The Quest for Scottish Independence and Mergers and Acquisitions

Note: I sent out a plea to my colleagues for this weeks' topic. I received great suggestions, but one both intrigued me and perplexed me as to how to relate it to the business world. The one word suggestion was "Scotland." Let me know if this connection works as an effective analogy, or possibly, just a fable. Enjoy.                                                       

I followed the Scottish independence campaign with great interest this week, leading up to the conclusive vote on Thursday that resulted in a resounding "No!" The media pundits have already stated a number of reasons why it failed, but I think the lessons learned from the failure of most mergers and acquisitions may hold another POV that is valuable for the next independence push, wherever that may be.
In my work with mergers and acquisitions, my experience suggests that there are usually some essential central cultural standards (bad and good) and themes that need to be understood and absorbed across all of the combined business. At the same time, some of the cultural strengths of the acquiree could be energizing and provide needed new perspectives to the progress going forward into the future.

A very high percentage (50%) of mergers and acquisitions fail specifically because they couldn't merge their cultures successfully. In the M&A culture work I've done, while the acquiring firm initially says all the right things about learning from their acquisitions, they almost always move immediately to erase anything that doesn't fit the acquirers' original cultural model. It's truly rare that they actually sit down and perform a joint SWOT analysis that engages both groups and develops a new consensus about their combined strengths, their aims and creates agreement for how they will go forward.

Without that kind of blunt, open analysis, visioning, and ground rules; in the worst case, you will generally end up with passive aggressive resistance, subversive politics, and even silent sabotage of corporate initiatives. In the best case, you still end up with less than optimal performance and less than  great sales or service delivery. You will also lose great people who will look for healthier, more transparent working environments, and the much-touted advantages of the merger fall far short of the hype and the potential.

So, I am suggesting that, much like businesses that have come through a successful M&A, that the two countries, England and Scotland, even though they were discussing separation, could have used the same processes to effect a mutually successful disengagement. They might have engaged in the kind of joint examination of culture and vision that could have netted them the best general consensus on what everyone would need and would thrive under in the future, independent of each other. In this process, they could have focused on the most powerful, positive qualities of the two countries, focused on separate, but common goals, including, as needed, different qualities of the new independent states.
Instead of being proactive and positive, though, the political campaigning from both sides for yes and no became a symbol of Mother England as the adversary of  Scotland rather than a living expression of the two parts being greater than the whole. In my experience, it is very hard to sell a positive quality by using a negative one.

I believe the lessons learned from the 50% of M&A's that are successful, using the above techniques could be the opportunity to approach another push for independence the right way next time.

And, yes, there will be a next time in Scotland; the breakdown of the "No" votes were overwhelmingly (73%) from the older generation - 65+; the "Yes" votes, while not enough in raw numbers, were very representative of the younger generation, aged 25-34. In five years, as in most countries, the percentage of the population aged 25 to 34 in Scotland will outnumber the population over 65.

This movement in Scotland is also just the tip of the iceberg - the next independence push already has strong momentum in the province of Catalonia, Spain. Last, keep in mind that there are two other countries besides Scotland in the U.K.; Wales and Northern Ireland; neither of which are very fond of Mother England.