Culture clash: How to address differences when taking on a new partnership

Culture clash: How to address differences when taking on a new partnershipMergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and other varieties of partnership are all great options for growing your business and are particularly effective ways for title insurance agencies to expand their opportunities into new regions and specialties.

Often, when an agent decides to pursue one of these pathways, the first thing they look at is the spreadsheet. What could this mean in terms of new income? Will it increase costs or decrease costs due to shared resources? What will the upfront costs look like in terms of combining two entities?

The one consideration that often falls to the bottom of the list is the challenge of combining two distinct cultures when bringing the companies together to forge a new entity.

In the first bright glow of falling in love with the idea of merger, acquisition or joint venture, one might convince oneself that you and the other business owner want the exact same outcome and in fact it might feel that way in the initial euphoria of putting the deal together.

It’s like the early days of an engagement when two people raised in drastically different cultures, with opposing religious views and burdened by wildly different upbringings may believe that in spite their disparate realities they somehow will be on the same page about how to keep the house clean, raise children and handle money.

Getting to the bottom of things

Spreadsheets are great, but they are not people. Ensuring you are on the same page when it comes to culture involves a lot of dialogue, which means sharing your truth, listening intently to other views, and coming to terms with where you intend to take this new venture.

Because in truth, culture is complicated.

Culture can be as simple as dress code (jeans or suits) and adherence to rules and norms (showing up on time and how we treat one another) and as complex as shared values and vision.

Commit to the evaluation

Make cultural alignment a priority from the outset and commit to putting in the time to explore each company’s culture. This must begin with a frank conversation between the owners and extend deep into each company, whether that means getting on site to view operations, conducting employee surveys or meeting with each other’s top managers.

This whole process requires a tremendous commitment to being open and frank, as well as listening and observing. Every company has its strengths and its challenges. Being candid about how each of you approach management, planning, communication and a plethora of other topics can help you create a much stronger culture than either of you may have had on your own.

Determine shared values

After gathering information from these efforts, put pen to paper to craft a statement or outline of what characteristics you feel are important in this new shared culture. This is critical. If you are not on the same page from the beginning, you can bet your employees will struggle with a disjointed culture that does not have a clear set of parameters and goals for growing the company in the future.

Communication and patience

Communicating the vision of the new combined venture is critical to its ultimate success. In addition, inviting employees from both sides of the table to participate in the development of the particulars that make up the vision can ensure they are invested in the outcome. This may feel like “your” company, but if your employees don’t feel like it is “their” company, too, you will never achieve the kind of cohesive teamwork it takes to build a really great company.

Avoid the steamroller effect

The #1 rule of blending two company cultures into a new venture is, “Don’t do nothing.” Don’t think you can successfully steamroll your way into a merger, acquisition or joint venture and everyone on both sides will happily fall into line. Just as you are judicious in investigating the financial and technological particulars on both sides, be equally judicious in discussing, defining and implementing a shared culture.

At FAN, we can offer additional capabilities that will strength your M&A or joint venture efforts. Call us today to learn the many ways we can assist you in building a stronger agency for the future.



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