Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How not to run a business (Part 9): Culture Clash and Acquisitions

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 18, 2015

Okay, so now your business is big enough (and making enough revenue) to consider acquisitions. But, making acquisitions can be tough. Part of what makes acquisitions tough is making the tough decisions to ensure the success of the acquisition. Yet, some companies haven’t the first clue about how to make these tough decisions, especially when involving company culture.

Don’t let the company you are acquiring dictate any company culture demands

In other words, walk away from any acquisition deal where the owners demand (as part of the deal) to be allowed to continue their current company culture. No, no, NO! Do not allow this! Never concede this by allowing the acquired company culture to remain as part of the acquisition. If you do, it will tie your hands when it comes time to merge the the acquired company into yours. It all must become a single company culture or you will never make the acquisition a success.

At some point, you must merge the people and the cultures. If you don’t nip having two cultures in the bud, you’ll end up with part of the company doing things one way and another doing things entirely different. You can’t have your company culture fractured across the boundary of an acquired entity or you will never get rid of culture problems. Basically, don’t tie your hands before the deal is done.

Don’t let the acquired company executives dictate how their section will continue to operate

This goes hand in hand with company culture, but is distinctly different. Executives of the company being acquired do not want to lose their tenure, authority, position or compensation after having been acquired. Ultimately, this is not possible. And, ultimately, it can’t be allowed. You can concede this for a short time during a transition period, but you cannot allow it to remain after the transition period. If the acquired company executives don’t like it, they can leave. If you concede this point, you will never successfully merge the two entities.

This is one of the hard choices you must make. For companies being acquired, you have to lay down the law. If the person can have a role in the new company and can accept your company culture, give it to them. If they don’t have a role, lay them off. If that person can’t accept the company culture, lay them off. If they are unwilling to work within the current constraints of your company’s goals and processes, lay them off. This is a hard decision, but a decision that must be made. You cannot keep the acquired company structure and processes around in your business. If a process you’ve inherited from the company makes sense, then yes, you can integrate it. But, typically this never happens. The company being acquired almost never has more mature processes than yours.

Don’t allow an acquired company to remain located in a separate city from your business

Another hard choice, but one that is entirely necessary. You cannot leave the office open in the city where the acquired entity was located. You should dictate as part of the acquisition terms that you will close it and relocate staff who choose to relocate to your headquarter offices. While you can leave the office open during the transition period, you cannot leave that office open. If you do, you will never integrate the staff into your business. They will forever retain their culture in that office. Acquired staff must move to your headquarters or leave the company. If that’s a deal breaker, walk away from the deal.

The only exclusion to this rule is acquiring foreign entities. If you are a US entity and acquire a Japanese office, this is the only time where you will want to keep that entity in its entirety. However, in the domestic US, the rule is close the office. You can re-open and restaff an office in that same city later, but the acquired entity office must be closed as soon as possible to set the tone that your company is one culture and one team.

Don’t make the staff of the company the most important piece of the acquisition

Unless you are a staffing firm acquiring another staffing firm, you typically acquire a company for its customer base or its technology, rarely ever for its staff. You will need to keep in perspective exactly why you are buying a company… and it’s rarely ever for staff. However, if you are buying a software company, it’s probably a good idea to keep certain few key developers for at least a short period of transition time. But, do not keep them on staff forever. Once they have turned over their braintrust and code to your engineers, usher them out of the building. I’ll reiterate, you buy a company for its technology or customer base, never for employees. However, if those key employees are willing to relocate and willing to accept your culture (usually not), then you can invite them to stay. Otherwise, you should put that key staff on a 6 month contract to transition the software and documentation to your team, then usher them out.

Don’t hire executives for more than a 1 year contract on acquisitions

When you buy a company, you’re technically hiring these employees and execs blind. Sure, you could assume that the employees there did something right to get the company to the point where you considered buying it, but you may be making the wrong assumption. It’s entirely possible that the people (or person) who created the product or service has long since walked and you’re buying a shell in maintenance mode. Based on this fact alone, you should be prepared to walk everyone in the acquired company to the door. If you aren’t prepared to do this, you’ll have no hope of successfully merging two entirely different cultures. If you’re not prepared to fire every single acquired employee, you shouldn’t be in the business of making acquisitions.

If the acquired employees are not acutely aware and accept that your culture is the dominant culture, they will not fit in nor follow your company’s processes. Even if they are aware of this fact, they may still choose not to follow your company’s processes (see allegiances below). You should be prepared to let any acquired employee go quickly. In fact, you should plan to let these employees go after the transition period is over. This prevents culture issues entirely.

