Investment Pitching – Ten Ways to Get It Right

Why Pitch? Pitching is a crucial part of the investment journey. Fail to pitch well and fail to learn may set you back. So be prepared!

Before we explore the pitching process, let’s consider what stage of your business life cycle you are in and therefore what the investment requirement might be. Business start ups often involve personal cash and time, as well as borrowing money from friends and family (love money). This is often referred to as bootstrapping. You might also be relying on loans and overdrafts and more than likely tapping into non-refundable grants. The pitch often comes when you are looking to start-up or more commonly looking to scale up – that is, getting your business idea off the ground, or growing quicker than your baseline and projections suggest.

So you now want to consider investment in your business? This means you are giving away part of your company and you will share ownership and therefore many of your company’s future decisions. So you need the right investment partner. Accepting investment is not like a loan when you can walk away after fulfilling payment. Investors are typically involved for a number of years until a successful buy-out or if unsuccessful, liquidation. Is your investment partner a crowdfund campaign, a sole angel investor, an angel syndicate, a family office, with or without co-investment funds, or perhaps a corporate venturing company or a venture capital fund?

Confusing, yes? Think carefully about how these types of organisations differ as your approach to them will need to differ also.

Which Investor?

Individual angel investors and/ or angel groups are less institutionalised. They may come from a finance background, but likely to be successful entrepreneurs and will be very commercially minded. They will insist on meeting you face-to-face and you will be expected to peak their interest in your investment proposition almost immediately.

Family offices behave in a similar way to angel groups but will often require a trusted introduction and your investment proposition will most likely to be a very good fit with their investment principles.

If there are co-investment funds in the mix, these organisations may be public funded or form part of a University Fund and will again have a different approach based on alignment with their permitted sectors and criteria for investment.

Corporate venture funds is popular particularly in the technology sector, and often a good solution for early stage technology companies to bolster their balance sheet and begin growing sales and/ or advancing new technology, but it is not always right for start-up companies for a number of reasons, often due to conflicts of interests.

Venture capital funds are perhaps the toughest route for a start-up company to pursue given that they are usually focused on investing in more mature investment propositions and their process will almost certainly be more drawn out than the options previously outlined.

Innis and Gunn Crowdfunding Campaign 2019

Crowdfunding has been popular, and has been successfully applied when a brand is strong and can attract interest from a LOT of small investors. You will normally be expected to have a minimum level of investment secured before the crowdfunding campaign, and require a good handle on PR and online marketing. In terms of pitching, you may have one chance at a first impression as your ‘pitch’ will be recorded and uploaded, and may not even meet your investors face-to-face. Innis and Gunn had a successful crowdfund campaign in 2016 and have recently launched another campaign to help build a new brewery.

There has never been a better time to consider investing. Ten years ago the choices were far more limited, and who knows what the investment landscape will look like in ten years time. For example, the UK Government’s SEIS and EIS investment schemes continue to give early stage investors plenty of down-side protection.

It is a good time for a female founder to approach potential investors. BUT the proposition still needs to be sound!

The Pitch Deck

So, onto the pitch. Critically, some investors will provide a template to use, so you will need to revise your pitch to use a format they are comfortable with. But let’s assume you are invited to pitch without any documentation provided.

Pitch decks can range from short and succinct to long and detailed, and one very important point is not to use the pitch deck you would normally make to customers as investors want to see different things!

The most common pitch deck headings include:

  • The problem your business is solving
  • Roadmap (showing time to achieve milestones)
  • Your solution or product
  • Market size and potential
  • Route to market
  • Competitors and points of difference
  • The management team
  • Historical finances and projections
  • The ask – investment proposition

Additional areas that may also be covered include:

  • Purpose of company – why you set up the company
  • Investment and funding history
  • Testimonials and PR coverage
  • Board of directors and advisors

Ten Ways to Get Your Pitch Right

Investing relies on choosing ingredients

Let us consider your investment journey like a recipe for a chocolate cake. Each cake might look and feel different depending on the quality of ingredients, the amount of chocolate you use, how you mix it and the oven itself. And finding that magic extra ingredient to make it unique, whether a splash of whisky or spice. So the following themes are your ingredients for each pitch, use as much or as little as you need depending on who your audience is. Apparently, investors spend on average 3 mins 44 seconds on reading a pitch deck! So it’s a challenge.

