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Lessons learned

Reflecting on the Evolution of Audacia: 3 Big Changes and Lessons Learned

In business, there is often a tendency to set goals, chase them down, and then set more goals. Rinse. Repeat. Taking a step back from this relentless pursuit of achievement to take stock of lessons learned, though, is critical. 

We see this tendency all the time with our clients working through big transformations. If they become overly focused on getting through what they think of as the “hard part” – the merger, the transition, the restructuring – without picking their heads up, they can miss what’s even more important. Without understanding how that big transformation fits into the overall strategy, there’s a risk that you’re simply going through the motions, making change for change’s sake. There’s almost nothing worse than a checklist untethered from a strategy.

At Audacia, we periodically reflect on where we’ve been, so that we can move forward with our eyes wide open. In that spirit, let’s look at the biggest changes and lessons learned from the past (almost) seven years.  

1. The Team is Growing

One of the most visible changes that we’ve made over the years is our growing team. In the beginning, it was hard to think about bringing others on. Sure, I was happy to quietly partner with people I had worked with throughout my corporate career, but the thought of developing my own team… shudder, at least in those early days.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, entrepreneurship doesn’t run in my blood, and the idea of being responsible for other peoples’ livelihoods was scary at first. But, of course, the stories my mind invented were much more terrifying than the reality.

In fact, building out our team of experts, partners, and employees has been one of the greatest joys of running the business. Today we’re 14 strong and growing. Together, we have created a culture of trust and transparency. Because I can trust my team, I have more space to think strategically, and I can focus on the big picture without getting lost in the details.

Not only that, but we’re also able to leverage our collective experience and talent to deliver bigger and better solutions for our clients. And diversity of thought, experience, and perspective, enables us to deliver those solutions to a broader range of clients. 

This is not to say we’ve got it all figured out; we are a work in progress. But I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made and excited to see where our path takes us next.

Lessons Learned:

  • We are better together.
  • Don’t let fear hold you back from making a bold move. (I’m still a work in progress here!)
  • Building a reliable support system is one key to being successful as a business owner.

2. We’re Getting Clearer About Who We Are

This change may be less visible from the outside, but it is crucial to finding ideal clients, honing our service offerings, and boosting our credibility – not to mention, strengthening our messaging. Getting clearer on our superpowers and how our values express themselves through the work we do has allowed us to back away from saying “yes” too often.

Over the years, we have zeroed in on what we do and how to position ourselves in the market. Living through pivotal moments in our business has helped us figure out how to help our clients through pivotal moments in theirs as well. We can confidently talk about how we work with organizations experiencing structural transitions including: 

These types of transformations have internal and external ripple effects to be aware of from the beginning, but those effects can be invisible to teams on the inside. Our team comes in, gets the lay of the land, and develops a coherent communications strategy to carry you through the transition and beyond.

We provide much more than a coherent communications strategy, though. Developing such a strategy requires you and your team to think through crucial details about the transition and the fundamental changes on the horizon. In strategy sessions with Audacia, clients have breakthroughs that improve operational efficiency, usher in a new era of cultural transparency, and spark innovative ideas that lead to even bigger transformations.

Lessons Learned:

  • If you want prospects to understand what you do, you need to be clear about what you do.
  • Having a coherent communications strategy is about so much more than communicating well.
  • Teams that know their value deliver above and beyond their value.

3. We Answer Client Concerns Before They Have Them

Perhaps the most important change Audacia has made over the years has been the way we approach our clients’ needs. In the beginning, we were mostly reactive. When a prospect reached out to schedule a consultation, I listened to their concerns and devised a solution connecting all of the dots. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s one that yields success for many, including Audacia in the early stages.

However, we’ve evolved beyond this reactive approach. Today we are more proactive, anticipating our clients’ needs even before they have them. When I sit down with a prospect, I listen. I want to hear not only the text, but also the subtext. Our advisory is unique to each client and their situation. We are constantly formulating and reformulating strategies to present solutions for clients in all different stages of transformation.

As a result, we’re adding more strategic value to our clients and we’re more engaged across their transformation journey. Our average client engagement has grown from three months to six months. 

We’ve also seen more repeat business in recent years as clients come to value our strategic perspective, ability to “get *ish done,” and tangibly/actually move them forward. Because we have been around the block, we are well positioned to lead our clients through the shifting sands of transformation, and having access to that kind of reassurance in the midst of chaos or crisis can be absolutely priceless.

Lessons Learned:

  • Helping clients see around corners is the cornerstone of a true partnership. Often solving one problem leads to another and organizations need help recognizing when this is the case.
  • Small shifts in the way you think about client work can have outsized benefits.

Looking back on the early days of Audacia, I can’t help but feel gratitude for what we’ve built. Here’s to setting more goals and chasing them down, but also taking time to reflect and learning from the past.

Photo credit: Business Associates Sitting In Board Room Having A Meeting With Coffee And Tablets by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

Meet the Team: Sarah Gershman, Executive Presence Partner

Building a strong business is all about building strong relationships and at Audacia Strategies, we love to say, “it’s not ‘just business.’ It’s about people working together toward a common goal.” That’s why partnering with the best is a top priority. I’ve known many of our partners for years. They’re not just business associates, they’re people I’d sit down with for a casual dinner (and probably an adult beverage or two). I’m proud to know, partner, and collaborate with each of them. 