Don’t get lulled into thinking that a technology acquisition will save your business

It won’t. Plain and simple. If your own product or service isn’t cutting it, any company you purchase will not typically be any more successful than yours. In fact, you may find that it may make no money at all and you’ll end up (best case) giving it away for free or (worst case) shutting it all down and dumping it.

You should understand that, like any business, ideas come and ideas go. Some work, some don’t. Buying a company for software, hardware or specific technologies isn’t without risk. Sometimes you gamble and win, some times you lose. There is no crystal ball for this. But, you must willing and prepared to throw away everything from an acquisition. This is yet another tough decision, but it’s one that needs to be clearly understood. If you are unwilling to acknowledge the failure of an acquisition, then you shouldn’t be in the business of acquiring companies.

Don’t create new positions for acquired executive staff

If there isn’t a position already open, do not create fake titles for executive staff. You should explain that there is no position available for their skills within your company, at the bargaining table, and make it perfectly clear that they won’t have a role in the new merged company. Of course, you can compensate them, but they will have no job. If they won’t accept that, walk away from the deal. Additionally, don’t create co-presidents or co-CEOs or co-anything. Dual roles in your business generally do not work. Not only will your staff be confused over to whom they report, double decision makers lead to decision problems, never solutions. Additionally, you likely don’t know any of these acquired executive staff. Sure, they might appear knowledgable, but they didn’t go through your official interview processes. They bypassed that process and became your employee through acquisition. There is no accounting for their knowledge, skills, background or abilities.

One other point I should make here is about allegiance. Keeping executives from an acquisition in a position of power, especially co-leader positions, enables acquired employees to retain their allegiances to their former leaders rather forming new allegiances with your leaders. These fractured allegiances are likely to lead to more problems in the future. This goes back to company culture above. If you keep acquired staff and executives on board, you are asking for culture clash problems. This can be eliminated by eliminating acquired staff after the transition period is over, including executives.

Don’t skip the interview process for acquired staff

If you want to hire on any employee from an acquisition, force them to go through your same hiring processes as any candidate. Have your teams interview them and determine if they fit with the position based on their skills. If the staff like and accept them, hire them. If they don’t, walk them to the door. Do not blanketly accept staff from an acquisition simply because the company was acquired. Follow your standard hiring practices when considering bringing staff on from an acquisition. Make sure that that the acquired company is fully aware that every staff member will need to go through a rehire process by your hiring managers. If they don’t fit the skills needed for an open position, don’t hire them.

Don’t avoid reviewing your acquisition progress yearly

Company technologies and staff don’t always integrate nicely, especially over time. You need to review the progress of any acquisition regularly. Don’t just assume that the acquisition is working perfectly simply because you hear nothing about it. Instead, you need to go digging for information. Ask people on your team what they think of the acquisition and if it was successful. Get opinions from your team members and understand what they are saying. If your team members won’t give candid information, then ask for them to fill out a survey and offer a notes section at the end for free form comments. Assuming the survey is truly anonymous, the employees will be open and candid with you. You need to know when company culture clashes exist. These cannot be swept under the rug.

Part 8Chapter Index | Part 10

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Fetch song of the Week: Let Me Go by Avril Lavigne

Posted in music by commorancy on April 13, 2015
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Random song of the Week: Playmate to Jesus by Aqua

Posted in music by commorancy on April 5, 2015
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Star Trek Voyager: Inconsistencies Abound

Posted in entertainment, writing by commorancy on April 2, 2015

I’ve recently decided to rewatch all of the seasons of Star Trek Voyager again. I missed many of the later episodes and decided now is the time to watch them. One thing I have noticed is that time has not been kind to this series, neither have the writers. Let’s explore.

Seasons 1, 2 and 3

The first thing you’ll notice about season one is the dire predicament in which Voyager is placed. After attempting rescue of a Maquis ship, the Voyager gets pulled into an unknown anomaly and is sent hurtling into the delta quadrant. After the two ship crews merge, because they need the Maquis ship as an explosive, they ‘assimilate’ both crews onto the Voyager. This is where the fun begins.

The first season sees a lot of resistance and animosity from the Maquis crew towards Star Fleet. Captain Janeway makes some questionable decisions, like blowing up the caretaker array instead of trying to salvage it, thus stranding everyone in the delta quadrant. From here, we see many a shuttle accident in among holodeck romps. It seems that every time a shuttle tries to land somewhere (for whatever reason), it ends up crashing and Voyager has to come to the rescue. If we’re not seeing rescued downed shuttles, we’re playing with stupid characters on the holodeck or beaming critical staff (sometimes the Captain herself) into inexcusably dangerous situations.

