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Culture change in outsourced accounts - some personal observations.
When companies merge two, sometimes very different, cultures come into contact. The frictions that result can be unsettling unless action is taken to harmonise the different beliefs and behaviours. I have experienced the merging of several cultures personally as I previously worked for a small consultancy that was acquired by a large Systems Integrator. They subsequently went on to acquire multiple groups of new employees through outsourcing and I worked in a number the outsourced accounts. The following are my own personal, empirical observations on some of the tactics that work successfully in merging disparate cultures:
What is "culture" anyway?
I always thought "culture" was one of those fluffy, touchy-feely concepts until it was brought home to me that you see it through what people say and what people do. Let me illustrate:
When my previous company was acquired the two cultures were very different. In short, the stereotyped view was: the consultancy, working with commercial clients, had a strong entrepreneurial approach and little management discipline but it was fun (or do I mean challenging); the new owners, were in defence and government with strong "by the book" project management, long time scales and did NOT have a fun image.
The first joint Christmas party following the merger arrived and the invitation was a scroll in the likeness of a pirate's treasure map. "Yo-ho-ho, me hearties. Ye are invited to partake of a tot of Christmas rum at the xyz hotel, …" Two lads worked for me at the time. Steve spent Friday afternoon with a red bandanna tied round his head going "Ah-ha Jim Lad!" to all the secretaries. Simon went to Toys-R-Us™ in search of a cutlass. Failing to find one, he showed creativity and came back with a Jedi™ light sabre.
The evening of the party Steve arrived early, parked up, knotted the bandanna and was rolling up his jeans when the coach from new employer arrived. And out stepped men in grey suits and women in cocktail dresses. "Oh $*&*!" thought Steve, "I just assumed it was a costume party."
He stood around for some time wondering what to do when the consultancy coach arrived and out poured pirates, eye-patchs, wooden legs, inflatable parrots, the lot. Big sigh of relief :-)
The picture that remains in my mind's eye is the hotel lobby with a fountain in the middle like a de-militarised zone. Formally attired men and women on one side demurely sipping gin and tonic and on the other side a party going strong with much beer and noise. That is culture.
About the author: Mark McLellan is a Principal consultant with the consultancy division of a major systems integrator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The above article appeared in The Facilitator Summer 1999 edition.