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Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Key to Retaining Employees After an Acquisition 06-16

The Key to Retaining Employees After an Acquisition

I’ve been the CEO of three start-ups, two of which have been acquired by great companies (Yahoo and Google). What I’ve learned about keeping a team cohesive after an acquisition is that ultimately, it’s not what you do to try to retain everyone — after an acquisition you can only do so much — but about the type of people that you choose to hire in the first place.

Leading my first company, Dialpad, taught me that no one person is more important than the whole. After the dot-com bubble burst, we took a hit, like the rest of the industry. This forced us to make tough decisions about who we could keep on to help us regain our footing. In the end, it came down to who would put the team – rather than themselves – first. Every company has “rock stars” who end up leaving, and most of the time those companies survive and even prosper. Two years after Dialpad was acquired by Yahoo, Vincent Paquet, my VP of Business Development, and I decided to launch another company, GrandCentral, and we recruited many of the same people who had brought this “no one is bigger than the team” attitude to Dialpad. Every start-up faces a crisis, and when that happens, the selfless people are the people you want working for you.
As GrandCentral started growing, we were presented with a new challenge: adding new members to an already successful team without disrupting the balance.
To do that, I viewed every potential hire on two scales: skill and will. The smartest person in the world isn’t a good hire if he or she doesn’t have the will to do the hard work. This strategy paid off: after 18 months, our incredibly hard-working GrandCentral team sold the company to Google, where it became Google Voice.
When we left Google in 2011 and started UberConference, I learned a third lesson about hiring great talent: look for people who like start-ups. This might sound obvious, but it’s something that too many job applicants (and entrepreneurs) overlook. Working at an early-
stage company is really different from working from an established corporation. Some of our employees have joined us from Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and YouTube – really successful companies with good pay, great benefits, generous stock grants, and awesome cultures.
They just didn’t want to be one in 100,000 employees. They wanted to play a major part in shaping a smaller, but more nimble organization. That’s the kind of team member you want to bring with you when you head a startup: someone who wants to be a major part of the future of a company. So that’s become my third criterion for a great hire: the people who understand that you only get a few chances in life to do something special. People who want the freedom – and the responsibility – to work on projects that get launched quickly, to make the key decisions, and play a big part in getting them done.
Selfless, hardworking people who want responsibility are what makes a start-up special. They’re also really hard to find. However, once you are able to pull together a strong core group of team members, it will be much easier to expand. At UberConference, we know how great our current employees are and we trust that they can recognize others who are equally talented and motivated. Therefore, we encourage our team members to refer former colleagues when we have openings.
We do also recruit outside of our employees’ networks. We contact folks who’ve recently distinguished themselves, like winning a competitive hackathon (as some of our programmers have) or writing a blog post that showed impressive writing skills or technical knowledge (like some on our marketing team). And like lots of other companies, we recruit on social networks like LinkedIn. While we have relied on a core group since Dialpad was acquired by Yahoo!, extremely valuable team members have joined since.
When you are acquired, keeping a team together is as much about what you do before and after the acquisition as what you do during it. If you hire the right team and strategically add to it when needed then you will have a group that will consistently take you to where you want to be.

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