One of the things I had been most proud of about my business was our culture. I knew my employees well and I was confident in my ability to introduce positive changes. This aside, I wasn’t immune to surprises, and one important experience taught me some lessons on things that were outside of my control.
In October 2017, I sold BeecherMadden, the business I had started and built, to a larger recruitment company, Nicoll Curtin. The acquisition offered several strategic advantages: the ability to offer a better global service to our clients, diversifying our client base to provide more opportunities to our candidates, and access to a larger back-office team to give all of our customers a more streamlined service. For me, it offered the opportunity to concentrate on my core skills and leave behind some of the activities that were holding back our growth. For my employees, I knew there were benefits to their own professional development that they would come to see. However, that initial change was scary and there was some early resistance to making any alterations to our team dynamic.
Change can take place long after you realize.
Very shortly after the merger, I wrote a post noting how pleased I was with the impact on my employees. The acquisition offered them opportunities for training and career advancement I wouldn’t have been able to. We moved offices exceptionally quickly after announcing the merger because I believed this would be beneficial. I still believe that. I removed an unnecessary time-lag that would have created uncertainty, gossip and worry, and I made available to them all the benefits our newly merged company had to offer.
With our new CEO, I had spent several weeks planning how best to integrate the team and how to make the merger the most positive experience we could. Three months in, nobody had resigned and all had positive things to say. Six months in, two employees had left. It was probably the right time for them, and I don’t think I would have retained them without the acquisition anyway. However, both did express some concerns over the way the company culture had changed post-merger. It felt much less like the family environment that they had both loved, that had made us who we were. The employees who have stayed agree that the culture has changed — it’s just that they like the changes and see the benefits in this culture shift.
Change is inevitable.
While there were some changes I thought we needed, overall, I didn’t expect our culture to change much. We were the same people, the same team, and everything apart from our office stayed the same. But as we adapted some processes of our new company, those cultural changes became inevitable.
There were more forms to fill out that were reviewed by more people, and that meant we all upped our game. There were now more people around us and we integrated with them. That meant while we were still the same team, doing the same job, we had other people to benchmark against and socialize with. This inevitably changed some of the dynamics.
Some of this was positive: We became more competitive and improved our performance. Some was negative: Rumors about who got paid more and received different benefits abounded, largely inaccurately. Being around new people had changed the culture and dynamic of the business that we had been, even if we didn’t see it happening.
The new culture isn’t the enemy.
Understandably, members of the team were worried about how much change would take place. Truthfully, so was I. I had built a business and culture I was pleased with and I didn’t want anything about how we operated to change. We all had a lot of reassurance that we would be the same business, just under new ownership. At the start, that was exactly what we were. We had the benefits of being part of something bigger and with something to prove, we all had great energy and were working hard.
However, a few months in, we actually started to like some of the cultural aspects of the new company. Our parent company rewarded those employees who lived up to the company values, not just those who were top performers. My team started to ask how they could get involved and wanted to take part in more group activities. As they got to know their new colleagues, they liked working with them and wanted to do more together. They no longer saw the new business as the enemy that they had to prove they were better than; they wanted to take the good bits of both and improve together.
It’s possible to be better.
Two months after the merger, we undertook a group-wide employee engagement survey. I truly believed I had a close-knit team of people who loved the company and were very happy at work. The results said something different. My scores were the lowest in the group in a number of areas. We came out on top only in the category of pride in company. When I spoke with everyone, I learned there were a number of areas where being in the middle of a change created ambiguity. For instance, when talking about leadership in the company, they weren’t sure who they were thinking about. However rude the awakening, these survey results gave us a great opportunity to address some concerns and make changes that benefited everyone.
I think that if the survey had taken place a few months before or a few months later, our results would have been different. But the clear picture of post-merger employee attitudes gave me something valuable: the chance to improve. My hope is that by the one-year mark, we’ll have a very different survey result once again.