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Barbara Zhang, Zebra Technologies

Becoming better together: How HR can build a brand new culture post-acquisition

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Getting 84% of a 7,000-strong workforce to participate in post-acquisition workshops is no easy task. Barbara Zhang, senior director HR Asia Pacific, Zebra Technologies discusses M&A insights for HR leaders.

Merger and acquisitions often bring about much uncertainty. Merged companies often focus on integrating systems, processes, products, services, and customers first, and cultural integration tends to take a back seat. However, in a world of corporate marriages, creating a culture that works well for employees from both companies has become a crucial exercise, and is one of the most important factors contributing to a smooth and fruitful integration, alongside strategy, intellectual property, and assets.

Two years after the acquisition of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business, Zebra Technologies is in a stronger position than ever before – not just as a business, but as a place to work for its more than 7,000 colleagues. This is thanks to company-wide initiatives that have created a brand new culture within the organisation – and not just simply imposing an “assimilation” process.

Launch of Leaders in Action programme

Success and strong corporate culture go hand in hand. Five values were introduced, including innovation, integrity, teamwork, accountability, and agility. These values are the guiding principles on which our culture-shaping programme is based.

It is inevitable that cultural conflicts arise after a merger as two organisations with distinct cultures come together; this could be in the form of different working styles, personalities, experiences, and personal values. This was why we wanted to build a culture that is not from the old Zebra or the old Motorola Solutions Enterprise business, but one that is entirely new and reflective of the strengths of the two companies.

We launched the Zebra Leaders in Action programme in 2015, in consultation with a leading culture-shaping consultancy – shortly after the acquisition. The programme was designed to align the company’s culture with its five core values plus our mission and vision.

The programme has proven to be a success in Asia-Pacific (APAC) and 84% of our colleagues in the region have attended these workshops.

Getting 84% of colleagues to attend 

The Leaders in Action sessions are workshops that aim to turn everyone into culture influencers and to better understand how to work with other people who may have different personality types, opinions, and experiences. While the workshops introduce the concept of culture-shaping and set us thinking about how we can better collaborate and work with others, the programme extends to “Culture Clubs” and regular engagement surveys.

We have 28 culture champions across APAC to lead the conversations in each market that we operate.

Zebra’s Culture Club creates an open community where every employee can partake in culture-shaping activities. Led by culture champions, the activities can range from conversations, mini workshops focused on specific concepts, to networking opportunities among colleagues. Following such activities, attendees are encouraged to internalise and demonstrate Zebra’s shared values in their day-to-day interactions and the decisions they make.

We have 28 culture champions across APAC to lead the conversations in each market that we operate. During these sessions, leaders are encouraged to share their experiences pertaining to culture-shaping efforts; we also held discussions with colleagues about cultural issues that affected them at work.

To measure the effectiveness of such programmes, we conduct global employee engagement surveys. This way, we can hear and understand first-hand feedback from our colleagues and identify the strengths and gaps in our work culture and environment. The cultural issues and topics indicated in the survey will also help drive conversations and discussions in the future.

Results of the 2016 programme

One year into the programme, we have reaped many fruits and enjoyed the tangible benefits to our organisation.

Many of the concepts in our culture-shaping programme are common knowledge, but the workshops have helped verbalise them to us. Employees now have a better understanding of how different individuals and teams may have their differences and are still able to collaborate effectively.

For example, we learned that disagreements are normal and we need to understand and respect one another’s points of view. This has benefitted the organisation as we are seeing a more cohesive workforce where less time is wasted from locking heads, and more is accomplished because we can find common solutions in our work.

Apart from that, we trained our employees in areas that help them perform their work better. For example, one of the sessions held at the culture-shaping workshop is to “Be Here Now” – a concept that encourages colleagues – no matter their seniority – to focus on the conversation or meeting they are in. This means not bringing any distractions such as laptops or mobile phones, and we have found this to be useful in making our meetings more productive.

We learned that disagreements are normal and we need to understand and respect one another’s points of view.

Culture-shaping is an ongoing endeavour

Culture-shaping programmes need to be sustainable and systematic. A comprehensive strategy, a theme that is relevant and reflective of the world outside of the organisation, a broad group of participants, and a wide range of activities and tactics, are ingredients of a successful culture-shaping exercise.

At Zebra, we have experienced the benefits of shaping and practicing good corporate culture. Colleagues no longer see one other from where they were from previously, but rather they see one another as members of “One Zebra”.

Overall, we have seen employee morale rise, and productivity has also taken a leap as we put our cultural differences behind. Our teamwork, innovation, agility, accountability, and high integrity have enabled us to bring better satisfaction to our partners and customers – enabling them to become as smart and connected as the world we live in.

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