If handled correctly, the possible synergies could outweigh any negative fallout or loss of trust, says Graham Hales
So what really does lie in store for Cadbury once its shareholders accept Kraft's offer, as expected this Tuesday? The fact that Hershey's was seen to be a better potential 'fit' for Cadbury is key. Cadbury and Kraft share a commitment to ethical standards, but their workplace cultures are guided by two quite different sets of values.
For Cadbury it's about being open and honest, acting with integrity and providing quality products and services. Kraft, on the other hand, promises a 'dynamic, fast-paced environment' founded on results-focused principles such as innovation, decisiveness and teamwork.
There is much emotion around cannibalisation of brands and speculation over which will fall in light of the takeover, but in reality there is little overlap in the portfolio. Kraft has also demonstrated it recognsises the importance of retaining strong brands and ensuring established equities are not lost. Consider Milka, Marabou and Côte d'Or.
So while there is tremendous focus on the negative impact of where this acquisition might leave our British icon, Cadbury, an alternative view is to see the potential benefits of the takeover.
We recognise on an operational level that Cadbury will improve Kraft's global distribution, which has traditionally performed relatively weakly outside the US and Canada. Most of the Cadbury brands are well established and widely recognised and Cadbury's track record of spearheading fresh and exciting marketing efforts is another dimension that could help change perceptions of the Kraft portfolio.
But more discreet benefits could also lie in the uniting of the Cadbury and Kraft cultures. Of course, no one quite knows what the integration will bring. We read of speculative job losses one day and then commitment to create additional jobs the next. Mixed messages and uncertainty result in a disenchanted and fearful workforce. So while emphasising the positives of a combined culture may seem of less importance at this time, it's critical to build the employee engagement plan into the process. Post-acquisition it's the people their attitude and response to change that make the difference between a success and failure. In a Watson-Wyatt survey of 190 top executives around the world, 76% agreed retention of key talent was the most critical activity.
Full integration can take years, but in the meantime it is vital to implement an engagement strategy that focuses on restoring faith, pride and commitment at all levels.
A well-defined, managed and articulated brand strategy can support leaders managing the integration by clearly articulating the business context to staff.
It's important to provide a compelling organisational story that restores faith and engagement with the core essence of the business. It's also vital to shift the conversation away from negative internal issues such as restructuring and rationalisation, by urging people to maintain focus on delivering a unique proposition to customers.
For the newly formed company, reasserting brand qualities could help to rebuild trust and retain talented people. A well-defined, well-managed, well-communicated brand will be the critical element in focusing and aligning employees at this challenging time.
Graham Hales is managing director of Interbrand.