In a previous article, we introduced you to one of the Sarahs on Audacia’s team, our Manager of Business Operations, Sarah Deming. This time, we’re introducing Sarah Gershman who is our Executive Presence Partner.

Interview with Sarah Gershman, Executive Presence Partner

At Audacia, we are all about strategic communications and strong communication is all about getting the key players within an organization to stay on message. This starts with leaders and this is where Sarah Gershman shines.

Sarah is an executive speech coach and CEO of Green Room Speakers, a communications firm based in Washington, DC. She is also an adjunct professor of communications at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, where she lectures to students from around the world.

As Audacia’s Executive Presence Partner, Sarah puts her specialization to work helping leaders deliver high-stakes and complex messages with clarity, authenticity, and conviction. Having coached executives at organizations including Microsoft, General Dynamics, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, Eli Lilly, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Department of Commerce, the US Department of Justice, and the US Department of Labor, Sarah brings a wealth of experience to the table.

Below are highlights from Sarah about the valuable contributions she makes to our team.

Q | Can you describe your role at Audacia Strategies and how you fit into the team?

As an executive speech coach, I help leaders elevate their executive presence as they grow their businesses. In practice, one of my roles at Audacia is to get to the core of what a leader needs to communicate to their target audience. When one of Audacia’s executive clients needs to be prepped for an engagement like a critical speech, townhall, investor presentation, I come in to coach them on how best to communicate key messages. So I spend a lot of time helping leaders think through mission critical messaging.

I also coach leaders through communicating big changes within the company. This can be especially challenging because there is a need to tell a coherent story that bridges the gap between the firm’s past and its future. Often, finding that story takes stepping back to look at all the current messaging and making connections that might not be immediately obvious to leaders themselves. Together with others on Audacia’s team, I provide much needed perspective.

Q | What is your favorite part about working with Audacia?

There is something so exciting about working specifically with companies in transition. Audacia’s clients are taking bold risks, making big changes, and going through high stakes transformations. As the leader of an organization experiencing rapid change, communication skills are a top priority. If you can’t get the message across, you lose buy-in from stakeholders.

I love the excitement of helping organizations in these critical moments. It lends an added pressure – in a good way – to the coaching I do. 

And I love the people! Katy has put together an incredible team that attracts incredible clients. It’s a privilege to work with everyone.

Q | Can you describe a win or highlight from your time working with Audacia?

The example that comes to mind is working with a CEO in transition as he stepped into his new role. Although he had been a leader within the company with a strong reputation, he had never been a CEO, so he understandably needed guidance around executive presence.

When we first met, the CEO had a harder time commanding the room. Part of the challenge was that he was replacing a beloved CEO who was a rockstar, literally. We needed to find a way for the new CEO to tell his own story.  

In just a couple of sessions, we helped him find his message, own it, and connect much more deeply with his audience. It turns out that the new CEO loves chess, so we helped him tease out what that says about leadership and his personal leadership style. Once he connected those dots, he stepped more fully into his role, quickly earning the trust of his team and investors.

Q | Are there best practices associated with your role that you’d like to share?

One of the skills that makes me successful is listening. It may seem simple, but it actually requires a lot of practice. When I’m meeting with an executive, I listen deeply, and I ask a lot of questions.

Coaching an executive to have presence, charisma, and to communicate clearly requires not just hearing what is being said, but also the unspoken message underneath. I try to discover my client’s motivations on a deeper level. When I know what makes you tick, then I can figure out how to leverage that information to help you truly engage your audience. So I’ve trained myself to listen for those things.

My goal with every executive I coach is to get them to think through their story and their messaging themselves. It’s not good enough for me to tell you what your message should be. If you don’t feel it at your core, your words won’t feel authentic to your audience.

Sarah is one of a handful of experienced and talented strategic partners I’m proud to call part of Audacia’s team. Together, she and I have over 20 years of experience working with executives and investors. 

We recently put our heads together to write an article for Harvard Business Review about the three big questions investors ask themselves when evaluating a CEO. Reading it will give you insight into why our executive clients always walk away from sessions with Sarah feeling more confident and ready to own their messages. 

Is your firm going through a big transition? Are you a leader who needs support as you develop your communications strategy? Our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation.

People

Meet the Team: Sarah Deming, Manager of Business Operations

At Audacia Strategies, our biggest asset is our people. From the beginning, I’ve known that to build a firm that provides strategic communications for organizations going through big transformations, I needed to build my team intentionally. And I am really excited about how the team has come together.

Long time readers also know that we talk a lot about transparency and walking our talk. So in that spirit, we will be sharing some interviews with Audacia team members giving their take on our evolving culture. First up is our Manager of Business Operations, Sarah Deming.

Interview with Sarah Deming, Manager of Business Operations

Every successful firm needs people who can be the glue holding things together behind the scenes. For us, that’s Sarah Deming. 

Sarah has a background in art management, small business, and operations administration. At Audacia Strategies, she assists with scheduling, email management, human resources, and marketing strategy. She’s eager to take the lead on projects and makes smart decisions for our clients. 

As Audacia Strategies’ Manager of Business Operations, Sarah has a knack for creating and implementing processes that help businesses grow as efficiently as possible. She has an eye for detail and understands the importance of organization and effective communication. In her free time, you can find Sarah reading a good book, making art, or enjoying the great outdoors with her husband and two daughters.