And remember that extra special ingredient of patience will be needed! Extra chocolate anyone??

#1. Do your due diligence on them!

What’s the investor’s criteria, geographic and sector limitations, and track record? Who is in the room and do they have particular interests? Some investors focus on sector, some on stage of business life cycle, and others on differentiators such as social purpose and/ or gender. Weave this information into your pitch so they know you are talking to them not a generic investor. The Rose Review in 2019 highlighted only 13% of senior people on UK investment teams are woman, and almost half (48%) of investment teams have no women at all. Less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams and just 4% of deals. So currently, you are more likely to be pitching to a male dominated investing organisation. So make sure you know who you are pitching to and that they are the right fit with your business and it is the right time to invest.

“At ESM Investments we receive 20 pitch decks per month and we estimate circa 10% had researched our organisation thoroughly for alignment with their own organisation. Alignment saves a great deal of time for both concerned. Investors often don’t have enough time to read through volumes of information in order to find that all important reason why they should contact the entrepreneur to make the next step. Being concise makes life easier for everyone. Oh and a warm introduction to the investor can be very helpful as a third party endorsement can be valuable. In summary, be aligned, be concise and try to be introduced if possible.” – Steven Morris, founder and Chair of ESM Investments Ltd

#2. Ensure your leadership team is aligned

They are investors not mediators. Most companies are led by more than one founder, so they will want to see that your personal motivations and growth plans fit the company’s vision. Is there a clear consensus on growth, diversification and exit? Get a trusted advisor to test all founders so you are able to confidently respond to any question.

“The challenge is keeping everyone on the same page. Investors ask questions and it can be a tortuous journey so being focused and aligned is important.” – Brian Williamson, award-winning entrepreneur

#3. Have a resilience coping strategy

No one said investment pitching would be easy. Remember all pitches give you exposure to experience. You might be lucky first time, but it’s unusual. It’s not about you! And even if the investors liked your pitch, they may not invest for other reasons such as timing, conflict with another investment they have or a feeling they won’t add any value as an investor. Make sure you don’t go into your second pitch deflated. Research by Harvard Professor Tom Eisenmann suggests companies need on average 40 investor meetings and over 12 weeks to close a round. A 2015 study of UK angel networks noted that only 30% of funding proposals went beyond the initial screening process, and overall, fewer than 3% attracted funding.

“My biggest challenge is the rejection and getting conflicting advice – go for investment now, no, wait two years etc. And if you have a social purpose its complicated. It’s ok and normal to be tired by it all, it can be very lonely.” – Avril Chester, Founder, Cancer Central

#4. Tell your story well

This is a story about you as well as your company. What are you passionate about? Why did you get involved in the company? Can you bring your product or service to life? Investors remember people and remember stories. Think also about props – your phone, a pen, a book, and weave it into the pitch. And how you tell it is as important as the ‘what’. And aim to be as authentic as possible otherwise it may come across as false even if it is polished.

“Be a compelling speaker. Practice. Know your story and how to tell it. Get the emotional connection.” – Russell Wardrop, The Pitchmaker

#5. What is the problem you are trying to solve?

How ambitious is it? And can you explain it succinctly? The pitch aims to complement your business plan that (hopefully) most investors will have read. But don’t assume they have! Use your time wisely. Too much detail might switch your audience off, too little looks lightweight.

“People fail to explain 1. What does the business do 2. What is the business model 3. Future strategy 4. What do you want.” – Atholl Duncan, investor

#6. Defensibility strategy

Who are tomorrows competitors? These are usually companies that do similar activity or an aspect of what you do, or new entrants that take advantage of your leg work. How can you protect what you do? What is stopping an established company creating the same thing to compete with you? It can be easy to be arrogant and state what you do can’t be replicated or done as well as you, but can you prove it?

“Understanding our competition is vital. We’ve spent a significant amount of time researching who’s there, how they’ve grown and pivoted, and why. Learning from this, we can confidently demonstrate our ability to compete in the marketplace with a product that’s both robust and ahead of the curve.” – Catherine Ann Reid, founder Life’s Back Up

#7. Show off but don’t be a show off!

