Aurélien Dockwiller via Unsplash

Keeping the Best Talent through M&As: One CPO’s View from Silicon Valley – Part 3

Merging with another company or participating on either end of an acquisition are clearly cause for a great deal of change. The tech world is no stranger to these movements. Currently at SymphonyAI, Chief People Officer Jen Trzepacz and her leadership team have been merging eleven different companies into one over a period of two years. “It’s been incredibly challenging because of the companies’ different life-cycle stages, varying customer bases, and go-to-market hurdles.”

Since Jen and I have had our fair share of experiences with mergers and acquisitions (M&As), I asked her in a recent episode of Off the Rak what she’s learned about keeping employees through this process. One of the biggest lessons Jen learned from managing M&As was the importance of showing authenticity and transparency about change. “It doesn’t help the employees if you say everything will stay the same and the new organization will adopt all of our current practices. It’s just not going to happen,” she said.

Change will happen—not only for the company being acquired but also for the company that’s doing the acquiring. It’s incredibly challenging, but “don’t underestimate the power of culture,” Jen said. “That culture is alive and kicking and vibrant in every one of those companies. And you have to figure out how to take the best of each one but also be willing to shed what’s not needed in the interest of going forward.”

She added that “there are a lot of great tools and playbooks out there, but at the end of the day with tech companies it’s all about the people and being transparent, honest, and real.” Jen’s answer about transparency reminded me of the largest merger I experienced while I was CEO of Prologis. We merged with another company, and the CEO of that company and I served as co-CEOs. As you can image, those days were filled with cautious optimism but we weren’t sure what employees were feeling.

My co-CEO came up with a brilliant idea to further engage people in the process: “Let’s set up PrologisBS.com.” We all knew what BS stood for. We asked employees to tell us what was happening in the trenches in a confidential forum. It was amazing how many people told us how we could do better.

And you know what? It was a meaningful (and therapeutic!) outlet for them. They felt more engaged because they contributed, and more importantly, they felt heard because we responded. So often, leaders feel the pressure to have all the answers, when it’s the employees who are closer to the customer and the product, and they have the direct experience to provide the answers too.

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Jen reminded me that in many cases, people represent as much as 70 percent of your bottom line. They’re the heart and soul of your financial model; why shouldn’t they be the focus of your business model during challenging times? The importance of connecting your people to purpose and each other will stand the test of time as a leadership practice—no matter whether AI is on your horizon (or here), you’re dealing with hybrid workplace challenges, or you’re managing expectations through a merger or acquisition.

If you found this exchange I had with CPO Jennifer Trzepacz helpful, check out part one and two of this series, where she and I explore how AI is impacting the future of work and how she’s redefining employee engagement to better manage expectations of herself and her team.

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