Going through a company transition? Here’s advice on how to ensure the best from employees.
By Chatelle A. Lynch
When our organization made the decision to become an independently-owned and dedicated global cybersecurity company, we were given only six short months to transition. What made this situation even more unique is that just two years earlier, our employees had already undergone significant transformation. This was during a yearlong integration effort following an acquisition.
In April 2017, a new organization manifested with more than 7,500 employees that required new contracts, PCs, onboarding documents, benefit and compensation plans, and much, much more. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few sleepless nights during this period. How could HR make this as seamless as possible for employees and customers—again? Employees had just been through a significant transformation project a couple of years before. How could HR keep them engaged and focused on their business and limit distractions? In what ways could HR get employees excited about the opportunities ahead? Organizational culture—who we are and why we do what we do—served as the foundation for many of these decisions.
The three key things I learned to do from this experience include:
1. Put your employees in the driver’s seat. To bring our employees on this journey and cement our position as an industry leader, it was important that our employees had a voice in the future of the company. How often can you say you helped shape and influence the launch of a $2 billion company? Our employees seized the opportunity.
Just a few months earlier, we had formed a group, “The Culture Champions,” which focused on culture. Keeping our McAfee identity and not losing sight of the mission that attracted a majority of our employees was critical. We enlisted this group of 30 champions to lead workshops, gather input on the future organization, and help guide us. This included everything from the creation of our core values, mission, and vision to where we should make investments in benefits, wellness programs, and office design.
We created the “People First Office,” which sits within the HR organization to represent our employees and ensure our programs and initiatives reflect the culture and desires of the team. Since our launch, this office has re-established our commitment and goals for important initiatives like diversity, social responsibility, and onboarding. The People First Office has also run a much-in-demand pilot program, Take Your Dog to Work Day—which stemmed from an employee suggestion that has proven very popular.
2. Create communication plans to ensure transparency. Often, why we’re doing something is just as important as how we’re doing it. Employees trust us to do the right thing and make decisions in the best interest of the organization and its customers. We take this responsibility very seriously. But sometimes it means asking our employees to go above and beyond in their day job to help the organization on this journey. From the date of announcement to the day of close, we communicated weekly through various media: emails, webcasts, live presentations, videos, portal and more. Did we have all the answers? No. But we were consistent and transparent. I took personal accountability to ensure employees felt that they were at the core of everything we were doing. After all, they were and continue to be my No. 1 customers.
But here’s the thing: When you’re open, honest, and transparent with your employees, they respect you for it. When you can articulate the future state and gain buy-in and trust to deliver this, they’re more accepting of changes and even some of the challenges they may face. They understand the end goal and become more engaged as well. Trust is key and you gain trust through transparency.
The biggest testament to the value of transparency came from employee response to this question: “Are you committed to helping the organization achieve its goals?” We surveyed employees before, doing, at the height of, and after the transition. The result? Ninetyseven percent of our employees remained unwavering in this commitment.
3. Take risks. Setting up a new company provides incredible opportunities, including the ability to do things a little differently and to take some calculated risks. By asking employees what was most important to them and where improvements could be made, we came up with a short list of priorities. One of these was our IT infrastructure.
Under such short timelines—remember: less than six months!—we needed to set up a new IT infrastructure, intranet, systems, devices, and more, for more than 7,500 employees and countless numbers of customers. While the expectation was that the same IT infrastructure would be replicated in the new organization, we heard from many employees that our ability to work more efficiently when on the move, to have a single log-in across all platforms, and to simplify the user experience, were all important. We seized the opportunity to do things differently. For example, we now have a new cloud strategy that allows employees to access apps and content without a VPN from anywhere in the world. This means an employee can get on a plane and have submitted their expense report before they’ve landed.
Technology has in fact, underpinned much of our company transformation, from social recruitment strategy to pre-boarding to how employees access their data through mobile apps. Pushing ourselves to question why something is the way it is—and to think how we can improve it—has been at the forefront of decision-making in this process.
They say that your culture and values are never more tested or more valuable than in challenging times. The significant changes and transformation we’ve undergone to become a stand-alone company in such a short amount of time has only been made possible by our strong culture and employee trust.
HR and business leaders considering a similar transformation should begin here. It was, and continues to be, the trust in our leaders, in our business direction, and most importantly in our colleagues and peers, that drives the business forward. Creating a culture centered around trust, in which employees work together for a greater cause, has ultimately made our ambitious and frankly, audacious, plan, a true success. I sleep better at night now, knowing we have the foundation to take our new company to new heights.
Chatelle A. Lynch is CHRO for McAfee.