First class coach - Miranda Kennett

Q My company merged with a smaller but more dynamic one some months ago.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Its culture is quite different to ours, which was pretty conventional. I find this attractive but my former colleagues are resistant to change. They're critical of me when I follow the new guidelines. But as I'm not yet accepted by my new colleagues, I'm feeling isolated.

A It's interesting that more often than not, it's the culture of the smaller, younger company that triumphs over the larger, more established one in a merger - at least, in the service sector. Perhaps this is because the smaller player doesn't carry historical baggage, making it more flexible in the new working context; or, being more recently formed and perhaps with the founders still in place, the business is more focused and clearer on its aims and values.

Sometimes, this injection of energy is the real purpose of the merger. One of my previous assignments was to help the management of a new merger in which a small, successful advertising agency had been reversed into a failing, monolithic multinational. ‘The problem is that we're different sorts of people,' confided the MD, one of the small agency's founders. ‘We're hunter-gatherers; every piece of business we've got by going out and dragging it back to the cave. These people are farmers: they husband business that they've acquired through international realignment. They don't know the thrill of the chase.'

Of course, the reformulated agency needed both types of people. It had to find a way of overcoming mutual suspicion so that the differing talents of the two groups could be used to good effect, and to create a new identity that combined passion and commitment with consistency and relationship-building skills. There was an inevitable downsizing, with almost all the casualties coming from the multinational agency.The survivors were the ones who, like you, were attracted to a new, more energetic style of working. They realised that the old ways of doing things had become less effective and that adopting a different approach was key to survival.

Forming a new, compelling identity and letting go of what went before is an issue for all merged organisations. Often, the matter is fudged - there are examples in both the private and public sectors of people cleaving to practices and culture of their ‘legacy' employers, many years after the merger. It's hard to change habits and loyalties, especially if the new leadership doesn't seem to respect what went before. This lack of integration often acts as an impediment to progress and may be the reason most mergers fail to achieve the financial advantage that provided their original rationale.

You appreciate that things are changing and that you, too, need to change. I suspect that there are others from your old firm who, even if not keen on the new approach, are coming to understand they'll need to adapt if they're to succeed under the new regime.<

Meantime, you're in an uncomfortable no-man's land. Criticism notwithstanding, you'll have to make your commitment to the new culture evident in how you operate - otherwise, you risk being tarred with the same brush as your old colleagues, with negative consequences for your prospects. Although you might prefer to have warm relationships with your colleagues, you're not employed to win a popularity contest but to do a job. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be liked, but try out the opposite mindset for a week or two to see what insights it brings.

In your enthusiasm for the new culture, beware of rejecting wholesale what went before. That will alienate your colleagues and risk discarding elements of your old firm that could be of value to the new one. During this transition period, assess the relative strengths of both operations and decide how these might be used to address current weaknesses and potential threats and to take advantage of fresh opportunities.

If you find a kindred spirit among your new colleagues who will help with the project, so much the better: you'll share insider knowledge from both businesses and your conclusions will have a surer footing. If you're feeling bold, you could put together a short presentation on your observations for senior management. Otherwise, you can just use your knowledge in daily life to broker optimal solutions to issues that arise and to smooth the path to integration.

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