Snog, marry, avoid…

This blog should probably be called ‘Why engagement matters?’  And I don’t mean that in the biblical sense… Actually, it has been prompted by a union of sorts. Have you noticed how rapidly the marriage of Liberal Democrat and Conservative has shifted from ‘hung parliament’ to ‘coalition’?  And this isn’t casual wordplay on the part of the sultans of spin – ‘coalition’ bears positive resonances of collaboration and collegiate enterprise…’hung’ has an altogether different timbre.  The language has been chosen and reinforced quite deliberately. What I find interesting is that we have a coalition goverment that actually seems to be committed to working together. Of course, intent is not the same as action, and only time will reveal whether this was an arranged marriage made in heaven or a shotgun ceremony that will ultimately end in a political decree nisi. 

Nonetheless, serious and careful work has been done behind the scenes to engage a group of stakeholders with almost diametrically opposing agendas.  In politics, so in business.   M&A mavens will be watching the impending deal between Deutsche Bahn and Arriva with interest.  Worth Euro 2.8bn, the deal is largely being funded by cash reserves from the German suitor.  Deutsche Bahn already operates the Chiltern rail franchise in the UK and owns freight train group EWS. A deal would add Arriva’s Wales and CrossCountry rail franchises, plus a clutch of bus services. However, Arriva’s chief attraction is its mainland European businesses spread over a dozen countries – providing footholds in Europe’s liberalising transport market.

This makes for a complex cross cultural mesh of stakeholders – all of whom may need careful handling if the value of the deal is to be realised across the network and ultimately operationalised. Language will matter, as will culture.  But so will engagement – by which I mean actually getting a culturally diverse workforce mobilised to partner effectively with one another. 

In recent years, social scientists have started an ongoing debate about the influence of culture on peoples behaviour.  For instance, if people in different countries follow different norms and therefore display different value orientations, would this lead to different economic outcomes, even if the pecuniary incentive was the same?  Funnily enough, they found that under normal market conditions, culture does not significantly alter the outcome – however, in environments where competitive forces are removed, cultural differences become more pronounced. Thus, while the deal between Arriva and Deutsche Bahn is happening, I’d guarantee scant attention will be given to the way in which the two parties differ.  Like a man who marries well, deal brokers and shareholders are only really interested in the aquisition of corporate dowry…perhaps they should spend more time getting to know their intended, before they discover that the beauty spots are actually warts, and that the in-laws are hostile.

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