The second and third seasons keep expanding what was started in the first. But, one thing you’ll notice is that while Janeway keeps close tabs on stock depletion in the first season, all that subtext is dropped by the second season. By the third season, it became a monster of the week series where Voyager was ‘reset’ at the beginning of each episode to have a full crew, full armament of torpedoes and a full complement of shuttle craft. Additionally, any damage sustained in a previous episode was non-existent in the next episode. The only continuity that was pulled forward was the replicator rations. And, that plot device was only pulled forward to give the Neelix character some work to do as a makeshift chef in the Captain’s private dining room.

Unfortunately, dropping the limited stock, rations, crew complement and limited shuttle craft supply was a singly bad move for the writers and this series. Seeing Voyager become increasingly more and more damaged throughout the series would have added to the realism and cemented the dire predicament in which this ship was placed. In fact, in the episode Equinox (straddling seasons 5 and 6), the Equinox ship is likely similar to how Voyager’s ship and crew should have looked by that point in their journey. Also, at some point in the journey through the delta quadrant, Janeway would have had to drop the entire Star Fleet pretext to survive. If, like the Equinox, half of the crew had been killed in a battle, Janeway would have been forced to reconsider the Prime Directive and Star Fleet protocol. In fact, this entire story premise could have started a much more compelling story arc at a time when Voyager’s relevance as a series was seriously waning and viewership dropping. Taking Voyager out of its sterile happy-go-lucky situation and placing it into more dire realistic circumstance could have led to an entirely new viewership audience. Situations not unlike this would ultimately be played out in later series like BSG where this type of realism would become the norm and a breath of fresh air in the previously tired formulaic series.

Star Trek, up to Voyager, had always been a sterile yet friendly series where each episode arc always closed with a happy-ending. Each episode was always tied up far too neatly in a pretty little bow, possibly also wrapped in a morality play. While that worked in the 60s and seemed to work in the 80s for TNG, during the 90s that premise wore extremely thin. By the 2000s, gritty realism was the way of series like Stargate, 24, Lost, BSG and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, by comparison, the new influx of gritty realism in other series made Voyager, DS9 and TNG seem quaint and naïve by comparison. Instead of perfectly coiffed hair and immaculately cleaned and pressed uniforms, we would now see dirty costumes, hair that is unmanaged, very little makeup and character scenarios where everything doesn’t work out perfectly at the end.

While Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor should get a few kudos for attempting to keep Star Trek alive, they did so at the cost of not keeping up with the times and sacrificing the franchise entirely as a result. Even when Voyager was introduced, the episodic formula that Voyager provided was already wearing thin. Even during its initial run, it was somewhat quaint and naïve already. Like attempting to recreate the Brady Bunch series exactly as it was in the 70s in the 2000s, Voyager was a throwback to the past. All of this is mostly the reason I stopped watching it during its original airing. Like an old comfort toy from childhood, eventually you have to leave it behind and grow more mature. Star Trek Voyager just didn’t grow up and mature with the prevailing winds of change, its audience age demographic and the prevailing TV series landscape. It’s ironic, Star Trek is about growth, maturity and learning, yet while the producers and writers were churning out weekly stories about these very topics, they couldn’t manage to keep up with the growth trends in their own industry. In short, Voyager needed a drastic mid-series makeover (after season 3) to keep up with the changing times.

Inconsistencies

In the first season specifically, Janeway institutes replicator rations, power saving measures, yet fully allows the crew to use the holodeck at will. Seriously, the holodeck is probably one of the top energy drains on that ship, and you’re going to let the crew use this power hungry thing willy-nilly? Yet, you force the crew to limited replicator rations? Why not disable the holodeck except for emergency use and let the crew have all the replicator rations they want? It’s seems fair to me.

Again, in the first season, Janeway identifies that the ship has limited shuttle and torpedo complements. Yet, in 3rd and later seasons, Voyager is popping off photon torpedos like candy. I also have no idea just how many shuttles have been destroyed, disabled or otherwise left as junk on planets. Yet, Voyager seems to have an infinite supply of them. It also seems that Voyager has an infinite supply of crew and torpedoes. I believe it was counted that Voyager shot off somewhere close to 98 torpedoes the entire 7 season run. And, considering that 7 seasons was actually only 7 of Voyager’s 23 years in the delta quadrant, extrapolating that out means Voyager would have shot over 320 torpedoes in the 23 years they were in the delta quadrant when they only had 38 on board.