Investors want credibility – how do you show you know your market and product? Using statistics and testimonials can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge. But humility goes a long way. If you are pitching to angel investors, do you want an active investor that can support or fill a gap in your skillset? So the pitch may also become a reverse interview. For this reason, some pitch decks will place the team near the beginning to confirm its importance, and show active investors an opportunity for their skillset. Having an active investor as a partner can be invaluable as they can mentor you, provide much needed contacts or simply offer advice. But equally if it is the wrong fit, it can create more difficulties for you in your business journey.

“We’ve been approached and offered investment, but its not right for us at the moment. It’s important to leverage investment at the right time and with the right partner.” Anne MacColl, founder, Saint Amans Gin

#8. Investor chemistry

The F factor. Females generally have higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ) than men, so use it! Engage, converse, make eye contact, smile. Recent research from Stanford suggested women had 8% greater expressions of interest when approaching venture capitalists than men. However, we also know that this does not translate into actual investment funding so the pitch is a real opportunity to secure investment. Research undertaken in 2016 into UK angel investing confirms that people factors are the dominant ‘deal killer’ so a focus on engaging with your potential investors is vital.

“People buy people not products. You can have the best concept or business in the world but if investors can’t engage with you they will shy away.” – Victoria Russell, coach and advisor

#9. Pitching

Brevity, clarity, impact. What is your style for pitching to an audience? Is it to focus on your slides, or is it a theatrical performance? How you pitch is as important as what you are pitching. Ensure your slides don’t have typos and has a suitable font size and colour for the presentation room. Are you able to let investors experience your product or service? Why rely on slides when you can let them see it.

“Investors only skim slide decks. Start bold ‘solving world famine’. End bold ‘save a billion lives by 2025’.” – Gary McAuslan, pharma advisor

#10. Communicate the future but don’t lose sight of reality.

It is easy to show graphs and numbers projecting growth, and investors want ambition, but can you justify it? Who are you benchmarking against, and what proof of demand is there. Make sure you are knowledgeable about market demand not just your capability to deliver. While financial information is often captured in later slides, research suggests it is the slide investors spend longest reading.

“Calculate the market potential carefully. Numbers can often be unrealistic and don’t stack up.” – Simone Barnett, sales advisor

The Pitch – Other Considerations

  • Duration – how long do you have? 3 mins, 15 mins? Are you the first presenter? Do you have a separate Q&A? Is there a visible clock or do you have someone to advise when you have a minute to go?
  • Projection – does your attire reflect your business? Can you position yourself so you are able to view all audience members? Are your vocals clear? Can you engage with your audience easily enough?
  • Slides – are you talking and clicking? Can you talk without having to stop and revert back to your slides? Are you saying verbatim what your slides say? Are you using the right visuals? Brand? Quality photographs?
  • Media – do you want to use a video clip? If so, this eats into your presentation time. Can you forward beforehand to those attending?
  • The End – how you end the pitch is as important as you begin. Don’t be afraid of The Ask.
  • The Questions – be prepared. Questions can vary from asking about your differentiator, your cash burn rate, your personal motivation, margins, stress test sales, bottom up projections to industry track record and exit plans.

Victoria Russell is a global consultant and coach. She has supported companies with pitch decks, pitching skills and business plans, has helped with crowdfunding preparation, and is an active member of an angel syndicate supporting members and companies, as well as investing herself. She is particularly passionate about supporting fellow female entrepreneurs. This article aims to offer an insight based on experience from herself and other investors, and does not represent the views of any investment group or intermediary.

This article was produced for participants at RBS Venturing Forward Conference, November 2019 attended by around 300 participants. Victoria facilitated the Investment Pitching session.

Thanks to Criona Courtney, Gill Rattray, Helen Fullerton and Jackie Forbes

Don’t Risk your Merger by Pushing People out of the Door

If you’re acquiring a service company your merger is all about people. Of course, there will be plenty of rational, financial and practical reasons, but without the support of people it’s doomed to fail.