To learn more about what makes working for Audacia a great fit for Sarah, continue reading.

Q | Can you describe your role at Audacia Strategies and how you fit into the team?

I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades behind the scenes. My role is part Operations, part Executive Administrator, part Marketing, and part Human Resources. It was really eye-opening recently to sit down with our CEO, Katy (Herr) Hew, and take a closer look at the tasks I perform on a daily basis. The most typical thing about my day is that it’s never typical – each day is a little different and that’s one of the things I love!

Although I work most closely with Katy and our COO, Natalie Homme, I also communicate with our partners, clients, and the rest of our team to schedule meetings. Additionally, I monitor social media, post content, update our website, organize documents, onboard new team members, and so much more.

Q | What is your favorite part about working with Audacia?

The people! We have the absolute best team. Everyone is supportive, open to new ideas, positive, kind, eager to solve problems, and always willing to help each other out. Working with Audacia has shown me that it is possible to find a workplace with a culture that genuinely encourages team members to find the work-life balance that works best for them.

While other places I’ve worked have paid lip service to creating a supportive environment, Katy makes it happen. She cares deeply about Audacia – our mission, clients, and the people who work for her. Trusting her team to enjoy their lives AND deliver results, Katy demonstrates strong leadership every day. She really makes me feel seen. I’m so grateful to be a part of Audacia Strategies and to have a professional woman leader like Katy as a role model.

Q | Can you describe a win or highlight from your time working with Audacia?

When I first began working with Audacia, we switched email marketing providers and I facilitated our migration to the new platform. During that process, I evaluated the current email drip sequence we had set up for new subscribers and saw some areas where it could be improved.

I pitched Katy a new nurture sequence with evergreen content about Audacia and what we can do for businesses going through transformative change, and she loved the idea! Four months later we launched our new and improved nurture sequence, and it’s still yielding amazing results.

By implementing projects like this, it shows me that there are opportunities to grow into a bigger role within the company. Because I’ve seen firsthand how eager Katy is to invest in her people and in our ideas, I’m motivated to actively look for ways to develop on a personal and professional level. It really feels like the sky’s the limit in terms of learning and growing at Audacia.

Q | What do you think makes you especially well suited for your role as Manager of Business Operations?

Being organized and efficient are essential to what I do. If I’m scheduling a meeting, my goal is always to get it on the calendar within 48 hours. Sometimes that’s just not possible, but having this in mind drives me to be responsive and on my toes. It’s like a game I play with myself! 

Also, I take a lot of pride in responding to emails quickly, being friendly and warm, and generally being available to everyone on our team for any and all matters that may arise in the course of doing business. I’ve learned that with a little creativity, most problems have ready solutions. 

Of course, I make sure to set healthy boundaries as well. Because our team is entirely remote, we have to stay committed to make sure working from home doesn’t mean working all the time.

It’s also important for me to use our project management tool to keep track of my tasks so nothing gets overlooked. I write down even the smallest tasks and even create tasks to remind me to follow up on other tasks.

Behind every successful firm, you will find someone like Sarah Deming holding things together and making sure everyone has what they need from an operational standpoint. But Sarah is truly one of a kind. Audacia Strategies wouldn’t be where we are today without Sarah. 

To find out more about how our team has your back, contact us today. Sarah will get back to you to schedule your consultation.

c-suite change

C-suite Change Can Be Energizing or Panic-Inducing. The Choice is Yours

Does this sound familiar? Your organization is one of the bright, rising stars in your industry. It has taken years of hard work, but you’ve finally reached a point where you have strong leadership across the board, a steady vision for the future, and everyone from the executive team down to the employees on the frontlines are working together like a well-oiled machine.

And then…the CEO turns in their resignation letter. Does the prospect of C-suite change send a shock wave of panic through the company? Or are you ready to guide everyone through a smooth transition?

If your initial response is panic, that’s okay. This is the perfect time (i.e., before this scenario becomes your reality) to come up with a plan. Let’s look at how you can reframe c-suite change as an opportunity rather than a potentially destabilizing event.

Revisit Company Culture for Successful C-Suite Change

First, recognize that C-suite change is a natural part of company evolution. The person you had steering the ship during the start-up phase may not be the best person to lead you through the next stage and beyond. Thinking about how far you’ve come and how your culture has evolved will help you choose the right CEO for this next phase.

Also, if you’re moving from a founder as CEO to a new corporate executive, you’ll want to consider how much of the company culture is tied up with the founder’s personality and whether that makes sense going forward.

For example, suppose your Founder and CEO is a literal rockstar. He plays the guitar and performs regularly with his semi-famous band. He has even been interviewed by Rolling Stone. It’s an interesting draw and has given the marketing team lots of fun campaign ideas. But is this crucial to the DNA of the organization? In other words, is it critical that the new CEO also play the guitar?

Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that you need to figure out what is part of the DNA of your organization and look for a new CEO that shares the same values — someone for whom your culture is authentic to who they are as a leader.

Why is culture so important when considering C-suite change? Well, it’s likely that culture is one big reason that scaling and reaching the point where everyone is working together like a well-oiled machine has happened. So as you consider the selection and managing of the C-suite change for customers, investors, and employees, keeping the culture consistent should be your first priority. 

