Get things right from the start | The Human Side of the Deal
  • Chau Woeste, Partner |
  • Christian Kurtz, Associate Director |

Chau Woeste and Christian Kurtz explain why onboarding employees is key to the success of a deal and give their tips on how to do it well.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

We’re sure most of us can share a story or two about our experiences of our first day at a new company. Christian remembers starting one job: “My manager wasn’t in to welcome me or show me around. To make matters worse, I then got a call from a friend who was working at a competitor: ‘Hey, your boss is here being interviewed for a job.’ Not the best of first impressions.”

If companies struggle to create a good impression when there’s only one person starting, how about when there are thousands? How about when you’re having to onboard them virtually? And how about when they didn’t choose to join your company?

Getting onboarding right is a key ingredient of a successful integration following a merger or acquisition. Engaging your new people is vital to getting the full value from your deal – their knowledge and expertise is likely to be a big part of what you’ve invested in. And the onboarding process is your gateway to their hearts and minds. It’s their first impression of what it’s really like inside your organisation, and it can shape their entire outlook.

Remember, these people are likely to have mixed emotions about joining your company. They’re leaving behind an organisation they chose to work for. There may be excitement about a new chapter, but many will feel anxious, possibly even threatened. So how do you ease the transition, make them feel welcomed and onboard them successfully?

Start before the beginning

Let’s start by rewinding a little. The day the deal closes (Day 1) isn’t the start of onboarding or the first chance you have to make a good impression. Employees coming to you from an acquired business will have questions before then. You may be restricted from communicating commercially sensitive information to your future employees, but they can start to get to know you from information that you make publicly available.

They’ll be checking you out online so it’s important you provide a convincing and true picture of your organisation. There are four pillars you should seek to cover:

  • Who we are: be authentic and tell your company’s story
  • What we do: be proud of your services and products and show their value to customers and to society; explain your purpose
  • What we believe in: be clear about your convictions and what you believe to be true; explain why you do what you do
  • How we work: explain your values and how you expect your employees to behave – this can help with cultural assimilation (learn more about this here)

Be there from Day 1

Our first piece of advice for Day 1 of onboarding is, quite obviously, be there to welcome your new people. If you can’t do that in person, do it virtually. We’ve all discovered during lockdown the power of online communication tools to bring people together to talk, even when they’re based at different locations across the globe. So, you can welcome thousands of people, personally, all at the same time.

From there on, effective onboarding is about being there for your new employees and giving them access to the knowledge, tools and guidance they need to be successful. Help your new employees understand what success looks like. Provide them with the right resources – FAQs, training videos, quick help guides. And give them the opportunity to ask questions and get quick answers. 

Make more of digital

You can successfully onboard thousands of globally dispersed employees, who you can’t meet in person, by making effective use of digital channels. We’ve done it with groups running into the tens of thousands and 95% say they’re happy in their new situation eight weeks after Day 1.

Going digital shouldn’t mean just creating a static onboarding resource centre. You can run digital onboarding events, which we have seen better attended than at classroom-based sessions. You can also interact with new starters through quizzes and chat channels. Of course, the onboarding experience can be even more powerful if you can mix things up, such as taking a hybrid approach that delivers the best of the in-person experience with the best of digital.

If that’s not possible, virtual onboarding can still be highly effective. For example, you can assign buddies for new starters who will provide a tour of online resources rather than your office.

Successfully onboarded employees in a deal feel part of the new company, know what needs to be done, have the tools and resources to be successful, and want to contribute long-term for the joint success. That’s where your deal value lies.

We’d love to hear from you about your challenges and successes in onboarding new employees following an acquisition. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the points raised or how we can support your integration.