Given the enormous costs associated with failed alliances—of which statistics tell us there are many—addressing the cultural
fit of the allied companies is ultimately a fiscally responsible course of action.
Reading the Culture
EquiPro recently worked with the newly formed senior management steering committee of an alliance team comprised of members
from a big pharma and a small pharma. Their charter was to ensure the success of a new drug by providing strategic direction;
challenging and approving the brand plans and key business decisions; and creating winning external/ internal conditions across
As part of the "team jump-start" process (an off-site meeting to align their goals), we suggested that team members examine
each other's culture to anticipate areas of potential compatibility and conflict. We used the Leadership Culture Questionnaire,
a validated survey developed by the Management Research Group (MRG). The survey measures 22 specific cultural practices within
five leadership functions—creating a vision, developing fellowship, implementation, follow-through, and team-playing. The
survey results indicated which cultural practices were strongest in each company. These practices were assumed to reflect
the leadership values and behaviors of the senior management of each alliance partner.
The steering committee came together to explore particular strengths, challenges and potential implications for their collaboration,
using the quantitative survey data for their discussion points and as a common basis of analysis. Essentially, the issue was
how to learn from the leadership culture data—that is, how to capitalize on their differences, adapt to and transfer new methods
to the joint team, and become more effective in interacting with each other.
On the surface, these allies appeared strikingly different—the small pharma a fast-moving, entrepreneurial organization, the
big pharma more conservative and accustomed to layers of decision-making. Surprisingly, the profiles generated using the culture
survey proved strikingly similar (See "A Tale of Two Cultures,"). The team saw this similarity as a potential asset in some
areas—and a potential liability in others. For example, the two organizations shared high scores on innovative problem solving,
a positive factor in fostering new ways to approach their mutual objectives. Interestingly, especially with regard to big
pharma team members, the new partners also shared a trait of not being very process-oriented, indicating a need for the joint
team to develop systematic ways to make decisions and determine strategy.
This illustrates the advantage of providing alliance teams with solid information about cultural style differences and similarities.
It creates an opportunity to implement structures, processes, and norms that anticipate and help mitigate potential risks,
threats, or incompatibilities inherent between the two allied partners. In turn, an effective, high-performing alliance can
generate a stronger bottom-line outcome.
Why Can't You Be More Like Us? Consider another case—one of cultures colliding: a small biotech with a promising new pipeline drug approaches a big pharma
company with established marketing channels and deep pockets.
In this case, the issue of culture was never raised, even while the companies' differences in size and geographic locations
raised immediate, implicit assumptions about cultural differences. For example, though entrepreneurial in nature, the small
biotech was risk-averse, academically oriented, and had a definite bent toward filling its ranks—in particular, its upper
echelon leaders—with experienced people. Conversely, the big pharma had a broad enough talent pool to afford a few calculated
risks and adhered to more of a "sink or swim" philosophy of indoctrinating managers. These distinct cultural characteristics
showed up immediately on one of the team's first important tasks: agreeing on who should be on the team. Both kept to their
usual practices—the small biotech tapping veteran talent, expecting them to roll up their sleeves and be productive team members,
and the big pharma giving less experienced people stretch assignments for development, relying on senior management to provide