How to Keep Company Culture Consistent:

Once you begin to see your CEO’s resignation as part of the evolution of the organization, you can turn your attention to deciding, likely with the help of your board, what is crucial to the company’s DNA. Take your time here because decisions about how to separate the former CEO from the company culture will determine whether stakeholders perceive the C-suite change as energizing or destabilizing.

Keep the following tips in mind:

1. Have a good sense of the culture as seen through the eyes of employees. 

Find a way to take the pulse of your employees. One good approach is to use an external team to conduct Voice of the Employee interviews. You may be surprised that what you think of as crucial to the culture of your firm is really hidden from your employees and vice versa. So this kind of research is hugely beneficial for smooth executive transitions.

It’s also important to announce the transition itself to employees at the same time as you announce the C-suite change publicly. If you announce internally and externally at different times, rumors will fly and rumors are a huge source of instability during big transitions.

We recommend having a specific employee communication plan to address key cultural issues and how the C-suite change will affect the organization from a macro perspective. Also, as soon as possible, set up a town hall meeting where employees can be formally introduced to the new CEO and have their questions and concerns addressed.

2. Ground everyone back into the company strategy.

While the CEO may be changing, the company strategy is staying the same, especially if we’re sticking with the scenario where everything is going well and the CEO needs to move on. This means it’s a good opportunity to go back to basics. 

Let your mission, vision, and values drive you forward. Get everyone to recommit to company fundamentals and talk openly about what is changing and what will be staying the same.

3. Be as honest and transparent as possible.

This third recommendation is a big one, so strap in. As soon as your executive gives you notice that they’re even thinking about moving on, you want to have a strategy in place. This will allow you to be as honest and transparent as possible. This goes for all of your key leadership, not just your CEO.

Perhaps you will want to call a board meeting to open discussions about all of the topics above. Perhaps you’ll want to make an announcement (internally and externally) early and reassure everyone that the transition period will last several months. Whatever your first move, having a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) around C-suite change is a smart idea.

In a previous blog article, we talked about the elements that plan should include whether your C-suite change is expected or unexpected.

4. Know your game clock.

Timing is also important here. The more you can be in control of the timeline, the greater your ability to control the message of the transition. Unexpected changes can raise questions about the stability of an organization. One way to ease these concerns is to share (at a high level)  your succession planning process with key stakeholders so that they understand the corporate calculus behind the leadership selection. 

For public companies: if you have a planned transition with a good amount of lead time, it’s good to make this announcement as part of your quarterly reporting cadence. If the transition is unexpected, public companies will likely have to disclose the leadership change via an 8-K within four business days, but make sure to consult with legal counsel to determine your specific disclosure requirements.

5. Teamwork makes the dream work.

If possible, make time in your transition strategy to allow the outgoing and incoming CEOs to work together. If appropriate, having a “pass the torch moment” can be a critical element to  transferring credibility and trust from the outgoing CEO to the incoming CEO. Part of this strategy should include coordinating their narrative. As an example, the outgoing CEO may talk about why they built the company and why the new CEO is the right person to carry the mantle forward. This gives the new CEO the opportunity to share their own vision about the future of the company.

Finally, make sure your new executive is prepared to take over. Is the new executive on the same page when it comes to the company culture? Have you defined your key messages? Have you acknowledged that C-suite change requires an acclimation period that can take at least 30 days? Have you organized listening sessions and key meetings with stakeholders? Do you have a comprehensive introduction strategy?

For our private equity-backed companies: if your CEO has experience with public company boards and they will be transitioning to working with your private equity board, do they understand what that entails? This is a helpful resource to share from McKinsey

C-suite change can be a powerful signal of an organization’s evolution. If you’re ready to move into the next phase of your company’s metamorphosis, our team can help make the transition energizing instead of panic-inducing. Let’s talk about your next business transformation!

Photo credit: Jacob Lund Photography from NounProject.com

back to the office

3 Tips for Hitting a Home-Run As You Bring Your Team Back to the Office

As remote workers are being called back to the office here in the U.S., many are experiencing a reverse of the identity crisis we collectively experienced during the early days of the 2020 shutdown. Whereas when offices shut down we felt our routines being abruptly disrupted, now we have the opportunity to intentionally re-enter our post-pandemic work lives.

It’s time for leaders to consciously decide how to make re-entry as smooth as possible for their employees. And if it sounds like I’m asking you to come up with a strategic plan, that’s because I am.

See, re-entry is not something to be taken lightly. You can’t expect your team to go from languishing to flourishing overnight just because they’re back in the office. But if you send a message of realistic optimism. If you make it clear that this is a time to reset and build our future together, with time, you will see a new, stronger team emerge from the pandemic ashes.

So, let’s discuss your triumphant back to the office strategy.

Reconstructing How Work is Done

Despite all the challenges of figuring out how to juggle childcare while working and creating healthy boundaries around work, surveys show that most people enjoy working from home. A McKinsey study from June 2020 found that 80% of workers enjoyed working remotely. And while many now prefer to have the option of returning to the office, there’s still a strong preference (55%) for working from home at least two or three days a week.

The pandemic forced the question: is this really how work should be done? And leading organizations are taking this question seriously. They’re questioning assumptions about what employees need to do their best work and re-examining the role of being together in the office.

