A 10-Step Merger Prenup

Published: November 28, 2017

Often, the task of blending cultures begins after the merger/acquisition has been consummated. The integration decision is made upon the faith that both sides can blend their similarities and differences like mature adults. Unfortunately, the human dynamics that fuel struggle are usually beneath the surface when potential partners size each other up for marriage. Imagine how the new relationship might get off the ground if both sides could see what was hidden.

Once you’ve validated the financial wisdom of joining forces, it’s time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses each party brings to the table. There’s great advantage to be realized when each partner is provided a glimpse of the future. There are ten drivers of cultural wellness that make or break mergers.

  1. Norms: Are rules, roles, and boundaries clear and consistent? How do we treat each other in the workplace under normal conditions vs. under stressful conditions?
  2. Vision: Is everyone aligned with the mission and values that support the future direction of the new organization?
  3. Conflict: Are differences managed with an appreciation for diversity? Can teammates endure the discomfort required for all perspectives to be heard?
  4. Respect: How does the organization respond to words and actions that could undermine the culture?
  5. Accountability: Beyond follow-through on commitments, are employees true to the stated mission, values, and vision when they interact with clients and colleagues?
  6. Connection: Does trust grow or shrink when teammates collaborate? Does the environment enjoy the psychological safety to support growth?
  7. Leveraging Differences: Can teammates leave the comfort zone of the status quo to explore, experiment, innovate, and create?
  8. Risk: What is the organization’s appetite for change? Are teammates willing to extend themselves when the future isn’t completely clear?
  9. Mourning: How gracefully can teammates let go of “the way it used to be?” Can the pain of the loss be voiced and acknowledged? Can everyone see the value of the change?
  10. Refocusing: How quickly do teammates embrace the new circumstances? When during the transition does the culture shift from “This hurts!” to “What’s next?”?

Each of these drivers of cultural wellness can be measured. Divide each organization into intuitive service lines and assess the strengths and vulnerabilities of each domain. Peer into the future so you know what assets and liabilities each partner contributes to the marriage. The prenup is simple:

  • Assess and appreciate the nuances that each organization contributes to the combined entity.
  • Agree to proactively use the strengths to address the vulnerabilities.
  • Triage high impact issues first and chip away with a commitment to continuous improvement.
Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.