On top of all of this, Janeway is a completely reckless captain. She continually puts her crew in harm’s way intentionally looking for resources, scouring through junk, investigating, exploring, trying to salvage Borg cubes. You name it, Janeway has had her crew recklessly do it, instead of the obvious… trying to find a way home. How that crew managed not to actually mutiny and kick her butt out of the captain’s chair is beyond me. Janeway is seriously the most reckless captain in Star Fleet. Far and above Kirk in recklessness.

Episode Writing Continuity Carelessness

In Season 4 Episode 23 entitled Living Witness, the Doctor is reactivated 700 years in the future on the Kyrian home planet in the Delta quadrant. There was never any discussion that this episode was built from any kind of temporal anomaly. The Doctor finds he is part of a museum exhibit and is called upon to clear Voyager’s name for being part of the ship that started their war. Ignoring the stupid war premise which really makes no difference one way or another, what this episode states is that the Doctor’s holo matrix is downloaded during an attack on Voyager and left on the planet for 700 years.

Let me pause here for a moment to catch everyone up since there have been some questions about this specific episode’s setup (which was, by the way, also inconsistent). Pretty much the entire series before and after the Living Witness episode drilled the point home time and time again that due to the doctor’s expanded holomatrix, ‘he’ was ‘unique’ and ‘uncopyable’. Because this point was driven home time and time again and because it was used as a plot device to ensure both the audience and the Voyager crew understood just how much the doctor was like a human, we are told the doctor is unique, individual, indispensable, irreplaceable and can die. There was even a Kes episode about this whole idea, but not the only one. When the rest of the crew was ready to reboot the doctor because his holomatrix had been degraded so badly, Kes stood by the doctor and vouched for his uniqueness, individuality and stood up for the doctor (when he couldn’t) to continue trying to keep him intact. If it had been as easy as making a backup copy and restoring a doctor copy, the ship could have used a backup doctor several times when the ‘real’ doctor goes on away missions, instead of leaving Kes and Paris to run Sickbay. They could have even used a backup copy to overlay his later degraded version on top and clean his matrix up. Yet, this never manifests not once in any episode. In fact, as I said, the writers did everything they could to ensure we understood that he was uncopyable, not even with the mobile emitter. So, what does this all mean? It means that the mobile emitter that was found contained the actual doctor, not a copy as was theorized.

What this story flaw also says is that there should no longer be an EMH on Voyager after the doctor has been left on this planet for over 700 years. It also means that no other episodes after this event should ever see this EMH program again. In another episode, Harry Kim tries to recreate the EMH after the doctor was thought to be lost during that episode, but after Kim fails, he leaves Paris to fend for himself in Sickbay. This means that there is exactly one doctor and he was left on Kyrian planet. The Doctor serves the Kyrians for a period of time, but eventually finds his way home to Earth 700-800 years after Voyager. Yet, in episodes after Living Witness, the Doctor is happily helping folks in Sickbay once again, including appearing in the final episode entitled Endgame.

Now, one could argue that Living Witness happened sometime later at the end of Voyager’s run, but then why is it in season 4? It also means that for at least some duration of Voyager’s trip, the Doctor EMH program was not available. Though, B’lana might have created a new rudimentary EMH, we never saw it. Yet, in Season 7, Episode 23 — Endgame, we see the Doctor come strolling through the Voyager party 23 years later. Assuming the episode Living Witness to be true, then this is a major continuity error. The doctor should not be in Endgame at all. He should still be deactivated on the Kyrian homeworld.

Let’s consider how it’s even possible that the mobile emitter was left (or was stolen) in Living Witness. Since there was only and ever one mobile emitter, that logically means the doctor should not have had the mobile emitter for any episode after that Living Witness (assuming we accept the ‘backup’ idea, which I don’t). Yet, we continue to see the mobile emitter used on episodes all the way to the very end when Voyager returns. This episode contains far too many consistency problems and should not have aired.

Lack of Season-wide Story Arc

Star Trek The Next Generation attempted to create a few longer story arcs. But, the writers never really embraced such arcs beyond the borders of an episode (or multi-part episodes). Though, some character relationship arcs did reach beyond the borders (i.e., love relationships, children, cultural rituals, marriages, etc), arcs related to alien races, ship resources, ship damage or astral phenomena (with the exception of the Q) were almost never carried forward. So, for example, in TNG, during season 7, the Force of Nature episode forced Star Fleet to institute a warp speed limited due to warp drive destruction of subspace. That speed limit arc carried through a few episodes, but was ultimately dropped and ignored during Voyager. It was dropped primarily because it didn’t help the writers produce better episodes. By forcing starships to travel at slower warp speed, nothing good came from this plot device. In fact, this speed limit would have only served to hinder Voyager in getting home. Clearly, the writers had not yet conceived of Voyager when TNG’s Force of Nature aired. Otherwise, the producers might have reconsidered airing this episode.