There’s, of course, no one-size-fits-all answer here. Reconstructing how work gets done will look different for every organization. this is about achieving your business and cultural outcomes. 

Get your managers and teams together (you want a diversity of perspectives!) and have a discussion around the following:

  • What are the most important systems and processes for each major business, geography, and function?
  • How can you boldly re-envision each of these systems and processes?
  • How does being physically present in the office enhance professional development?
  • How does being physically present in the office push a project forward at different stages? For example, previously, a business unit may have generated new ideas by convening a meeting, brainstorming on a whiteboard, and assigning someone to refine the results. A new process might include a period of asynchronous brainstorming across a digital channel, like Slack, followed by a multi-hour period of debate via video conference.
  • What values, practices, interactions, and rituals most promote the culture your organization wants to develop?
  • What suboptimal habits and systems can you do away with completely?

Of course, reconstructing how work gets done at your organization is no easy task. Undoubtedly, tough choices will arise and leaders will need to be empowered to make decisions that move individual business units and businesses forward.

In addition, it’s important to recognize that permanent change requires strong change-management skills. Both leaders and workers need to maintain a level of flexibility that allows for pivots based on what’s working.

The good news is that if you hit a home-run here, you will achieve the culture you’ve always wanted: an environment where everyone feels safe to enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve their personal goals while achieving the organization’s objectives.

How to Hit a Home-Run:

1. Have a Reboarding Plan

Once you have gathered together your team to envision the future, it’s time to make that vision a reality. So, you’ll want to treat this return to the office like you would treat a merger or an acquisition or a new product launch.

Yes, making sure your return to the office is triumphant and not tragic is all about having a solid reboarding plan. First, consider how you do onboarding. Typically, this occurs at the very early stages of employment. But forward-thinking companies view onboarding as a strategic process that filters throughout an employee’s experience and can be leveraged at any point in a person’s career with the company.

This is where reboarding comes in. After a big transformation, like returning to the office following a pandemic, it’s time to reintroduce employees to policies and procedures that they may have let slide in various ways. It’s also an important time to introduce any new policies and procedures.

If you take a people-centered approach to your reboarding plan, you will be in a better position to help your employees embrace the new changes and make a smooth transition back to the office.

2. Lead with Empathy

Looking at the unemployment data and what’s happening with economic recovery, some economists have taken to calling this the “Take This Job and Shove It” economy. Employees want to feel valued and they seem to have little trouble quitting or moving on from positions where they aren’t feeling this way. A year of grieving and dealing with an elevated level of fear has reminded us all that life is short.

One way to ensure you’re recognizing the humanity of this moment and not simply focused on your organization’s bottom line is to lead with empathy. For example, instead of recalling everyone 40 hours per week and expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels of productivity overnight, consider spreading out the physical return and phasing in policy changes aimed at increasing productivity.

Some organizations are even anticipating a summer slowdown and intentionally working that into their strategic plans for the rest of 2021. Giving your team a break this summer is another way to show employees, who were stressed before lockdown, that you understand the toll the past 16 months have taken. After a true recharge this summer, everyone can return to work in full force this fall.

3. Communicate Well Both Internally and Externally

Above all, making the transition back to the office successfully will require strong communication guardrails both internally and externally. First, establish clear, regular, two-way communication with your team. This will allow employees to feel as if they are in the loop and that their input matters. Also, make sure not to limit communications to only what has changed. Talk about what isn’t going to change as well.

Second, make sure to communicate early and often. Once you have your reboarding plan in place, you can communicate that plan internally with your managers and employees. Make sure they understand what is happening when and what responsibilities they have within the plan so they can manage their own expectations. All of this should be firmly established before you start communicating externally.

Next, make time for collective venting and open communication. You want your employees to feel free to participate in any future changes and to get buy-in from them, they need to feel heard. Collective rituals are one way to help your team feel supported and heard.

For example, you could reserve an hour after lunch on Fridays where teams come together virtually or in-person for a group venting session. Allow everyone some time to check-in with each other about anything that’s causing them stress. Make sure to end the meeting with time for each person to express gratitude. Moving, in this way, from feeling stuck to expressing gratitude can help to navigate the range of emotions everyone experiences.

Returning remote workers to the office is a big transformation for any organization. Having a strategic plan in place gives you the best chance for success. With the above in mind, you’ll make strides toward achieving the culture you’ve always wanted and supporting your team as they re-learn how to thrive in our post-pandemic future.

It’s an exciting time! This is our chance to reset and intentionally redefine what work means to all of us. Audacia Strategies is ready to partner with you as you make the transition. Let’s chat about how to reconstruct the way work gets done at your organization.

Photo attribution: Team of investors meeting in corporate office with documents and laptop by Jacob Lund Photography from Noun Project

rebuilding corporate trust

Rebuilding Corporate Trust: 4 Ways Business Leaders Can Bring About Real Change

As we slowly leave the pandemic behind and enter the rebuilding period, let’s not forget our responsibility for rebuilding trust in public institutions. With all the highfalutin talk about rebuilding society and cultural norms coming out of the pandemic, it’s tempting to point the finger at the government, NGO’s, and the media.

