A Whole New Metaphor: Merger as Mash-Up!
Attending the New Orleans Jazz Festival is at the top of my bucket list. Jazz is a fusion of sounds, voices, tempos, and rhythms, and has roots in many traditions. It is constantly evolving. It takes on the nuances of the moment and the artists and draws its energy from the audience. It’s organic and contains notes which resonate differently for every listener. No two performances of the same piece are alike – ‘Take Five’ is one of my favorites. I love Dave Brubeck’s original recordings and Eric Mintel’s version of this same piece.
Regardless of the adaptation I am listening to, the song always feels familiar and comforting, yet fresh and inspiring. The familiarity stems from the parts of the piece that I can rely upon – the tempo, critical musical phrases, and notes. The fresh and inspirational component comes because each artist adds, subtracts, and personalizes the piece every time it’s performed—with each new performance, a unique stamp is put on an old favorite.
A recent evening at a jazz club left me wondering—what if we applied the metaphor of music to the process of merging organizational cultures in post-M&A integrations? In this application, each organization brings their best, most resonant, signature qualities to the table – focusing on their strengths and what makes them unique—their brand, talent, and expertise.
Merger as Mash-Up
A mash-up is a composition created by the blending of two or more sources or pre-existing parts. Used most frequently in music and video, mash-ups combine clips or components of songs, musical scores, videos, comedy skits, commercials, and other media to fashion a new whole (check out this creative mash-up of popular 2016 songs). The cool thing about mash-ups is that the combined version (the synergy) is often better than any single component.
All too often in post-merger integrations, the value of bringing cultures together is overlooked because effort and attention is focused elsewhere or disregarded because its importance is not realized. There may be explicit or implicit assumptions that the acquiring organization’s culture will automatically be picked up by the acquired employees, believing in blind faith that perhaps it will all just work itself out organically over time.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens. And, because it doesn’t happen, tremendous value in the transaction is lost. Moreover, if the efforts aren’t initiated from the start, it can be extremely difficult to effectively merge the cultures later on.
Like a great mash-up, bringing organizations together takes skill and craftsmanship. Just as the audience attend to the notes at a jazz concert, merging cultures takes critical listening skills—you must hear the individual and collective voices of the artists (the employees) and capture the essence and lyrics of each piece (the brand and the key messages). Piecing it all together requires careful engineering and editing (having the right processes and procedures in place)—too much of any one element may seem overpowering, too little and the audience (your stakeholders) will lose interest and there will be no value in the production.
Like jazz performances, a great mash-up gives the audience and the artists a taste of the familiar, something they find comfort in and can hold onto—they see or feel themselves in a situation, and they can embrace it, and themselves, as being part of something new. They recognize specific components and feel comfortable adding their own creative input as the foundation for what’s next.
Two organizations coming together can make beautiful music, but, it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time, skill, attention, thoughtfulness, effort, and practice. Consider the payoff when it does—a harmonic culture ready to drive success, overcome future obstacles, and maximize efficiencies. While merging two (or more) companies can be overwhelming, when done correctly, the new organization, and the cultures that complete it, can be as beautifully integrated as the sounds from this Pakistani jazz orchestra—incredible, exciting, and new.