When the news first broke that Wal-Mart had purchased Hoboken, N.J., based Jet.com (an online retailer) a lot of the focus was on two separate but equally important areas. First, the price tag of $3.3 billion, consisting of $3 billion upfront, and $300 million to be paid later, signified the seriousness with which the management team was handling this acquisition.
Second, and following up on a very public deployment of increased online and app based purchase options, it was clear that Amazon-based nightmare scenarios were not uncommon at the Bentonville, Ark. headquarters of Wal-Mart. Less attention, at least at first, was paid to the radically different styles, employees, and cultures employed at the two organizations. Even less discussed was how exactly these two organizations were going to achieve those all-important synergies.
In hindsight, this might have been a miscalculation.
Flash forward just under a year, and it is clear that these acquisitions and subsequent integration of Jet.com into the Wal-Mart corporate structure provides an opportunity to examine the issue of clashing cultures, and eventually, cultural integration. You may be reading this and thinking that this is a one-off situation, especially since Wal-Mart is such a large organization, and that certainly plays a role in this conversation. That said, it is worth noting that the issues faced (and still being worked through) by different employee bases, management teams, and company cultures could just as easily apply to your business. Numerous articles, speeches, and even books cover the topic of how to manage different generations, and the idea of managing potential culture clashes falls squarely into that same area.
The reality is that whether you are an employee at an organization, an entrepreneur hiring new employees, or merging your business with another firm, these are real life problems you most likely will have to face at a certain point.
Some of the specific issues faced between Jet.com and Wal-Mart, including the availability of alcohol during some office hours, a more casual office attitude toward swearing, competing views on costs that are appropriate for the business to incur may be specific to these two firms. After some initial growing pains, and not without some bumps along the way, it appears the two cultures are beginning to move forward together. As an entrepreneur, challenges are part of the process, but getting different people and cultures to work well together can be especially tricky. Let's take a look at a few things that Wal-Mart and Jet.com have done to, at least from what you and I can see, help smooth over potential potholes.
1. Figure out what is important to the company
You and I both know that not everyone is going to agree on everything, and that a lot of the time, most people are not going to agree on most things. That is fine, as long as everyone can agree on a certain set of core ideas and principles that matter to the business. For both Wal-Mart and Jet.com those are offering wide selections, doing so at low prices, and making the online shopping experience a higher quality one for customers.
2. Have the conversation
There is a big difference between knowing things will change, and actually having the conversation to discuss what these changes will be. Laying your cards on the table, understanding where the other person or people are coming from, and trying to find common ground will never damage an integration process. The management teams at both Wal-Mart and Jet.com, for example, had to discuss what cultural specifics helped retain top talent, and make every effort to leave those intact.
3. Realize things will change
The cliché that change is inevitable is said so often that it is probably as painful for you to read as it was for me to include it, but it's something that entrepreneurs have to really know. Whether it is working with a new client, onboarding a new employee, or working through an acquisition or merger, it is important to recognize that things will change for everyone. Jet.com, for example, has begun to have a loosening up effect on some aspects of the corporate culture at Wal-Mart. Not everything will change, but some things certainly will be different.
While the issues and growing pains that have been going on as Wal-Mart digests the purchase of Jet.com have certainly made headlines over the last year or so, but these are not just issues for multinational organizations. The very same issues that caused some indigestion between the cultures at Wal-Mart and Jet.com can just as easily come up in your day to day business. Acknowledging this, however, does not have to anything to be frightened of -- if the two radically different cultures in this piece can learn to get along, you and your business certainly handle changes that come your way.