A merger is a sensitive time for every aspect of an organization but Human Resources (HR) or what we call the People and Culture Team here at SoftwareONE plays perhaps the most critical of roles for a variety of reasons, but especially at SoftwareONE where our people are our greatest asset. In fact, it is one of our seven core values: employee satisfaction – our greatest asset; we love and support our colleagues and operate without hierarchy. At no time was this more important than in recent months when we closed the acquisition of COMPAREX, a global IT service provider, and brought the total number of global employees to over 5,000 in 88+ countries around the globe.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Patty Ravencroft, director of people and culture at SoftwareONE, and Juli McKinney, human resources manager at COMPAREX USA (now a SoftwareONE organization), to gain a better sense of how HR is involved in the merger process, lessons learned and the next steps for a global leading platform, solutions and services organization.
SWO Blog: When and how is HR brought in when a merger is planned?
Patty Ravencroft (PR): We are typically brought in during the due diligence process, when the acquisition is still a target. Understanding the people and culture aspect of the business early is important because retention of employees is critical to most successful acquisitions. We look at areas such as skills, technologies, people practices, and cultural alignment. From there, HR remains on the team to continually assess and plan throughout the due diligence process.
SWO Blog: There is so much uncertainty and change that is associated with a merger, what does HR do to help alleviate employee fears or concerns?
PR: A key aspect of the role that HR plays during a merger is change management. Understanding that change is hard and helping both the leaders and the employees communicate effectively and often, and manage the change process is a critical part of the success of any acquisition. A key point to make here is that we don’t always have the answers right away. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is more important than saying nothing at all or saying the wrong thing. Building trust amongst the teams right away is also critical. And, even though we live in a very digital world today, that initial face to face connection and shaking of the hand of a real person is quite powerful. That is why Neil Lomax, President, Ashley Gaare VP Sales and Marketing, and myself quickly took a trip to the COMPAREX locations on day one. We wanted to set the stage for building that trust and open communication right away.
Juli McKinney (JM): In addition, we started having weekly meetings with various members across the COMPAREX organization in order to introduce them and make them feel comfortable amongst various departments across SoftwareONE. This helped everyone to start to build personal connections throughout the organizations and also begin to get a feel for the two cultures coming together. We started out with an introduction to our amazing Learning and Development team, and did other sessions such as: meeting a market leader, learning about our Financial Operations and of course hearing about our People and Culture team and goals. All along the way, our employees are being taught about the SoftwareONE Vision 2022 and Core Values to help align the teams quickly to the new combined organization.
SWO Blog: How can HR help get a “quick win” when it comes to merging two very large organizations together?
PR: First and foremost, there has been so much support from the top – we have been continuously supported by executive leadership on all of our efforts. It’s been so much fun working alongside different departments and leaders from around both organizations coming together with the same goal in mind – bringing our families together successfully and continuing to delight our customers. This has allowed us to move with speed – which is one of our core values. And also focus on another one of our core values – Employee satisfaction is not a buzz word but something we strive for every day. In NORAM we are fortunate to have the Learning & Development (L&D) team and we have depended on them heavily for helping the COMPAREX employees know that we cannot wait to welcome them to our family. To give you an example of a quick hit – even before we are integrated, we’ve invited some of the COMPAREX leaders to our Inspire Through Culture workshop to quickly get a taste of what being ‘SWOmie’ means to us. And we have invited many of the sales team to Waukesha, WI headquarters to connect and learn together. Both of these were very well received by everyone involved.
SWO Blog: What are some lessons learned now that you are many months into this particular merger?
JM: We put a date out there initially that we thought was solid for the integration. It was not. It quickly got more complicated and we decided that the right thing to do was to slow down and get it right. That was a lesson learned for us. We quickly corrected our course and started working on a new communications plan. It was easy news to deliver but it was the right thing to do.
SWO Blog: All mergers are complicated – but do you see a clear vision for next steps or an end-point in the near future?
PR: There is definitely a clear plan in place in terms of integrating all of the various workstreams across the organization and now it is just up to all of us to execute. But I don’t anticipate the work just stopping. This is a big adjustment for everyone plus both COMPAREX and SoftwareONE are complex organizations so I don’t anticipate a quick end point. We will continue to work on the integration and ensuring that we have happy people and happy customers.
JM: Adding on to the people element this will definitely be an ongoing experience. Some employees will be able to jump right in and feel at home, while others will need some coaching and guidance on how to deal with new accountabilities and differing processes. Those that can see the opportunity in advance of the challenges will always do well.
PR: I agree with the wholeheartedly and really our role is to help our employees cope with the change, see the positives, share the right information at the right time, and bridge the gap between the two companies. One of our other core values is speed but as the value states we won’t compromise on quality – this is one area where it’s best to slow down and get it right than move too fast.
JM/PR: We’re both very excited for this next chapter in SoftwareONE’s history! We are so happy and proud to be a part of this adventure.