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The Importance of Conducting Cultural Assessments in M&A


How to Conduct Cultural Assessments for More Successful Deal Outcomes

An M&A Science Podcast

Hosted by Kison Patel

“How do the employees get work done? How do they interact with one another? How do they approach decision making? Once you are armed with this information and understand the unwritten rules of engagement within a company, you are better positioned to make strategic decisions and approach the merger in a way that supports preserving the value of the deal.”

On this Episode

Kison speaks with Dawn White, an M&A Integration Manager at Corning. Dawn is part of a team at Corning that’s responsible for launching and maintaining the organization's strategic growth, integration success and change management. On this episode, Dawn explains the importance of conducting cultural assessments during M&A transactions and explores how these assessments can lead to stronger deal outcomes, increased value creation and an overall happier and more productive workforce.

Dawn describes how to best conduct and approach cultural assessments as well as common missteps she’s seen in the process and how to overcome them.

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Show Notes

00:00 Intro

00:45 Dawn’s Background

01:35 Corning’s Integration Center

02:35 The Importance of Cultural Assessments During an M&A Deal

03:05 During the M&A process, when should you start considering culture? 

03:55 Additional Cultural Areas to Assess Early On

06:05 Situations Where You Wouldn’t Do a Cultural Assessment

07:05 Dawn’s Approach and Checklist for Conducting a Cultural Assessment

09:15 Collecting Information for the Assessment

11:35 Surveys and Achieving Participation

13:15 Focus Groups vs. Surveys

16:30 On-site Cultural Observation

18:51 Cultural Themes

21:40 Paradoxes, Cultural Behaviors that Contradict Each Other

22:50 Additional Observations

26:42 Executing the Cultural Assessment

27:45 Common Missteps that Stunt Cultural Assessment

31:25 Spearheading the Importance of Cultural Assessment to a Deal’s Success

33:00 Financial Aspects vs. Cultural Aspects

34:40 Craziest Thing Dawn has Seen Doing Cultural Assessments


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What Causes Deal Fever? What Raises the Risk?

There are several symptoms that can lead to the disease of deal fever. 

One such symptom of deal fever is getting carried away in the heat of the deal. There is a lot of time and effort spent just exploring a potential deal, let along the negotiations involved. Sometimes people spend so much time and effort on exploring and negotiating the deal that they feel is must get done at all costs, while failing to take a birds-eye view in determining if the deal is really the best thing for the company.

Another symptom indicating the presence of deal fever and one that raises the risk of catching it is when certain executives become more excited about the deal and emotionally involved in the outcome than other members of the group. This can lead to inflating the deal’s potential strengths instead of also focusing on potential pitfalls. In a competitive situation, sometimes certain people want to do the deal much more than others for a variety of reasons. 

Many M&A teams also use M&A software to help them source new deals. Just because a software is telling you a deal is a good idea, that doesn't mean you don't have to do the proper research.

How to Prevent Deal Fever

Great news! There are a number of proven ways to prevent deal fever and keep your company disease-free. Here are some tips to stay deal fever-free:

  • Perform More Research Than You Need To. You can never perform too much research on a potential deal, so we recommend doing even more than you think you need to.  
  • Seek The Opinion Of Experienced Deal Makers. Get another opinion from someone you trust that has embarked on similar deals. What do they think of the deal? Seeking another opinion that can evaluate your potential deal without the emotional involvement will help you ensure the deal is truly one you want to pursue!
  • Know All Of The Potential Risks. Thoroughly evaluating the deal’s potential risks, and involving your team in the process, will help you avoid deal fever. Don’t lose sight of your basic financial calculations! Involving others in the process is essential, as you want to make sure nothing is overlooked and you can remain deal fever-free. 

Resist deal fever by not overlooking the negatives that you may not want to see! If you have been the primary person working on the deal, make sure you involve others so they can help assure that you are seeing everything clearly. There should never be one person working on deal flow tracking. Likewise, don’t let personal pressures to get the deal done get in the way of looking at everything objectively. Sometimes, not doing the deal may be in the best interests of the company.

How to Tell When You Have Deal Fever

Do you have a high degree of risk tolerance? Do you have a burning desire to get the deal done, yet something just doesn’t feel right about it but you’re not sure what? If so, you may be catching a slight bout of deal fever.

Having the above feelings isn’t just exclusive to individuals, either. Many companies surveyed believe that their M&A function of getting the deal done is more important than what follows. If you’re in the M&A department, and you’re not performing M&A’s, something must be wrong, right? No, not necessarily. Inherently good deals are difficult to come by and you may have to pass on many of them before you find the right fit.

If deals contain personal agendas or emotions, or your company provides more incentives and encouragement to do the deals rather than not, than these are signs that your company may have deal fever. Recognize the signs so you can avoid deal fever and ensure you are making deals that have the highest chances of future success for your company.

Deal Fever

Treatment, Care & Medications For Deal Fever

Below are some treatment, care and medications for this contagious disease known as deal fever:

  • Treatment Option 1. Ensure your deal team is incentivized for long term success, and not just for completion of the deal.
  • Treatment Option 2. Have objective, experienced observers review the deal specs, including all of the potential negatives of doing the deal.  This way you can help ensure you’re not overlooking potential pitfalls.
  • Treatment Option 3. Let post-close executives have direct input into whether or not the deal goes through
  • Medications For Deal Fever. Create clear action steps that are to be taken when considering all potential deals. Create a set of red flags, or things to be looked at more closely when they occur. Finally, a healthy dose of objective observation by people not directly involved in the process will both help prevent and cure this debilitating disease!

A very important aspect in our guide on deal fever is to cultivate a business culture in which you have both risk tolerant and risk averse individuals on the team, with both groups having equal say. When both groups sign off on a potential deal, and it is also reviewed by an objective observer, you know you might have a winner!

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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Diet, Exercise & Rest

One of the most important ways to prevent deal fever that is often overlooked is to ensure you have a good diet, and are getting enough exercise and rest. Doing so will keep your mind and body in tip top shape, and will help alleviate some of the pressures incurred from pursuing and evaluating a potential deal. 

M&A deals are complex transactions that often go at a very fast pace and can also be emotionally charged, so ensuring you’re eating well, exercising and getting enough rest can help counteract the pressures of working on the deal.

The Takeaway

Many M&A management can sometimes lack a truly accountable leader to oversee the process. Having a great leader, coupled with the goal of long term success instead of short term, are the highlights of the best things to do to not get infected with this crippling disease. Set the criteria for success and focus on that more than focusing on doing the deal just to get it over with. Make sure your team is incentivized on long term goals and are not acting out of the fear of “what if we don’t get this deal done.”

If you and your team are currently managing M&A transactions, check out DealRoom's M&A virtual data room and project management software. DealRoom's platform also includes pipeline and integration management, which helps teams organize deals for their entire lifecycle.

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