Like all good change programmes, a brilliant communications approach will navigate the risks and be a springboard for the benefits. Tell your story well and you’ll be on the way to building a strong, connected and motivated new company. Create a new culture and you’ll reap the benefits.

Fail to connect with people and you’ll leave them anxious, unmotivated and looking for the door.

Create a strong story

People connect to stories and the trick is to make an emotional connection with all your audiences. Define a narrative your employees and customers will want to support. Make it a compelling* story that’s not just based on facts and figures.

When you’ve created your story and everyone’s bought into it, check it’s not been watered down along the way. The definition of compelling is *evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.

Along with your core narrative you should have a big pack of questions and answers. People will want the ‘me’ questions answered first. So plan your announcement and ongoing messages with this in mind – you can’t just talk on and on about the bright new future at the moment when people are wondering if they’ll be part of it.

Tailor messages for all stakeholders

Targeting comms for your giant stakeholder map is essential.

Who can’t you afford to lose? Whether this is customers, leaders, suppliers, partners or key influencers and publications – identify the people or groups who are critical to your business and tailor activity to them.

The more important they are to you, the more personal the activity should be. Plan a series of one to one discussions with key people to retain them for the future and so you know exactly where the risks are. Include specific plans for investors, analysts and regulators too.

Each brand will have a certain status, position and credibility in the market – treat the general public like they’re your next customer, partner or employee. Avoid speculation and negativity from detractors by setting out your story clearly and deciding when you should be proactive and reactive. Don’t forget social media and plan how you’ll manage your channels at each milestone.

Create a careful reputation matrix to tackle the announcement and ongoing conversations to maintain momentum and enthusiasm.

Playbooks for each phase

Along with the project plan for each milestone you’ll need a communications approach and plan. Your playbook should include goals, governance, roles and responsibilities and content.

  • Prepare for leaks – First off, in the build up to announcing a merger it’s fair to expect rumours or even a full-blown leak. Have a strategy and plan for what you’ll do based on scenarios that could come up. You should have a playbook, messages, ready to go templates and spokespeople prepared, along with what you’ll tell your customers and people and how you’ll do it. Remember if the news is, well news, to your people you’ve already lost a bit of trust because they’d expect you to have told them first. Your plan should include what you’ll do to regain their trust.
  • Announcement – the first time you’ll set out the vision for the future. This shouldn’t be a one-off event; people will need a bit of time to absorb what’s going on and think of what they need to know. Have a message plan that lasts at least a week.
  • The void – this is the bit between announcement and A day. Where the dreaded ‘in the coming weeks and months’ phrase can slide in. Don’t just stick to high level things and make it sound all glossy and superficial– face the big topics too; it’s much better to be clear that you don’t know yet and explain the activities and things that are happening. Your competitors might try and steal your customers and best people so keep listening to feedback and take action if you need to.
  • Day 1 – this should feel like a celebration and you’ll have a fuller vision for the future and the steps to bring the organisations together. Don’t forget the ‘me’ questions. All stakeholders will also need to know what changes and what doesn’t – from bosses to processes, be clear about what’s staying the same at this point. And make sure the celebration is mindful of the uncertainty individuals might still face.
  • Integration milestones – two big tasks continue throughout integration. Continuing to reinforce the culture, purpose and strategy to create the connected company. And communicating the milestone events like leadership announcements, operating model decisions and locations. It’s important these work in harmony – people will read into everything that’s happening to try and get to their own personal answer (or their own decision to look for somewhere new). Creating a complete plan, focussing on the emotion each event will create, will help to mitigate against the risk of clashing messages. This is especially important for your culture plan – where what you say and what you do needs to match closely.

Your Post Merger Integration plan

Communication and culture is just one part of a robust post merger integration plan. Merlin Consultancy has an experienced team of experts who’ll create a comprehensive plan. We’ll help you to mitigate risks, create synergies of revenue and cost as well as managing the practical compliance and business critical needs to keep your new business running smoothly.

Create a new culture

Part of the due diligence will be to check there is broadly a culture fit between the two businesses.

