbreath    opportunities," he says. "The first is to be
says. "You might look over some             able to convey information about cultures      Get to Know the Newbies
appraisals. You might do some focus         and best practices. That can help add          The acquired company's sales force is
groups." From there, he says, the           productivity to the transaction, ease the      naturally more nervous than the acquiring
merged company can identify the train-      nerves of the acquired company's staff, and    company's, so it's important that managers
ing challenges it faces, what changes are   ensure that you don't miss a beat as you're    make a special effort to get to know the
needed, and a timeline for them.            pulling the company together." Austin          new members individually. "Be more
                                            adds, "Training is very often thought of as    personally involved, ask them how they
Once a training program is decided          the proverbial redheaded stepchild of the      are doing," Richardson says. "The more
upon, Galbreath says he does several        corporation, but it's necessary. There can't   managers do that, the stronger their total
things routinely: "First, we pull the       be anything more unsettling to a business      team will be." During a time like this,
senior managers together and provide        than a merger."                                "people are sensitive, and a little empathy
them with an overview of what they                                                         and a lot of communication will make a
can and can't say. Then you give them                                                      big difference."
an overview of traditional communica-       The Right Combination
tion theory, and finally some practicum     After a merger, the furthest thing from a      —Written by Julia Chang for Sales &
on communication. We need to get            salesperson's mind is his next deal; he's      Marketing Management Magazine
them into a comfort level with launch-      likely thinking how he'll fit into the new
ing those very important conversa-          company—or whether he still has a job at
tions."                                     all. To get a newly merged sales force up to
                                            speed, it's important to make them feel
Maureen Taylor, president of SNP            comfortable with change instead of fretting
Communications, a communications            about it, says Linda Richardson, founder of
consultancy in San Francisco, has a         Richardson, a Philadelphia-based sales
similar approach. Her main training         training and consulting firm, and author of
regimen involves courses on public          Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap
speaking to help directors, executives,     From Sales Manager to Sales Coach. Here,
and vice presidents from both sides of a    she offers some steps managers can take to                 www.richardson.com

								
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