But we are at a unique crossroads where business leaders are positioned to bring about real change both inside and outside of their organizations. Want evidence? Look no further than corporate reactions to measures tightening voting accessibility. Just over a week ago, hundreds of companies and executives signed on to a new statement opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote. 

This type of overtly public engagement has become increasingly common over the past few years as corporate executives step into the trust gap vacated by government organizations. 

Earlier this year, global communications firm, Edelman, released its 2021 Trust Barometer and the results are revealing, especially when it comes to rebuilding public trust:

  • Business has a 61% trust level globally (that’s higher than any other institution)
  • 86% of respondents believe that CEO’s must lead on societal issues
  • 68% say CEO’s should step in when governments fail

We can point the finger at others, or we can embrace this as an opportunity to reshape relationships and build new communication paths providing benefits that will long outlive the current moment. Edelman’s Trust Barometer makes it clear which choice your customers and employees want you to make. So let’s look at the why and how of rebuilding trust.

Rebuilding Corporate Trust in Response to the Epidemic of Misinformation

How did we get here? If you were an alien landing on Earth today, you might expect to find people turning to governments and other long-standing institutions for guidance as we restart the global economy. However, the way governments handled the global health crisis has not engendered confidence in people.

Time Magazine nicknames the findings of the Edelman report the “Epidemic of Misinformation.” In the first half of 2020, public trust of governments did rise. Early on, both U.S. and Chinese citizens deemed the government to be the most fit institution to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by May 2020, China and the U.S. saw significant drops in trust by 18 and 23 points respectively.

To explain these sharp decreases, Richard Edelman points to China’s use of censorship and U.S. officials’ touting of “miraculous cures” that were discredited while simultaneously diminishing the efficacy of mask wearing and social distancing in favor of reopening businesses. Edelman’s recommendation: it’s time to declare information bankruptcy

As trust in governments has diminished, trust in businesses has only grown stronger. Given that trust is the glue that holds society together, especially during trying times, leaders must take the initiative to rebuild corporate trust.

How Our Clients are Rebuilding Corporate Trust

Even before the pandemic, many CEO’s appeared to be heeding this call and stepping into their roles as “America’s new politicians.” In 2019, 181 of the nation’s top CEO’s agreed that “driving shareholder value is no longer their sole business objective.” This is a significant break with the past profit-above-all-else mentality.

And this shift, spearheaded by Business Roundtable Chairman and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, reflects growing pressure from employees, social media, and customers to do more than increase stock prices. The pandemic and recent political events have only accelerated this shift.

At Audacia Strategies, we’re fortunate to have a front row seat to see this change in action with our clients. Here’s how our clients are stepping up to rebuild corporate trust one organization at a time:

1. Looking deep into the “soul” of the organization

Our clients are looking deep into the “souls” of their organizations to tap into their purpose. They’re asking: Why do we exist beyond profits? And what value do we add?

They’re also recognizing that often rebuilding corporate trust requires reaching out to customers and employees to ask for help. They’re initiating Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies to really take the pulse of their key stakeholders.

In many cases, though, rebuilding trust is perpetually aspirational. This applies not only to startups, but also to long-tenured companies. As the world changes, how we leave an impact can and must evolve too.

2. Knowing credibility matters

Employers are recognizing this moment for the opportunity to be a credible voice and to provide clear, unambiguous information for employees to follow — whether it relates to corporate strategy, benefits changes, or societal changes.

When organizations look at employees as humans, as opposed to money-making machines, they see beyond increasing productivity, profitability, and financial performance. They see how having empathy for what their employees have experienced in the past 12 months can open doors for the organization.

In the current climate, employees are exhausted from having to parse through health messages online, in their inboxes, on television, and in the media. Misinformation and disinformation have created a void leaving many without an orientation point from which to believe anything at all. Operating in such a gray area is exhausting and demoralizing.

Companies focused on rebuilding trust recognize the chance to fill this void for their employees (and customers) and gain credibility as a result.

3. Believing consistency is king

The quickest way to blow your credibility when it comes to communications is to broadcast inconsistent and sporadic messages. The old 7×7 rule is still a good starting point — but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. 

For our clients, we encourage a message architecture that ties every communication back to the organization’s purpose and vision

Overcommunication is key… but not via an avalanche of emails. Instead, use multiple channels and — most important — use live events whether structured town halls, small group roundtables, regularly scheduled staff meetings, or just chatting before the next Zoom call. All of these are opportunities to reinforce a consistent message. And that leads me to…

4. Proving trust is not a one-way street

Employees must also have a voice and provide feedback in real time.  And although annual engagement surveys can help, these shouldn’t be the only means of listening. Some ideas:

  • Hold open Q&A sessions
  • Use your internal communication tools like Yammer, Slack, or Google Hangouts to solicit and facilitate feedback
  • Share pulse surveys
  • Voice of the Employee (VOE) research 
  • Have an open inbox/phone line/door for receiving and sharing feedback

When your employees feel heard, they trust that you’ll share with them what’s working and what’s not in a constructive way. They trust that you’ll share the questions and suggestions you receive. And they will trust you to create a roadmap forward and share your progress regularly. 

Rebuilding corporate trust is hard work. It’s sticky. It can be emotional and truthfully, it can be exhausting for the leader who often says, “but I’ve said this in the last 5 meetings — let’s move on.” Remember, though, consistency is credibility and credibility is trust. 