Your Post Merger Integration plan should include a culture programme focussing on your first 100 days, that knits together the teams and breaks down the us and them. Make sure it’s clear what the hallmarks of the new culture are in everyday life. Show how everything from recruitment to performance and from processes to leadership will live in the new world. This is likely to be a big programme of change, so set out the vision early and the steps to getting there.

Plan carefully to build culture ambassadors and include practical initiatives and projects to align ways of working.

It’s critical that the new culture is known and understood by the Exec team and senior leaders in detail. They’ll need to act consistently and model the new culture during the deal and integration. People will pay close attention to what’s said, behaviours, gestures and even who is invited to meetings. Everything will be under scrutiny. Make sure what you do and say lines up with what you’re telling people the new culture will be.

Share the new purpose and invite people to join – create an emotional connection so they’ll know it’s the place for them.

Equip your leaders

Your leaders and line managers need reasons to believe. They’re the trusted voice for your people so you should equip them to have honest and authentic conversations. Even if the answer they need to give is ‘I don’t know’, make sure they’re briefed first, they have time to absorb what’s happening, build in the story of their own team and prepare for the questions their people will have.

Making time for regular sessions with leaders – formal and informal – will build their confidence they’re involved and informed, which will translate to trust with their teams.

Share the voice

Waltzing into a new company on day one to tell them you’re the boss might not be the best approach. Leaving it weeks would be worse.

Your action plan should set out the timing, who’ll be the lead voice and who’ll speak to press and employees of each business.

Think about how the people working at the company being acquired will be feeling – anxiety and fear along with hope and possibility. The best way to connect with new teams will be to involve the leaders they already know. Create a ‘bow tie’ for who has the lead voice – starting with the leaders they know and trust introducing the new leaders over time.

This is a tricky time and you need to reassure people, but you’re not there to be a ‘friend’. You need to be consistent and not make empty promises – especially by inferring things. We’ve seen clients create a problem by suggesting its business as usual when of course integration would be everything but usual.

Involve your people

To create a shared belief, you need to involve people. Leaders are naturally fearful of getting into the nitty gritty with people whose main question is ‘Will I have a job’. Timing is really key here; you can’t wait until everyone has the answer to this question but starting too soon will be a mistake too.

Create discussions about ‘what’s great about us’ – to bring people together and share knowledge. They’ll feel good about this and it will start to build the connected company.

Involve plenty of people in shaping the new culture. Like all good change programmes, you can’t just give people the full and final script and expect them to learn it. Use different channels and content to inspire them to create their own story so they feel part of it.​

Your approach should be tailored and take into account your old culture, history and future plans. We’ve found what works for one organisation would be a huge mistake for another.

Listen, listen and listen again

Open feedback mechanisms are critical – you need to know the tone and mood as well as what people want to know. Internally you should use a blend of digital surveys and face to face town halls to make sure you spot any pressure points and take action. Use or create influencer groups. Externally stay close to reaction and feedback, particularly on social media.

Use data to monitor reaction, create thresholds for action and you’ll retain more customers and employees.

The last thing you need is to know everyone is unhappy because they’ve already headed for the door.

On the other hand, some people will want to leave – their own ambitions might not match yours. The key is creating a safe place to have these conversations so you can manage any risks and you’re not locking people in.

Merlin Consultancy works with clients to offer a full range of M&A support – including cultural transformation, communications, and Post Merger Integration planning.  Contact Director Victoria Russell or Associate to talk about how we can help you.

We’ll work as your trusted partner throughout the process, providing an independent sense-check and support based on our experience. We’ll help you to shape a culture programme to accelerate the benefits and give powerful and effective results. We’ll tailor the right approach for you – as light touch as you need it to be – including regular support through workshops, coaching and other interventions.

We’ll create a communication approach with a balance of rigorous planning and creative inspiration to help you to avoid the risks and land the benefits of your merger deal.

Retain the right people and motivate them for the next stage of the journey. It’s exciting times!

Coaching the CFO: From Custodian to Future-Leader and Agent-of-Change

The CFO role has traditionally been perceived as the organisational ‘compliance police’ (I am sure many CFOs will not see this as their only purpose) an individual tasked with protecting value for shareholders first and foremost.

The typical CFO is often seen as an analytical pragmatist with strong technical skills that oversee the production and interpretation of detailed spreadsheets and metrics to effectively forecast scenarios.

