As I reflected upon our change management process and what might be valuable to share with others, I came to recognize that a great deal of the necessary change management occurred within myself. You see, I came into this process with a healthy dose of skepticism - skepticism rooted in the very same perspectives many of our people share. I've had a diverse career, including helping to start companies that were backed by investors of various sorts. I realized as we entered this process at Silverchair that my lens was colored by some unfavorable past experiences. I had been in organizations that were limited by the strong unilateral opinions of their investors. I had been in organizations where the drive to fulfill investor expectations resulted in uninspired and limiting short-term thinking. I had also been in organizations where investors ultimately did not come through to support the original vision of the team.
I had to do the challenging inner work of remaining open-minded and constructive, which as it turns out, is far easier to preach than to practice when so much is at stake. I engaged in a few tactics that ultimately proved fruitful in reorienting my thinking and allowing me to navigate the partner selection process with both discernment and an open mind.
Step One: Educate ThyselfFirst, I educated myself independently. I didn't just listen to the advice of our very capable investment bankers, but I also read anything I could get my hands on to learn about the opportunities and potential pitfalls of a private equity investment. Two books, in particular, were helpful: The Private Equity Playbook, by Adam Coffey, and Selling Without Selling Out, by Sunny Vanderbeck.
The Private Equity Playbook provided a good broad overview of the process and key questions and considerations along the way. This is the book that allowed me to enter our management presentations feeling well-informed about the relative interests and motivations of the parties, as well as the key things our team should be looking for in making our final partner selection.
Farther along in our process, when the field began to narrow and our management team began to have more fine-grained discussions regarding which partner would support us best, we made an explicit commitment to “selling without selling out.” What we meant is that the size of the investment would not override our values. As Silverchairians ourselves, we knew that preserving our distinctive culture would be a primary concern for our people as we headed into this new phase for organization. In my research one day, I used those words as a search term, which yielded Vanderbeck’s title.
What I learned from this book, which confirmed what my senses had already perceived, is that relationships matter above all. To be sure, we were interested in selecting an investor who could help us with our go to market strategy, who had the know-how to amplify the capabilities of our leadership team, who genuinely believed in what we were trying to do and was willing to make an investment appropriate to support those ambitions. But this book underscored the importance of also selecting a capital partner our team could actually work with, who felt values-aligned, who felt like part of our team.
Step 2: Make it your ownMy aha moment as a talent professional was that the investment partner selection process is not unlike the selection process for any mission-critical senior role in an organization. You begin by taking inventory of the non-negotiables and nice-to-haves, you think carefully about the capabilities you are hoping to bring into the organization through the addition of this talent, and then you conduct a rigorous and evidence-based selection process to determine who has the talent, the experience, and the temperament to create the change you need while preserving the best of the organization you have.
We are fortunate in this regard to be led by a CEO, Thane Kerner, who was passionately committed to ensuring we selected a capital partner who would respect who we already are as an organization and add value without destroying our legacy. I was in several conversations leading up to our final decision in which Thane asked each member of the executive team to express their personal preference and share their perspectives. That engagement with our team, more than any other aspect of the process, gave me confidence that we were making the right choice, that we were being led by the genuine desire to strengthen our organization and broaden its impact while remaining faithful to the core of who we are.
It was this process of managing my own reticence to change and having my curiosity fully satisfied that then allowed me to show up for the rest of our people at the time of our announcement with well reasoned answers to their intelligent questions as well as genuine empathy for their perspectives.
Step 3: Set the frameworkBecause of my own inner work, I was in a good place to help my colleagues on the executive team anticipate what our people needed to know and experience in order to get comfortable with this important change.
- I authored a first draft of the questions I anticipated people would have, together with authentic answers providing as much information as possible. Our talented Director of Marketing later turned that humble draft into a comprehensive FAQ page we have been dynamically updating as new questions arise.
- From experience, we also knew that our people would value the opportunity to connect with the architects of this change and have their questions answered in an open forum. We scheduled not only a company-wide announcement, but also subsequent Q&A sessions at the role-group level. Members of our executive team also made themselves explicitly available for one-on-one sessions with any person who felt uneasy asking their questions in a more public forum
- We also made a point of celebrating our new partnership, together with the uncommon sense of wide open possibility it brings. We sent celebratory gifts to all our people; we raised a glass in the Silverchair Bistro (our cafe and bar); we hosted a raucous lawn party at our CEO’s house, complete with food truck and corn hole. We made sure that, in the midst of our hand-wringing about how our people might perceive the change - we did not lose sight of the fact that this new partnership has the potential to bring positive, transformational change to us all.