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When companies combine after a merger or an acquisition (M&A), the challenge is to create a workforce with shared values and goals.

Bringing two or more companies together to create a single unified business requires a foundation of shared values. Operating in a global marketplace, organisations need a clearly defined set of goals and values that are understood inside and outside the business. This becomes more important than ever at a time of change, when there is a requirement to retain staff, partners and customers as well as recruit the best talent.

When UK-headquartered AVEVA merged with France-based Schneider Electric’s industrial software business, AVEVA faced the challenge of combining operations across more than 42 countries spread throughout EMEA, Asia Pacific and the Americas and unifying a global workforce of more than 4,600 people.

Historically, both entities were no strangers to acquisition and each had a number of strong brands. The combined AVEVA and Schneider Electric businesses brought together diverse company cultures, all coming from a different perspective and place. The connecting thread was that both organisations were grounded in a strong heritage of industrial software and a desire to design and deliver great software for their customers. The first challenge was to create something that the employees of legacy companies could align to and get behind.

The new AVEVA – our learnings
Attempting to impose shared values from the top did not align with the values the leadership team wanted to engender. At AVEVA, we wanted to create a unified workforce with shared values, ensuring employees and managers understood and bought into the new culture. Having a defined culture framework which is consistent at an organisational and individual level is a real benefit that helps people understand what culture is and what we need to change. That boils down to creating an environment where people feel motivated and able to do their best work every day.

Here are our five key learnings for how to build a unified culture:

1.Drive shared values from the bottom up. Management imposition of culture and values on employees is not likely to be effective. To address this, we ran a series of ‘culture cafés’, reaching over 500 employees. Employees volunteered to attend the cafés where they discussed what they liked about their previous organisations, the values they wanted to retain and what they would like to see changed for the better in future.  At the end of the workshop period we took the input, condensed all the ideas and created our AVEVA LIFE values: Limitless Possibilities, Integrity Always, Flexibility Together, Excellence Every Day. This was a true employee-led initiative.

If our values guide the way we make our decisions, we then wanted to understand our culture – the collection of business practices, processes and interactions that make up our work environment. This would again help us bring the organisations together.  An employee survey gave an analysis of each individual employee, which helped the new AVEVA to understand employee cultural profiles and personal styles. We then worked with the senior leadership team to agree on a target culture for the organisation and looked at how they aligned. This provided important information about how each person aligned with the company’s profile and how this could impact the way they worked with other employees with different cultural profiles. We are now rolling out Culture Workshops for every employee to understand what we should stop, start and continue doing at a regional and organisational level. This is providing valuable feedback to the organisation and helping create a unified culture.

2.Ensure employees are living the values. Use the agreed values to underpin decision-making. We explicitly ask employees to assess regularly whether the decisions they make are aligned with our shared and stated values, as well as recognise when colleagues’ behaviours align to our culture and advise when they don’t. One of our main drivers is to encourage agile learning where employees learn from each other, our partners and our customers.

3.Attain senior leadership buy-in. Culture used to be an HR problem. Now it is every employee’s responsibility, but it is also vital to make sure every leader in the company is engaged. At an early stage, we involved the senior leadership team in decisions relating to company culture – in fact, our senior leadership team has been involved in multiple sessions helping to agree our target culture and learn from each other about best practices. They are also expected to model the behaviours. While the culture is created from the bottom up, it should be role modelled from the top down. We therefore build cultural aspects into our leadership development programme and appraisal system.

4.Align your internal and external communications around values. HR must work with marketing stakeholders to align stated values closely to brand attributes, internally and externally. We were fortunate that Marketing were working on our brand at the same time, so we worked closely with them to ensure that what we were hearing about our external brand values also aligned with our internal values and culture.

5.Measure and celebrate success. Measuring the impact of workshops includes a comparison of attrition rates before and after the events, employee engagement results and feedback from the performance review process, where all people are measured against the values. As employees leave the workshops, we ask them what they intend to stop, start and continue, to better align with company culture. This can be measured again at a later date to assess change and progress, at a company and individual level, departmental and country level. You will know you have succeeded when employees understand and can articulate what the culture is and when managers’ decisions reflect the culture of the organisation.

For many organisations, culture used to be a fluffy, feel good topic. Now it is a strategic business objective. Employees need to understand the organisational culture and every leader should be responsible for this. Shared values and culture drive a sense of belonging, supporting employee retention at a time of change. A unified approach to shared values and culture helps to underpin corporate objectives around diversity and inclusion, too.

Increasingly, senior leaders across all business units will understand that culture and values are central to the success of a merger or an acquisition. Businesses that get this right will be the ones who are ultimately successful in the global marketplace.

Mark Cooper, Chief Human Resources Officer – AVEVA Group plc

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