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Dear Workforce How Do We Gauge Our Employee Culture After a Merger?

Dear Building (or Repairing) Bridges:

Back in 2006, I was working with GE Healthcare in Sweden. I was talking with a group of engineers in Uppsala about GE’s culture. The engineers agreed that they did not feel part of the GE culture. “We are still LKB employees at heart,” said one. LKB? In my nine years at GE, I had never heard of such a firm, so I asked around. It turns out that in 1986 Pharmacia Fine Chemicals acquired LKB Produkter AB and changed its name to Pharmacia Biotech. In 1997 Pharmacia Biotech merged with Amersham Life Science (U.K.) and took the name Amersham Pharmacia Biotech. The Pharmacia name was dropped in 2001. Amersham was acquired by GE Healthcare in 2004. This team of highly skilled engineers had a stronger identification with a brand that had ceased to exist some 20 years ago.

This little anecdote illustrates the strength of the association people can feel to a brand and a company through multiple mergers. Clinging to the past can create great shared experiences, but also tends to create shared resistance when embracing the future. And poor integration can also result in cultural “silos” forming within a company.

An employee survey can be a great opportunity to take the pulse, post-merger, and gather data on how well the different employee populations are coming together to meet the organization’s objectives. It also provides the opportunity to correct the course if required.

The first trick is identifying your historic populations (Former Company X, Former Company Y, and also any new members who may have joined since the merger took place). This requires some legwork, but your survey supplier (if you are using one) should be able to help you with this. Building in this tracking ahead of the survey will allow you to analyze the data based on which side of the merger the employees came from. This will also allow you to personalize the survey for the new folks—this will be required for clarity.

The questions you use in the survey will depend on your strategic intent, but should focus on two aspects of the employees’ perceptions: their personal satisfaction and their contribution to the new company’s success.

“Satisfaction” questions focus perceptions of the new company compared to the old: Are they finding the new company to be a better place to work, with better career opportunities than existed previously?

“Contribution” questions focus on any issues that may currently be preventing that individual from performing at the highest level: clarity on the company strategy and personal commitment to delivering against expectations. Questions can also focus on how well the current company culture supports high performance.

Open questions are always a great tool for capturing the mood of respondents, but be aware of the time required to analyze and report on these. One simple question such as “What was your experience of the merger process?” will generate plenty of feedback.

A word of caution is in order, however. Make your employee engagement survey short and to the point—fewer than 30 questions. Yet you need to establish a good engagement benchmark to compare the newly integrated folks from the tenured ones, as well as ask questions specific to the merger. So make sure you avoid the pitfall of making your engagement survey the “servant of many masters,” or you will find your participation rate to be fairly low.

My final note is this: The survey will no doubt provide you with rich insights. What you do with that intelligence determines whether you will improve your culture and improve future acquisitions/integrations. So think ahead: Plan briefings for managers and senior leaders on the outcomes of the survey and visible actions, so that all employees will know that their feedback was taken to heart.

SOURCE: Fraser Marlow, BlessingWhite Inc., Skillman, New Jersey

LEARN MORE: In today’s business climate, social media is a key tool for communicating change to employees.

Workforce Management Online, May 2011Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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