As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of passing the buck here. Rebuilding public trust starts with us. If you’re ready to boldly step into this new era of radical transparency and corporate trust, your partners at Audacia are here for you. Contact us to discover how we can work together. 

Photo credit: Group of happy people working together in an office by Flamingo Images from Noun Project

M&A best practices

M&A Best Practices (Part 2): Ensure a Successful Integration After an Acquisition

This is part two of our series on M&A Best Practices. If you haven’t yet read part one, you will want to read it first: M&A Best Practices for before and during an acquisition. And, don’t forget to check out our handy M&A checklist at the end of this article!

In our previous article, we discussed M&A best practices for before and during an acquisition. The entire process can be very dynamic and exciting. For this reason, it’s important to prepare and plan well when things are relatively calm, before you find yourself in the thick of things.

Okay, so you’ve acquired an organization and the communications around the acquisition have gone according to plan. Awesome! Now what? If you’re hoping integration will simply run itself, it’s time to recalibrate your expectations. Just as planning is important before and during an acquisition, establishing timelines and procedures and opening lines for effective communications ensures that integration runs smoothly.

Now, let’s talk about M&A best practices for the weeks and months after an acquisition.

The Work Really Begins: Integrating Legacy Organizations

Effective communications surrounding an acquisition assures your workforce that business will proceed as usual and your clients that delivery is not impacted by this change. Managers are an essential link in the communications chain, both internally and externally.

When announcing an acquisition, the information will spread quickly. And, as we know, false information spreads more quickly than the truth. So you will want to have a strategy to manage your message. Carefully choreograph your communications so that internal audiences hear from you first. Ensure that your communications cascade is timely, coordinated, and that your supporting materials and spokespersons are on point.

Here’s a sample timeline:

  • Day -1, 8pm: A transaction is agreed to and the paperwork is executed.
  • Day 0, 7:30am: The CEO of the acquiring company emails her managers to make them aware of the transaction. The message includes a cover note with action items, timelines, and proofs of concept (POCs). Attachments include a courtesy copy of the all-employee announcement, manager talking points, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and a description of the acquired company.
  • Day 0, 7:30am: Similarly (and ideally simultaneously), the CEO of the acquired company emails his managers to make them aware of the transaction. Like the communication described above, the message includes a cover note with action items, timelines, and POCs. Attachments include a courtesy copy of the all-employee announcement, manager talking points, FAQs, and a description of the acquiring company.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: The transaction press release clears the wire service and then designated communications team members reach out individually to key members of the press.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: The acquiring company distributes a message to the employees of both organizations, announcing the transaction, welcoming the acquired organization to the team, and providing a vision for the future.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: Likewise, the acquired company distributes a message to employees of both organizations, explaining why this decision was made, thanking legacy employees for their service and dedication, and reinforcing the strategy for the combination.
  • Day 0, 8:00am: IT posts all employee communications related to the acquisition on a dedicated intranet page.
  • Day 0, 8:30am: The leadership team holds an all-employee call, reiterating the talking points and allowing for questions.
  • Day 0: 9:30am: Managers hold a huddle with their teams, using provided talking points, then report to corporate communications via email that the meeting took place. This email should also include any questions from employees, which can be rolled into an FAQ document as needed. Track the status of these meetings to identify teams that may require additional communications support.
  • Day 0+: Designated company personnel notify key clients that the acquisition has taken place highlighting the potential benefits to the customer and addressing customer concerns. This can include the heads of associations on whose boards company leadership serve.
  • Day 0+: Leadership calls and all-employee communications provide regular updates on the integration.

Throughout this process, the project team (see Part 1) meets to ensure deadlines are continuing to be met, issues are raised, and questions are answered. The project manager and assistant/deputy remain engaged with the collective plan, as well as with each department lead. As the combined organization achieves milestones, large or small, celebrate those!

Culture is a critical influencer in any acquisition. If employees within the acquired organization feel that things are changing radically early on, they may not buy into the change, and they may seek opportunities elsewhere. Rely on project leads to provide “temperature checks” and suggest ways to unify the group, if needed.

 Take time to take stock. There are always lessons to be learned following a significant transaction. As the dust settles, be sure to complete an after-action review to garner feedback on what went well, what could have gone better, and what should be taken into account in the future. This is also a good time to review templates and procedures that worked well and will be helpful to future activities. 

There you have it, your complete Audacia Strategies blueprint for M&A best practices before, during, and after. When you combine these tips for integrating a newly acquired organization with the tips for preparing and announcing the acquisition in the early stages, you have a recipe for M&A success. 

Here’s a handy checklist we use when working with our clients throughout the process. Are you ready to see us in action? Schedule your consultation and let’s get you on the books. We’re ready to help your organization transform and grow!

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

M&A issues

What No One Talks About in M&A: Culture Integration and How to Deal With It

We’ve talked about M&A before—the pros, the cons, where deals can go off the rails—but now let’s talk about what happens after the deal is closed. What comes next and what M&A issues come up?

Once your deal closes and the dust settles, it’s time for the real work to begin: integration. With any luck, you’ve already done some focused thinking about integrating the two firms. You’ve looked at M&A issues such as aligning billing systems, benefits plans, compensation strategies, etc. and you have strategies for each.