Also, because warp speed is a fairly hard to imagine concept in general, artificially limiting speeds in a series where fantasy and space travel is the end goal actually served to undermine the series. There were many ideas that could have created larger more compelling story arcs besides setting an unnecessary speed limit. The sole purpose for the speed limit, I might also add, was only to make Star Trek appear eco-friendly towards the inhabitants of the Milky Way… as if it even needed that moniker. I digress.

Even at the time when TNG was ending, other non-Trek series were beginning to use very large and complex story arcs. Yet, Star Trek TNG, DS9 and Voyager clung tightly to story arcs that fit neatly within a 42 minute episode border. This 42 minute closed border ultimately limited what appeared in subsequent episodes. Very rarely did something from a previous episode appear in a later episode unless it was relationship driven or the writers were hard-up for stories and wanted to revisit a specific plot element from a previous episode. In general, that was rare. In Voyager, it happens in the season 5 episode Course: Oblivion (which this entire episode was not even about Voyager’s crew) and which is a sequel to the season 4 episode Demon (where the crew lands on a Class Y planet and is cloned by a bio-mimetic gel). These types of story sequels are rare in the Star Trek universe, especially across season boundaries, but they did occasionally happen. Even though such stories might appear occasionally, Star Trek stayed away from season-wide or multi-season wide story arcs, with the exception of character relationship arcs.

Janeway’s Inconsistencies

The writers were not kind to the Janeway character. One minute she’s spouting the prime directive and the next she’s violating it. There is no consistency at all here. Whatever the story requires forces Janeway’s ethics out the airlock. The writers take no care to keep her character consistent, forthright, honest and fair. No, she will do whatever it takes to make the story end up the way the writers want. It’s too bad too because in the beginning, the Janeway character started out quite forthright. By the time Seska leaves the ship, I’m almost rooting for a mutiny to get Janeway out of the way. In fact, I actually agreed with Seska to a certain extent. Janeway’s number one priority was to protect the crew and make it safely back to the Alpha quadrant as timely as possible. Instead, Janeway feels needlessly compelled to galavant for 23 years all over the Delta quadrant making more enemies than friends, killing her crew one-by-one, destroying shuttles, using up torpedos, using up ship resources and generally being a nuisance.

Worse, Janeway’s diplomatic skills with alien races is about as graceful as a hammer hitting your thumb. She just didn’t get it. The Sisko character in DS9 got it. The Seska character got it. Janeway, definitely not. While she may have been trained to Captain the tiny Voyager ship, she had absolutely zero diplomatic skills. I’m guessing that’s why Star Fleet never tapped her to helm a Galaxy class ship and, instead, forced her into the tiny Intrepid class for scientific exploration.

I’m not even sure why Star Fleet tapped Voyager to go find the Maquis ship. While Voyager may be somewhat more maneuverable than a Galaxy class ship, a Galaxy class ship would have been better suited to find and bring back the Maquis ship in the first episode, not Voyager. So, even the series started out wrong.

Commentary

Time has also not been kind to the Voyager episodes themselves. Both the Next Generation and Voyager relied on the weekly episodic nature of the series. The 7 day span between airing of episodes gave viewers time to forget all about the last episode before the next one aired. This time gap helped the series.. a lot! But, in the age of DVD sets and Netflix where commercials are devoid and there’s no need to wait any length of time to watch the next episode, watching Voyager in rapid succession shows just how glaring the continuity flaws are. No, this format is definitely not kind to Voyager. It’s not even just the continuity errors. It’s stupid decisions. Like arbitrarily deciding that it’s perfectly okay to leave Holodeck simulations running even when the ship is running out of power with no way to replenish. Like firing yet another large volley of photon torpedoes at a Borg ship when you only have 38 on board. Like continually and intentionally sending shuttle crafts into known atmospheric disturbances only for them to be disabled and downed. Janeway is the very definition of reckless with her ship, with her command, with her crew and with their lives. Yet, no one on board saw it, commented or mentioned this. Seska came close, but she left the ship before she got that far with Janeway.

Overall, when it was originally on, it was more enjoyable. Today it’s a quaint series with many glaring flaws, no overall story progression and a silly ending. Frankly, I’m surprised this series actually ran for 7 years. It should have ended at about the fifth season. Basically, after Kes (Jennifer Lien) left and the series picked up Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), it all went downhill.

If anything is responsible for killing off the Star Trek franchise, it’s Voyager. Yes, Enterprise came after, but Enterprise was just too foreign to really make it as a full fledged Star Trek. It was really a casualty of Voyager instead of being to blame for the demise of Star Trek.

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