How this HR Leader Defines Post-Merger Company Culture
During a merger, HR's role is to identify and curate a healthy organisational culture. Here is what I have learned through this process.
A healthy organisational culture
A healthy organisational culture is a key enabler of performance and accelerates the delivery of an organisation's strategy. At Dell, our values and shared expectations for how we engage and work is key to realising our strategy and creating a consistent and seamless experience for team members and customers.
It is essential that every member of the organisation understands how to win and how what they do on a daily basis relates to the organisation's success. An organisation cannot have a healthy culture without strong leadership. Leaders inspire people to do their best to contribute to the organisation's objectives, and to do so the right way. An organisation achieves a healthy organisational culture when every team member feels connected to the strategy, is able to do their best work, and trusts the people they work with.
What HR needs to be aware of during a merger
The first step is to establish the commonalities and the differences, define the combined company by learning from its people, and listening to what motivates them and drives them. Integrating products and services is of course important, but a people-first approach will be the driver for long-term success of the integration.
There is an inevitable balance: making sure immediate needs with teams are addressed, but that you take the time to do things right. Stay focused on your task - if you know your priority is people, then avoid getting side tracked by process.
Mergers put HR front and centre to lead change and help shape the workforce that aligns with the combined company strategy, vision, and purpose. At Dell, we pride ourselves on being a people company that is in the technology business.
We know that we cannot win without the engagement of every team member in every function and every business unit.
It is only natural to emphasise products and financials when merging companies, but it is equally important that people and culture are not overlooked. Organisational culture does not change overnight, which is why it needs to be at the top of a leader's agenda when bringing two organisations together. For merged companies to move forward together, its people have to be united towards a common goal and purpose – they have to understand and believe why they are better together.
The merger of Dell and EMC brought together a family of seven businesses, in the largest technology merger in history. Before bringing the two major companies together, we surveyed 75,000 global team members from both Dell and EMC. We asked them to look at 22 cultural attributes that would be important for the new combined company, to think about their present-day company culture and identify and rank the top 5 attributes that they currently experience in their daily work.
We followed this up with focus groups to gain further insight into our cultures and the culture for the new company. This process also helped to let our team members know that we were building a new culture for a new company and we wanted the input of as many people as possible.
The 75,000 voices helped us to define the cultural attributes and leadership principles most important for the success of Dell Technologies, leading to the formation of our Culture Code. Our Culture Code unites us and makes it clear how we run the business, go to market, work together, and provide inspirational leadership.
When merging two companies, I would always recommend this fact-finding process. It sets the groundwork for the success of the company early on. A tempting mistake to make is to rush the process; you cannot predict what the outcomes will be, so you need to give yourself time to think about the content, digest feedback, and use it to define what your culture will be. Finally, I would say to not only digest the positive feedback, but make sense of the constructive insights as well.
How organisational culture is designed to last
Culture is about defining and reinforcing expectations.
Collectively defining what the company stands for comes from asking people internally what matters to them most. For us, it showed us that we believed in winning and working together, that we want to continue leading the way in inclusion, and that it was important for our leaders to always stand up for the right causes.
That listening process also reflects another key part of the process: that culture is not defined by leadership; instead leaders should emulate and encourage the culture. We want every team member to share accountability for making our Culture Code real every day.
We assessed people practices in areas like attraction and hiring, and performance and development to make sure it was aligned. Because our culture is very team-driven, we also see it come to life in our ways of working. For example, we created the 'rallying cry' Go Big Win Big, which encapsulates our culture in winning and working together, and in recognition of the benefits of the companies coming together.
We have also seen positive impact from our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which connect team members with common interests or backgrounds and bring their collective voices together to drive innovation, create business opportunities, and encourage career progression. We have 14 ERGs across the company that further an inclusive work environment and provide them an ability to build relationships and share ideas. Those that are involved in these groups have higher engagement scores because of the opportunity it presents to make a positive impact on the wider business.
Culture matters during an M&A
A focus on culture needs to be continuous. This is one of the most crucial times to make sure that teams are brought together around our strategy, vision, and purpose. For any business that is customer-focused, we have to make sure everyone is aligned with the customer-first mindset so they need to know what the values are and how they make them real every day.
We also know how important culture is to attract the best talent and for them to stay engaged. That is a long-term goal that an ongoing investment in culture will help meet.
Leaders play a critical role in making our Culture Code – made up of our values, how we work, and how we lead – a reality. Our culture needs to be more than words on posters or a website.
It is important that leaders recognise that how we run the business, how we go to market, and how we lead each other matters. It reveals what we care about, the things in which we are willing to invest in, and the rules that define us. Leadership is the secret sauce – it is what keeps our strategy on track and our culture strong so we can win and create value for our customers.