One of the biggest challenges a start-up facing acquisition experiences is maintaining its culture of speed, flexibility and freedom. A common mistake that many businesses make is allowing these factors to put a strain on their culture. As your team becomes part of a larger, more-established organisation often systems and processes are put in place which can damage the working environment, stripping the team of its original and attractive qualities.
4th Screen Advertising was acquired by the largest global mobile ad platform Opera Mediaworks in 2012, catapulting the (then) small UK team into the global field. Our emphasis on company culture and team values allowed us to shape and continue our positive working environment within the rapidly growing operation.
A start-up company usually has a set of clearly-defined values, translated by the founder to the growing team throughout its lifetime. These values form the pillars against which the company informs decisions and should not change, regardless of what stage of growth you reach. It is important that your entire leadership team embraces these values because as a company grows, is acquired and moves into new regions it is very easy to lose sight of what made you a great team in the first place.
It is important for the senior leadership team to be completely open and transparent with the team. Talk to employees about how you have come to the acquisition decision and give them access to proper information to help them make their own decisions. Provide them with background information and insights into the challenges and vulnerabilities your company faces - the context will help your employees make more informed choices on their own that will serve to benefit the company moving forward. It will also allow employees to voice any doubts, fears or questions they may have surrounding changes to the company as it becomes part of a larger operation.
There are other ways to remain transparent as you expand – give staff access to the senior management team, provide regular updates on the company’s performance and create open floor plans.
Most M&A focus stops at the point of sale, but post-acquisition integration and co-operation requires as much, if not more focus as the acquisition itself. It helps when the acquiring company is still relatively young itself, but as the acquired company you must be trusting but firm in asserting your values and freedom to make decisions. You must also make it clear that cultural differences may arise across different geographies as you begin working together as a larger team.
Importantly, as an acquired company you must keep the personality that made you successful in the first place. Just as an individual member of staff brings unique skills and talents to a company, your company will do the same for the larger organisation. Continue to assert your creative, entrepreneurial spirit while maintaining openness within the larger team and you will flourish.
Companies go through changes at all stages of growth, but retaining the culture and values that first made you successful will ensure that you maintain a strong foundation no matter what comes your way.