Wells Fargo/Wachovia merger – culture is key

One of this morning’s keynotes at Gartner Datacenter Conference (#gartnerdc) was an on-stage interview with Scott Dillon, EVP, Head of Technology Infrastructure for Wells Fargo. He was interviewed about the Wells/Wachovia merger,  and the challenges faced by the organization.

While the talk was full of sound bytes about scale, talk about merger strategies and budgets, the discussion came back to culture over and over.

On the scale and technology side, there were tidbits like these:

  • Wells Fargo employs 1 in 500 in the US;
  • IT had 10,000 change events per month, before the merger;
  • They have a physical presence within 2 miles of 50% of the US population.

But it was on the management side that I found the most interesting information.

Before the merger, there were clear guidelines, such as “if we have two systems, A and B that are doing the same thing, we will pick the best, either A or B. No C options.” This was a merger of equals, at least in terms of the technology. They chose the best of the two orgs, then committed to making that the One True New System for everyone. They ended up with an almost 50/50 split of technology from the two companies.

But, no matter where the talk went in management and technology, it just kept coming back to culture. Building one culture from the best of both was a top management priority for the entire company. Just as they (IT) selected the best tech from each, they (Executive management) worked to take the best of the culture from both, to be the foundation moving forward. They had a great advantage, as both companies share almost all of their core values, so this was a little easier than merging the technology. But there was an explicit decision to do this, it wasn’t left to chance.

Management made “culture” a number one priority. They focused on merging the culture as much as they focused on merging the technology.  They made building communications between the employees an early priority. Very early on, they even created a “culture group” to look at the two cultures and make specific decisions about how to foster the culture merger.

Part of their culture involves employee value. Every company does “exit interviews” when employees leave. Wells does “stay interviews” where they engage with employees to actually gather their concerns, let them know how much the company values and appreciates them. Isn’t that better, to find any issues before key people leave? To constantly work to make the work environment better, instead of waiting until it’s too late?

In IT we often get too focused on the technology, and we can claim that “the business” is too focused on profits, or stock price, or some other “business” area.

When was the last time you heard a business, a bank, even, put their culture as one of their highest priorities?

More importantly, as IT, when was the last time we put “culture” high on our priority list?

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