How can HR ensure the success of a strategic alliance?

A strategic alliance means coming together of two different cultures. How can HR help create a balance?

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There are many examples of strategic alliances in India, where two organisations have come together to achieve a certain goal. One such example is that of Vodafone India (now merged with Idea), which entered into a strategic partnership with ICICI Bank to create a mobile payments app called m-pesa. This alliance saw Vodafone providing its significant distribution reach and ICICI providing secure financial services to the customers.

Another example is that of the alliance between Uber and Spotify. The two entities came together to enhance customer experience by personalising music for Uber riders.

What is the most common factor in these alliances?

Why do collaborations happen? The level of competitiveness in businesses has forced organisations to form strategic alliances and partnerships to achieve certain goals. The objective of these collaborations is to fill a certain gap or a void. It can be anything, from skills and capabilities to technology or infrastructure. Two organisations enter an alliance to fulfil certain personal interests.

In such cases, HR has a big role to play. From the HR perspective, it is not just a simple alliance between two companies, but about two vastly different and diverse cultures coming together. How can their interests be aligned? How can they be made to understand each other’s cultures?

Richard Lobo

“Enough opportunities should be created to make people interact with each other. You need to tell them the purpose of the collaboration” 

 

To understand each other, certain culture-building activities need to take place between the employees of both the organisations. “Enough opportunities should be created to make people interact with each other. You need to tell them the purpose of the collaboration,” says Richard Lobo, EVP and head-HR, Infosys.

There will be differences in the working style and the culture of the two organisations. “Cultural alignment takes time. We will only make it worse by labelling one culture good or bad. Articulate the desired culture clearly and ask leaders to emulate the desired behaviour. But also recognise the differences and openly discuss the value these different cultures bring,” shares Anant Garg, country director-HR, Eli Lilly.

Another aspect is communication. In such alliances, communication becomes crucial. It is very important for HR to bridge the communication gap internally as well as between the two entities entering into an alliance, as they have to be on the same page.

“HR needs to create transparency between the employees and the top leadership team, ultimately playing the employees’ champion. In certain scenarios, the leaders may want something and the employees may have different expectations,” clarifies Vijay Singh, VP-HR, JK cement.

Vijay Singh

“HR needs to create transparency between the employees and the top leadership team, and ultimately be the employees’ champion. In certain scenarios, the leaders may want something and the employees may have different expectations” 

Garg adds, “People are mature enough to understand that everything may not be clear and that some things are confidential, and they appreciate that transparency. Questions should be welcome and responded to boldly, rather than evaded or circumvented.”

In some instances, to achieve the mutual goals, the two organisations may want to create an altogether different team of people. In such cases, a recruitment drive takes place. Is there anything that HR needs to be careful about in such a scenario?

“During a strategic alliance, the basic fundamentals of hiring should not change. Every organisation should first give a chance to internal employees to fill vacancies and then look for someone from outside, if required,” explains Singh.

“The recruitment process should be very simple, and anyone who is hired should go into either of the companies,” adds Lobo.

After all, it is ultimately just about creating the right balance between the two organisations. It is the responsibility of HR to help the leaders sail through the transition.

Anant Garg

“The biggest role HR needs to play during alliances/partnerships is to lead the leaders. The leaders are also going through the same transition. They are also figuring out certain things, while also handling the additional pressure to ensure all goes well”

“The biggest role HR needs to play during alliances/partnerships is to lead the leaders. The leaders are also going through the same transition. They are also figuring out certain things, while also handling the additional pressure to ensure all goes well. HR must see to it that leaders appear confident and ‘in control’ of the organisational direction, at all times. This will calm nerves and make their teams more productive and collaborative,” concludes Garg.

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