Last week the approved merger of Starwood Hotels and Resorts with Marriott International was announced. It is like the blending of two very successful, independent, and somewhat competitive families. Looks great on the outside, but the merger is not always great for the families (or the employees).
Let's compare the merger with the blending of the families on the 70s television sitcom The Brady Bunch. Yes, our half-hour entertainment each week showed the challenges that a blended family had, and they made the solutions seem easy and possible.
It isn't always easy and possible, but assuming that it can be simple, what can we learn from the Brady Bunch?
I'm not a blended family specialist, but I did successfully blend my two boys with my husband's children ten years ago. I am a consultant who specializes in saving time, money and sanity here, so my advice does come from a place of business expertise as well as personal experience.
Mike and Carol Brady were particularly good at having family meetings. They would sit everyone down and let everyone know what was going on as it happened.
There were times when they had to sit down and chat privately with Marcia or Greg, but generally, anything that happened to one of the kids was important for all the kids to hear about, at the same time! One message, one delivery.
Marriott and Starwood employees are the kids. The girls all shared a room, and the boys shared a room (just like how the Marriott and Starwood employees currently live). Gossip is dangerous at this stage! Remember those episodes where the girls and the boys were fighting with each other? Those in charge need to make sure that everyone is given all the information as it happens, and together; just like Carol and Mike did.
Having huge town hall meetings (live and virtually) with both organizations present is important. If you deliver the messages at separate times, invariably the messages will change slightly. One team of employees will feel second rate as they didn't get the message first.
I realize that Marriott and Starwood employees are not children as the Brady kids were, but they may act like it (not all working adults act like working adults), and once fear, jealousy and competition set in, there will be problems! Rarely did Carol sit and explain things to the girls and Mike sit with the boys, but instead, everyone sat together, and talked through the message together. Don't alienate your teams, blend them.
When two families decide to become one, a new house is important. When I decided to blend my boys with my husband and his children, we immediately made the decision that we would all have a new home instead of one of us moving into the other's home.
For those of you Brady Bunch experts, you realize this isn't what happened on The Brady Bunch. Carol and the girls moved into Mike's house. In reality, this wouldn't be good for the family moving in. The boys would always resent that the girls took over their space. The girls would have a hard time feeling like this was "their" home as the boys would constantly remind them "this used to be my room" etc. The same is true with Marriott and Starwood. If the Marriott team relocated to the Starwood buildings, they would always be "the Starwood location" instead of the "Marrwood International location" (or whatever the new name will be).
Bringing one location to the other (such as bringing the Marriott Executive Team to the Starwood Headquarters) is not the answer. This will create an imbalance on a merger, making it feel like a takeover. Regardless of what happened, living in a "new" space is the best way to have the new team become a team faster. The reality is that there will be job losses, there will be hard feelings, and you need to account for fear and natural rivalry that will happen immediately.
In the meantime (because that will take time), merge at both locations. Have some departments at the Marriott International site, and some at the Starwood location. Don't make it look like one is better than the other. Once all the reorganization has been completed, then find the new space.
3) Find an Identity Quickly
Mike and his boys, and Carol and her girls became The Brady Bunch. Don't allow your new organization to become "I'm a Starwood employee" and "I'm a Marriott employee." You need to have a new identity that everyone wants to be part of.
Many years ago I worked at a company that merged with another. For years, people would say things like "What company did you come from?" Why does that matter? Why aren't we all part of the new company?
Look at the damage that causes in politics. Are you a Republican, or a Tea Party Republican? Are you a Conservative or a Reformed Conservative?
Television is fiction to be sure, but Marsha, Jan, and Susie never discussed what their names were before they become Brady. Once became a Brady, that's all they were. Whatever your name is, ensure that everyone identifies with it, and embraces the new identity.
Mergers are not easy, and I don't mean to make light of the incredible amount of work that Starwood Hotels & Resorts along with Marriott International have in creating a new wonderful network of hotels. A plan, strategy, and strong focus is required to ensure the employee piece of the merger is handled as efficiently and successfully as the financial piece of the merger is.
Let's hope we can all be one big happy family.
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