For those unaware, KANA Software announced Tuesday, that it has acquired Ciboodle – the company I have been at for the past year and a half. The technological components are a great fit; the vision, framework and solution are excellent. As with any merger, there is work ahead required to execute on the vision. One of the most challenging elements, as identified by some of the industries finest minds, is going to be the merging of the cultures. The cultural elements will have a direct and large impact on the ability to execute against the vision, so we better get it right. Culture is the sum total of personalities, driven by the leadership driving towards common goals.
While I am sure many of you have been part of an M&A process, my personal perspective comes from the following: In 1997, when I was a wee lad, Kenan Systems (a 250 person private company) was acquired by Lucent technology (>100,000 people) for $1.4B. Having matured considerably by 1999 I was part of Octane, who were acquired by Epiphany for $3.2B (Monopoly money). While I do live in Vermont, I have worked for both Silicon Valley tech companies and a Scottish software company, come on, how many people can say that!
Let’s get to it!
Bain and Co published ” Building a winning culture ” (link below) where they outline the key attributes of a winning culture; high aspirations and a desire to win, external focus, ‘think like owners’ attitude, bias to action, individuals who team finally, passion and energy. These seems completely logical, obvious even, but how do two companies 5000 miles apart, an 11 hour flight (if connections are on time, but I digress) and 8 time zones different realize these attributes within the logical 4 walls?
Let’s start with some words from Mike Hughes, CEO of Ciboodle (For effect, please use your very best strong Glaswegian accent as your internal voice when you read this):
“I think that the folks from both organisation’s have the same can do attitude and are keen to capitalise on the opportunity ahead. We clearly have an excellent stack and the motivation of the people will drive this into a real integrated suite in a very short period of time. That will happen because the folks in the business are stoked to make it happen. It’s not often that a opportunity of this magnitude and significance comes along, we understand that and collectively we will deliver.”
From my perspective, this hits 2 of the attributes pretty directly, as well as one that is missing from Bain; executive desire to live the message. Adding my own perspective here, even within the first week the teams have allowed, encouraged even, participation from both sides of the deal to speak with influencers, analysts and press. This might seem like a small thing, but it is quite big. I am personally very encouraged by these actions – and most appreciative.This illustrates that the days of command and control are numbered. Both the KANA team and the Ciboodle teams have been active in person, on the phone, through WebEx sessions, email and social channels.
External Focus, Bias to action
These two are absolutely critical, my opinion, especially given the industry we live in; Customer Experience and Customer Service Excellence. Both KANA and Ciboodle have a passion for excellence and delighting customers, which should be quite obvious from the posts by Clare Dorrian and Vikas Nehru (Links below). They are words, so we cannot lose focus and must prove ourselves with action; to our current customer base and the current in-flight projects. Here is the kicker and the single biggest risk factor identified by Bain: “Do not get caught-up in internal politics or navel-gazing”. The energy drain from internal politics (which I witnessed during the Kenan / Lucent acquisition) can be very damaging from many perspectives.
The ‘bias to action’ describes me personally pretty well and from early indications my new counterparts in Sunnyvale. I am a bit impatient and I want to get things done. I can see the value that the marriage can bring to customers. I can be a little over-the-top sometimes, but as I have said on a few analyst calls and briefings with industry folks, there are more toys in the toy chest. To the broader ecosystem, I would say that what KANA adds to the Ciboodle Agent Desktop can help our customers to realize the vision I have been putting out here for a while (I suppose I should say what Ciboodle brings to KANA, oh well, sorry). I do realize that it is not only about technology, it is about helping people to get their jobs done.
“The strongest cultures bind people together across both hierarchy and geography, guiding them to make the right decisions and advance the business without explicit direction.”
Here is what the leadership team need to do and I have confidence that it will be done. Can I commit to time frames? Probably not, because if I did I would likely have a very short tenure at my new home. The leadership team need to set expectations about the importance of culture issues within the new organization. The leadership team itself need need to have the common vision which can be shared with the rest of the organization. Everyone needs to have a sense of ownership and accountability. Within large organizations it is too easy to ‘ride and glide’. Everyone needs to pull their own weight. Clarity, communications and ‘walking the talk’ by the leadership will go along way to setting the proper tone. My reflection of week one suggests exactly that, and we need it to continue, even accelerate.
Finally, the winning culture is about the performance values, behaviors added to the personality of the resulting organization. To be fair, I only have a one sided view on this one, but will say that the Ciboodle side has been known for our sometimes quirky personality. We have done things a bit differently (for longer than I have been around). I am not too familiar with the KANA ‘personality’ and I am looking forward to seeing what the proper blend will be – and I will try hard to influence it, I see that as one of my jobs (I am physically half-way between Sunnyvale and Glasgow).
I mentioned above that the culture of an organization is the sum total of the personalities within the organizations. Where this merger is very different from previous mergers I have been a part of is the enabling technologies which are available. No, technology cannot solve this problem but it should be leveraged to make things easier. Proper collaboration can be used to effectively reduce the timezones, shorten the distance and allow for real 21st century productivity. The resulting culture, driven by individual personalities, will drive a new corporate personality; some combination of KANA and Ciboodle, and I am looking forward to being part of the process.
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