Building a Team that Builds M&A Value
In my last article, l argued that to establish true value in a firm per se, and to ensure that value is retained in the acquisitor post-purchase, cultural due diligence now needs to be applied in the technology M&A transaction process. But how do you ensure as best you can that you assemble the team that can develop and sustain the culture that’s going to build value?
You are the product
If you are to compete successfully and build your team, it’s axiomatic that you should get your hands on the best employees as early as possible and keep hiring top talent as you grow. So how are you and your HR team, if you have one, supposed to convince people to choose to work for you over anyone else, particularly in the tech environment where skills shortages are endemic?
The good news, in my experience, is that, like most aspects of running a business, there is no particular magic to getting the best employees in the door and persuading them to join. Like all things in business, success is assured by the combination of original, differential presentation and flawless execution. Sure, you may have to work harder, but you can also work smarter.
Think of recruitment too like a sales process, because that’s exactly what it is. You are the product and you want people to choose you over others. And it’s a core business process, not one that you just delegate to HR or outsource to recruitment consultants.
If that’s the case, where might you start? Virtually all the business decisions you make involve analysing information gleaned from continually keeping tabs on what your competition is up to. Your hiring process should be no different.
In order to make it easy for candidates to separate your corporate wheat from the competitor chaff, start building that intelligence by searching LinkedIn, recruitment company websites and online jobs and looking for companies who are offering similar roles to yours. Think like a job seeker. Does anything stand out? Look at the recruitment sections of competitor websites and consider how you can improve on them.
Read your competitors’ job descriptions. What are they looking for or not looking for? What are they offering or not offering? There may be no difference to your proposition but could you be expressing to your target audience the benefits of working for your firm in a more attractive way?
One of the first things any job seeker worth hiring will do when they spot a potential opportunity is go to your website. You have to make sure that, when they have found it, they see something that’s going to engage them and make them want to apply for the position.
Candidates may also find you through a general search so, again, you need to think like a job seeker and ensure that they can find you easily. This means ensuring your site is optimised against job search terms which will be much more than just job titles and should include location, benefits, business type, etc.
And, of course, potential candidates need to have had their interest raised in the first place or need to have their interest in your firm endorsed, so manage your external profile. Ensure you are being seen where your candidates spend their time – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and in the trade and vertical market titles and so on – depending on the nature and seniority of the position.
Keep communicating to differentiate your proposition. Create regular blogs around subjects of interest to applicants. Enter awards, gain accreditations such as Investors in People, regularly signal success through your email database and engage with the press offering views on contemporary business issues.
As Oscar Wilde said, ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’, so create a bit of controversy and encourage other people to do your work for you by discussing your business online and by word of mouth.
Making it obvious
The recruitment process is also no different to the sales process in terms of creating a funnel of prospects. The more people you get into the top of the funnel, the higher your chances of snaring the best candidates at the bottom.
So, as well as ensuring people know you exist and are favourably disposed towards you, make it obvious you’re hiring in your communications and on your website. In the latter case, don’t make the mistake of hiding your requirements just in your 'jobs' pages but state them clearly on your home page too. After all, it’s also a positive signal to your customers that you are growing and staffing to ensure their needs continue to be met.
In any sales process too you will be prepared to overcome objections. Again, recruitment is no different. Think about the reasons why people may not want to work for your particular business and answer them with positives. For instance, if you think prospective employees will worry about a lack of job security in a startup or scaleup compared to, say, a larger firm talk them through your growth history, rising turnover and profitability.
Most of all, emphasise the opportunities inherent in such growth and prepare case studies of those who have joined and have been able to succeed more rapidly than they might have in a major brand. Show too examples of structured development and progression to demonstrate to prospective employees exactly where they can expect to be each year hence. Introducing candidates to employees who are the walking, talking product of this process confirms both your veracity and says very important things about your relationship with your team.
Just as company culture can be the key to your overall success as a business it is fundamental to recruiting successfully. Big businesses and the public sector struggle to develop and retain attractive company cultures and are usually slow to evolve to the demands of new generations of employees – such as Millennials, for instance. This means they are often viewed negatively by potential employment candidates.
If you are a smaller firm, use this to your advantage. Don’t underestimate the allure of a progressive company culture where employees get direct access to its leaders, where things happen quickly, where workplace politics don’t rule and where their voices can be heard. This can be particularly attractive to those who may initially have chosen the 'safe' route of joining a big company training scheme after graduation or for those who have been working at a large or slow-moving corporate for some time.
Communicate about the things that might make your company an interesting place to spend a large part of their lives – a ride-to-work scheme, lack of dress code, state-of-the-art technology, hot desking, flexible working, employee-defined perks, green initiatives or a particularly cool or sociable working environment.
Never underestimate too the power of providing something that can instil passion, gives a potential employee bragging rights with their mates and might intrigue or even impress parents and family. Such things can be a deal closer. Think of these as defining your brand and ensure they feature from prospecting through to interviewing.
Recruitment isn’t something you should turn on and turn off. You should be searching for the best talent 24/7. It’s also very important to recruit ahead of demand in order to ensure people have time to 'bed-in', to allow you to 'hire slow and fire fast' in the case of mistakes and constantly to be in control of your staffing.
Open, honest and objective
So, even if you’ve filled all your current positions, as an innovative company you’re likely to need to hire again, quickly. That means remembering interesting people who you meet and making a concentrated effort to keep them engaged with your business.
They may not want to join you immediately but in the modern world things may change quickly and they could be knocking on your door sooner than you think. Also, be sure to keep in touch with good people who you may not have been able to offer a job to through the interview process on the first occasion – you may want to hire them later.
Every candidate presents an opportunity through which to market your company. To make sure this happens, ensure that the entire interview process is managed impeccably throughout with open, honest and objective feedback given. You will always end up rejecting more candidates than you offer jobs to and you want those who are unsuccessful to wish they could have been hired and to tell others so.
Skin in the game
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs get your staff involved in the search and – if trained to do so – the interviewing of candidates so they have 'skin in the game' in being responsible for choosing their colleagues. Make financial rewards for successful hires available to everyone. You can be sure your top performers will already know other talented individuals who, because of them, may have an existing interest in your company. And they’ll be your best salespeople knowing who will, and won’t, fit well into the company’s culture.
Finally, and this is key to adding value in M&A, recruit on the basis that you want to hire people that are better than you. That’s your job as a leader. High performing employees are ambitious for themselves and their firm, positively competitive, excited by responsibility and thrive in a supportive, learning environment. They’ll want to be you and, if possible, surpass you. All of which is good news as you build a management team that can take a company forward under new ownership.