Breaking Silos with Acquired Subsidiary


A Fortune 200 company acquisition in Cameroon wasn’t adhering to corporate compliance standards after five years and a succession of CEOs. We were hired to increase compliance and integrate them into the existing corporate culture. After 2 days in Cameroon working with the CEO, the HR team, and the 100 top leaders, compliance with global performance management shot up from 30% before to over 80% after!

The Challenge

A large (Fortune 200) US energy company made a major acquisition in Cameroon, Africa, and sent one of their experienced US executives as CEO. Things did not quite work out, so they replaced the CEO with a new one, again sent from headquarters. Eventually – after five years of frustration – the US acquirer decided to try a local CEO. As a result, headquarters was having a problem getting Cameroon to comply with global corporate standards, mainly in the area of a common worldwide performance management approach.

PeopleNRG was hired to travel to Cameron to meet with the local CEO and his HR team to understand and overcome the compliance problem. Literally overnight, we created a half-day workshop for the top 100 leaders. We split then into four groups of 25, and had each go through a half-day workshop. The goals of the workshop were to (re-)introduce the new HR tools, show their business relevance and discuss next steps in implementing them.

Uncovering the true / Real Issues

Five years of integration efforts and culture clash between headquarters in the USA and the local headquarter in Douala had led to disappointments, frustration and emotions. We met a highly qualified leadership team, which was in limbo, felt a lack of direction and complained about not being empowered enough.

The Turning Point

We started the first workshop with a tug of war activity, two groups, pulling a rope, trying to win. This activity set off a discussion on the tug of war between HQ and Cameroon.

That one exercise showed us immediately that there was a huge amount of pent-up emotions and baggage from 5 years of misguided integration efforts! On the spot, we changed our original plans. We spent the first 50% of the workshop giving the leaders the opportunity to vent, and process their emotions – frustrations about how this acquisition had worked out for them and their feeling of a lack of clarity in direction.

Now that the emotions were out in the open, the CEO took the podium to share his vision for the company. We did not move back to our original plan until we had affirmation by the participants that the CEO’s vision was understood and that their questions and concerns had been answered. Then we used the remaining time for the topics we had originally planned, introducing state of the art HR tools and performance management.

This revised format worked very well. So much so that we repeated it in the next three workshops for leaders with great success.

The Result

With just a couple more meetings, a few more suggestions, and some advice to the team leadership, department turnover went from 50% over the past two years down to 8%; team morale went from 4.5 to 6.7 on a scale of 1-10, and their team results went from last place in the country to about middle of the country.

The Lesson Learned

The power of negativity is very strong. It doesn’t mean you can’t complain or examine problems. But if you do that alone, you will drive your team out of work! Change the focus to problem solving and your team results will transform.

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