‘We cannot look at inclusion right now – we are only two weeks post-merger. We need to wait for things to calm down.’
A statement that is heard all too often – and yet the reality is that there may never be a better time to ensure the new culture that a merger brings, carries with it a thread of inclusion. Success depends upon how inclusion is perceived within an organisation; to put into context, inclusion is not simply the new name for diversity. Inclusion is creating an environment where everyone can excel, can be heard, can be engaged. Not as easy as it may appear.
Due to the hardwiring of our brains and our inbuilt safety mechanisms, we are not designed to automatically bring people that we either consciously or unconsciously consider to be ‘other’ into our group. Quite the opposite in fact – we have a whole legacy system of early warning bells that sound when we are alerted to someone of a differing race, style, sexual orientation … or legacy organisation.
Couple this ‘alert system’ with the likelihood that no matter how well handled the merger, people still have fear – their job, their livelihood, their standing – fear that may reside in their unconscious mind, sending messages that drive often unrecognisable behaviour. Delivering a strong and authentic message of inclusion at this critical stage can enhance confidence and rebuild lost self-esteem.
It is hard to imagine a post M&A Strategy that would not have been enhanced by creating a culture of inclusion in the post-merger months. Longstanding experience of partnering with organisations looking to create post M&A cultures has most often seen the ‘Best of Both Worlds’ approach. Deciding what parts of the culture made the most people ‘happy’ and declaring it via ‘Mission Statements’ and ‘Culture Relaunches’ has to this point been the order of the day for many organisations.
This approach may have been at best ineffectual previously – today it is strategic suicide. In the 21st Century – with the flexibility, globality and technological capability coupled with constant demands for new products, new markets, new routes to market, new clients with their own new and changing needs – our cultures must be the drivers of our new post M&A strategies. It is hard to imagine a scenario where inclusion would not be a critical piece of any ‘Brave New World.’
Waiting for things to ‘bed down’ may be missing strategic advantage. Simple messages and workshops around inclusion and unconscious bias can drive away unrealistic assumptions around legacy organisations. Programmes of more depth may also ensure more robust decisions around talent selection, post-merger appointments and an assurity that things are done in a more transparent way.
Waiting until things have ‘calmed down’ may initially seem to be the best approach. But although things may seem ‘calm’ on the surface – the toxicity of hidden biases and assumptions, if unaddressed, may be sowing the seeds for issues for many years ahead.