“Cashflow”, “rules and regulations” and “risk” are common vocabulary in almost every discussion.

However, the CFO landscape has been changing markedly over recent years.

The demands and interests of markets, customers, technology, investors and people are no longer the preserve of the CEO and COO. The finance function continues to drive more of the strategic agenda and consequently, the CFO increasingly assumes the role as the closest partner to the CEO. More than ever, the CFO is an important team player, needed to educate and influence their Executive Team.

What does this mean for the demands placed on the CFO?

Whilst the hard skills of cost management and other accounting disciplines are still very much required, there is increasing realisation that finance experts’ social skills need to be fostered.

The Institute of Management Accountants have highlighted that in order to progress to CFO level they perceive there are four key skills needed:

  • effective communication
  • time management
  • influencing other departments
  • leading change

These “social competencies” often clash with the more clinical approach to problem-solving upon which accountants rely.

However, there is some good news!

Whilst IQ (Intelligent Quotient) levels can stagnate during our professional careers, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), which covers such social competencies described above, can be strengthened.

The use of Executive Coaching is a powerful way to increase self-awareness to support the CFO as a proactive leader, able to drive change and develop talent. This is particularly relevant for CFOs who are being nurtured as a future CEO and who need to think differently within their working landscape.

Recent research identified CFOs remain confident about growth prospects with 89% making investments to manage change. In addition, around 39% identified the need to manage the impact of automation and new digital technologies. This reflects other articles and discussions within accounting literature, including CA Today who note that keeping pace with changing technology is a focus for CFOs, and that breaking down silos is the key to ensuring success.

Quite a shift from traditional CFO strengths.

The role of an executive coach provides a trusted, safe partnership to help balance the technical competencies that have been built up over years.

Coaching will positively impact social competencies – often a myriad of feelings and behaviours regularly exposed to peers and investors. Coaching has grown significantly in the past decade as an important organisational consulting intervention. Alongside other training and development tools, the tool can accelerate and embed the CFO agenda. A coaching process allows a partnership to be forged, inspiring commitment, growing skills, promoting discipline and shaping the environment.

In my experience of coaching executives, many of whom being CFOs, I find myself drawn to Marshall Goldsmith’s mantra that the key challenge isn’t understanding the practice of leadership (KNOW HOW) but practising the understanding of leadership (SHOW HOW). This can often be the biggest challenge for a CFO, who relies on facts and data, rather than demonstrating proactive behaviours, to influence decision making and leading transformational change.

The Stakeholder Centred Coaching approach – developed by Marshall in his extensive experience coaching Fortune 500 executives – is an effective tool in the Executive Coaching process. It has been specifically designed to develop social competencies, whilst not ignoring the technical experience.

The approach is unique. Its baseline is on feedback mechanisms, such as 360-degree feedback report and observer (stakeholder) interviews. Moving forward, real-time, ‘feed-forward’ mechanisms are applied to support, challenge and develop over a period of weeks and months, thus ensuring regular sense-checks to behavioural change are verified outside of the coach perception.

Having coached across different sectors, I have found that many CFOs approach the process with a level of scrutiny at the start of coaching, based around validating evidence, particularly when using psychometrics. Responses are often focused around what they perceive they need to undertake their role successfully, rather than the needs of others or indeed the business itself from a culture or change perspective. However, executive coaching delivered by an expert can ensure that the outcomes are constantly in view and the effort is focused on the findings and developmental needs and not diverted by a scrutiny and challenge of the process. Coaching the CFO can have the greatest impact over other C-Suite Executives.

If you are a CFO prepared to measure yourself against a global benchmark of executives, perhaps in your first 100 days or planning succession to the role of CEO, with the drive and commitment to self-improvement, contact us for some further information on the methodology and experience.

Preparing for Lift Off!

Organic growth can slowly prepare companies to take advantage of market opportunities in a measured and sustained manner. But what do you do when you need to prepare for rapid scale up that will attract new investors and opportunities.

Aligning people to strategy is key to significantly changing the mindset of companies preparing for short-term accelerated growth. You can get the right product mix, revenue generation and suppliers but the perfect storm can be waiting for you if you haven’t fully considered the impact on organisational culture and people resources.

