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Cross-Border Integration Irritants: You Change First

Case Study Project Description

A Canadian retailer was bought by an American chain store in their first cross-border acquisition. Several years post acquisition, different policies, procedures and laws, combined with the parent company’s change in management and centralizing of operations, alienated the Canadian management team. The US company did not seem to understand that Canadian accounting was different as was the expectation of an apology when payroll didn’t take the differences in law into account. Tempers flared often and the Canadian team would give the US management lip service.

They were not working well as a team: everyone ran their own department and store and did their own thing. Conflicts also existed between team members as to how to run things, how to grow and how to work with the American parent.

Project Problem

To be seen as a division ready to take on future growth – and not be left behind – the management team needed to learn how to collaborate through change and conflict, deal with the American parent’s way of operating, and influence change with the US parent through communication rather than resistance. The Canadian company retained us to help them with making these changes, knowing that the US parent would not be participating in the process. Was it possible for one side in a conflict to do all the changing and achieve any better result?

Solution

First, the leadership team had to be willing to stop viewing the parent company and its managers as the bad guys. This perspective ensured they felt powerless to get the attention they wanted to develop their own strategies.

Next, the team had to learn how to set their own vision and then sell it up the ladder as a team, not just rely on their leader to do it for them. We facilitated several events and team coaching sessions to set this new way of working in motion so that each member of the team contributed effectively.

After a year of working on the attitudes and methods they had been using to work with the US parent, the day came when the President would be in town along with the Vice President of Development. The Canadian management team met with us concerned that they would be shut down again. We reminded them of their vision to be trusted with an expansion strategy and that they could do this. We worked through their fears and concerns and anger and finally this group of ten managers agreed on their goal in the meeting with the US parent: they would welcome them, listen to them and make their request for the expansion.

Results

The mood changed immediately. As the US leaders walked into the room, the Canadian team rose and shook their hands. Camaraderie ensued and a good feeling filled the air. The Vice President looked around the room and smiled. He started with saying how impressed he was with everyone and their Canadian operations. He noted their change in attitude and what a joy it had become to work with them He wondered allowed what they wanted to do next. “Give me a plan, guys. Let’s do something up here!” Shock ran through the room. They got their goal and they had not had to ask.

After several meetings with the parent company the team was given permission to proceed with an expansion plan. They had not seen themselves as able to get this project off the ground before. Now they are the examples to other divisions about how to expand territories effectively.

With their differences resolved, communication with the parent company became informative and resourceful rather than rebellious and adversarial. Within 18 months, the management team emerged stronger, now the star performer in the store chain and opened their new store location.