But what about culture? What’s your strategy for culture integration? If your reaction here is anything like, “A strategy for culture integration? Oh, the department heads will handle all of that,” you will probably want to keep reading.

Love and M&A Integration

M&A deals that work well are actually a lot like happy marriages. Yes, there will be some upfront work to do on both sides. But once you’ve skipped down the aisle after saying “I do,” you begin a new phase with its own set of challenges. This is the work of meshing together two lives into a cohesive, long term, happy union.

An M&A transaction can be a bit like courtship (ah, and you thought chivalry was dead): You date around for a bit, decide that you’ve found “the one,” get engaged, and then, you throw a heckuva wedding. And when you wake up after the honeymoon, reality sinks in…the thoughts start flying.

  • Thought Bubble #1: For better or for worse…wait, you didn’t tell me about that billing issue!
  • Thought Bubble #2: For richer or for poorer…what happened to the sales pipeline we reviewed?
  • Thought Bubble #3: ‘Til death do us part…why are all the employees leaving?

And as with any new marriage, there are logistical M&A issues that no one really considers before they sign on the dotted line:

  • How are we going to celebrate holidays? (Is everyone onboard and motivated by how we recognize and celebrate success?)
  • How should we handle joint finances? (Do both parts of this new mixed organization share the same fiscal priorities?)
  • How often do I have to see your family and friends? (What’s our customer relationship strategy?)

I’m not suggesting that the key to successful M&A integration is scheduling time for employees to do a bunch of trust falls and escape room activities. What I’m suggesting is that you consider how culture impacts any business transaction in the same way you consider how to maximize earning potential for shareholders.

Lessons from a Culture Integration Fail

Early on in my career, I worked for a multi-billion dollar firm. With much fanfare, we acquired a smaller firm that was highly respected and well-known in the industry for its creativity in “getting things done” for customers.

Within a year of acquiring the firm, the larger company had overlayed all of their big company processes and requirements onto the smaller firm—squashing the very flexibility and creativity for which they had been known (and for which we had acquired them!). Unsurprisingly, half of the employees were gone within 2 years…as were the customers.

While it’s easy to see the internal (e.g., from the employees’ perspective) impact of cultural M&A issues, we don’t often think about the external (e.g., from the customers’ perspective) impact. However, culture certainly does impact customer experience and this is especially true after a merger. For a case study in how NOT to complete a successful integration, check out the Starwood / Marriott merger. Yikes!

The hard lesson learned here: The reality is that human challenges are often harder to smooth over than system challenges. If you don’t anticipate the cultural challenges, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are on the business side. So, how do savvy M&A dealmakers address the human side?

1. Start early.

By early, I mean during due diligence. Yes, cultural fit is a deal maker or breaker! The very things that make an acquisition target attractive may also be the most fundamental to their culture…and the most different from your organization’s current culture.

Make sure that someone on your team is putting together a culture strategy prior to the close of the transaction. At a minimum, this strategy should include:

  • Key metrics for competitive landscape, demographic, and market trends to discuss with leadership.
  • Outlines for any necessary cultural change initiatives (Tip: stick with no more than 2 major change initiatives during the first year).
  • Ideas for creating employee buy-in and a sense of community.

2. Know thyself.

What is your vision for the joint culture? What changes after the deal? What stays the same?

Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are no rules that say that everyone must conform to a single culture or that culture is immutable. In fact, allowing room for the culture to adapt is crucial for long-term viability.

Why are these firms merging? What is valued in each and how can we take the best pieces of our cultures and bring them together respectfully?

3. Focus on building credibility.

In most cases, there is a fairly steep learning curve that happens after a merger. Like moving from dating to marriage, we need to adapt to daily life and its new rhythms. How can we put in place mechanisms to better understand each other? How do we establish trust?

Remember that credibility is earned, not given. When a large firm acquires a smaller firm (especially if the smaller firm was once a competitor), there can be some apprehension. It’s important to warn employees of the large firm that taking a victory lap is not appropriate.

Past is not prologue. So the acquiring firm should look to create the right environment to nurture a bright future and bring the new acquisition into the fold. This will require transparency in sharing plans, following through, listening when challenges are raised, and addressing the concerns of everyone.

This is a key building block for #4.

4. Communicate.

Communicate early and often. Key leadership (ideally those with credibility) should share the aspirations for the combined entity in a clear, straightforward manner and acknowledge that integration won’t be easy. When talking about challenges, be specific. Show everyone that you are committed to making this work and addressing all M&A issues together.

Employees need to know what’s changing, why, when, and what will happen, both in the overall big picture, as well as on a day-to-day basis. They need to understand what the merger means for them and what the new expectations will be.

Communicating is about way more than printing off new motivational posters with the company’s core values and firing off a few “rah-rah” emails. (GAH!!) Cultural integration requires a change management focus, leadership commitment, transparency, a willingness to listen (and integrate) feedback, and continued communication via as many channels as possible…even when you think you’re done, you’re not. Keep going. Like a marriage, you’re in this for the long haul.

Preparing for a big M&A deal in 2019? Check out our guide for working with a Communications Specialist.

The team at Audacia Strategies is ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you as you make a smooth integration, both in terms of systems and culture. Contact us to learn more about how we can enable your transformation and help you avoid serious M&A issues!

Photo credit: rawpixel.com