Creating a unified culture after a merger or acquisition is never easy, and with a global pandemic thrown in, the challenges were even greater for Alpesh Unalkat as he was preparing to launch his new venture, Aura. With ambitious growth plans, he knew that expert HR support was needed to shape the people strategy and create a reimagined workplace fit for the future, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aura was created by bringing together two newly acquired companies and their respective teams. Alpesh needed to create an inclusive culture, unite the newly formed leadership team, and also ensure that people were primed and ready for growth. But with the pandemic taking hold, this had to be achieved in an entirely remote environment, adding to the challenge.
Business Challenge for Aura
The typical 9-5 work model no longer suits everyone and employees now often expect an anywhere, anytime environment. This has been made possible by ever-evolving technology, but it is complex to realise. The market is packed with a dizzying number of variations, making it impossible to find one off-the-shelf solution that will deliver everything a business needs, meaning that time and money is regularly wasted.
At the start of 2020 Aura was launched from the acquisition of two established businesses. It is the brainchild of former CEO of Capita Workplace Technology, Alpesh Unalkat, who is committed to creating the workspaces of the future. Aura helps its clients to bring together game-changing technology in the workspace and within one integrated offering. The company builds unique, custom made solutions and services that increase productivity and agility and reduce and control costs by dramatically improving efficiencies. Better outcomes are already the reality for their impressive list of clients which include: V&A museum, Société Générale, Harvey Nichols, Deliveroo, ASOS, Expedia, BP, and Southampton FC. As the pandemic took hold, very rapidly, workspace solutions moved to front of mind for many businesses as they looked for solutions to the new ‘remote working normal’. Aura quickly pivoted to take advantage of market conditions and the increased demand.
To meet ambitious growth targets, Alpesh knew he needed to quickly unite the two leadership teams, boost the sales team’s capability and build staff management skills to meet the demands that aggressive growth would bring, at the same time as creating one inclusive culture that embraced the company values of being collaborative, responsible, and transformative.
Alpesh, who is a great believer that a shining work culture equals a productive team, went about finding an HR expert who could support them to deliver these goals. At this stage, he didn’t need a full-time HR seat on the board but did need a commercially experienced, strategic HR expert who had a deep experience of this type of high-growth, investor backed environment and would therefore make a rapid impact and build the foundations to move forward from.
People Puzzles Solution
People Puzzles HR Director, Sharon Bridgland-Gough started in January, prior to launch. The People Puzzles model meant that Alpesh could get board-level HR expertise on an affordable, part-time basis. This model enabled him to flex-up and flex-down as was needed, making it a cost-effective solution. Sharon worked quickly with Alpesh and his team to develop a launch strategy that would be in place and ready to go as soon as the 2 acquisitions were complete.
The strategy focussed on 3 key pillars. Culture, Management Development and Building a Talent Pipeline.
- Culture: To unify 2 businesses and build an inclusive, happy culture, communications had to be at the heart of everything. Sharon created a 100-day communications plan which included an extensive welcome document that outlined to employees the company values. It also included a week-by-week update, designed to address employee’s concerns. ‘in week one, everyone is excited, but week two may be more unsettled, Sharon explains. ‘that’s when you talk more about the vision, demystify the board and reiterate messages, to manage the mood.’ The communications plan also extended to investors to keep them updated and enthused.
- Management development: Alpesh is very keen on developing a high-performing culture, starting at the top with the Operating Board. Working with this brief, Sharon delivered the ‘Five Behaviours’ programme for the newly formed senior management team to bring them together around a common purpose. Plus, a leadership expectations framework laying out the required capabilities of every manager in the business.
- Building a talent pipeline: to meet the ambitious growth target, a team development plan was required to boost capability and ensure that managers and teams were ready for the demands of rapid growth. Sharon utilised the business’s Apprenticeship levy to develop an Aura Sales Academy and Aura Leadership Academy to develop those skills in-house.
How Have People Puzzles Made A Difference?
Alpesh believes that a business is only as good as its people. Having a talent lead, someone that can build the right culture in a business, is essential. When recently interviewed for a webinar he said, “It’s made a big difference having Sharon of People Puzzles onboard because we acquired 2 businesses and neither had a talent/HR lead. To have someone that’s coming up with initiatives and ideas, who’s thinking not from your basic HR perspective, but more around talent, people’s wellbeing, development, and communications, has made a big difference. The fact that Sharon has a broad spectrum of capability and has brought lots of fresh ideas into the business has been great. I am happy to say that our NPS has risen 14 points since November to +41′