Imagine the scene. Company profits continue to grow. The board has accepted exciting expansion plans based on careful business planning. An injection of investment is ready to help with Capex. So it’s all about project management and branding right? Wrong! Did you forget the teething problems when you went from an intimate 20-person company to a busy 80+ person company across two sites? The pain is over, right?

Don’t expect to replicate recruitment, training and communication and get the same results. The essence of the company will be set to change. Multi-site, cross-functional teams bring new challenges.

The culture has to align closely to the accelerated growth plans.

This is exactly the challenge some of my clients have faced. Every business is different, but some positive examples have arisen from first providing a sense check on the organisational culture through a review of attitudes, behaviours, reporting mechanisms and communication styles. AND how this is integrated into KPIs and objective setting. Some quick win actions can enable a smooth transition of change and embedding new structures that will allow expansion plans to positively launch.

One client, recently in a C-suite role, quickly identified through a Top Team Culture session that his role would only be successful if others were completely honest with him and he could trust them 100%. Another client through a full diagnostic and structural review recognised that pockets of unhealthy behaviours were beginning to cluster and this would potentially create strain when operations became busier.

Often cultural change is only considered when strategy shifts significantly. A city-based client, faced with changing consumer trends made the brave decision to close off one area of the business so they could invest and focus on the growing digital side. But that meant restructuring and reviewing the skillset to ensure they could maximise how they approached the new strategy. Overall headcount remained the same but new roles were required.

Some of the typical areas that help prepare for scale up include:

  • How do we communicate plans without excessive meetings and emails?
  • How can we engage staff and encourage cross-sharing to ensure silos aren’t part of the routine?
  • What do our managers need to do differently to work faster, be more lean and agile?
  • What metrics do we need to ensure overheads don’t dominate operations?
  • How do our team feel about the changes? Is this the company they aspired to belong to?

In simple terms, analysing people is much harder than equipment, supply chain and routes to market. It’s not uncommon for growing companies to leave the people to last, but successsful growth strategies see the company DNA being fully understood first with small actions having big impacts. Weaving the findings and actions into business objectives that will be challenging is vital for lift off.

It’s not about a people plan its about an alignment to business needs and more importantly business ambitions.

If you have scale up plans and want to consider how best to gel your skillset together, find out how the team at Merlin Consultancy can help.

Time to say goodbye: when cultures change

Organisational change can occur through a series of events – a significant downturn in sales, a merger, a restructure to reflect new leadership and competitive strategy. But perhaps the most uncomfortable organisational change is when it happens very slowly, responding to wider marketplace shifts.

Working in a company that has this ‘treacle’ effect can often be more difficult.

It requires a detachment to be fully aware of these subtle trends and have a clear understanding of its impact on your role.

The following are typical signs that your company may be saying goodbye to its culture:

  • You cease to have any real impact with those around you. Everyone simply ‘exists‘. There are no serious conflicts but neither are there any strong working rhythms that allow individuals to spark ideas or move forward at a good pace. One of my clients describe this as being ‘in retirement’ mode.
  • Talking to peers in competitor companies makes you think you could be both working for the same company, the outlook and behaviours are so aligned it is difficult to fully understand what identity your company belongs to. Looking more closely you can see staff moving back and forward between similar companies as though they are moving between departments rather than a real career progression.
  • Talk is focused not around the change that companies are moving towards but moving away from. One global company, used to frequent restructuring, is seeing a shift around discussion of roles that will focus less on what it should be doing but with no clear indication of any new real responsibilities the role should take on. Key roles therefore begin to be ‘watered down’.

Saying goodbye to such a culture without a clear alternative culture emerging may also mean encouraging ambitious staff to move to another company rather than be frustrated in this slow moving environment. The most difficult scenario is when individuals try to ‘replay the past’ in their behaviours without understanding the wider impact this will have.

Leaders play an important part of course. Communicating subtle changes is more of a challenge. There is no urgency to create and no significant mistakes being made. Taking a helicopter view of the whole marketplace to determine trends and opportunities can be a useful way of helping staff recognise the cultural shifts.