Behind the Business: 5 Lessons Learned from the ThreeSixtyEight Merger

At the beginning of 2016, the Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit companies began to coalesce into the multi-faceted creative team that is now ThreeSixtyEight. Our two companies had been working together for some time, and realized we could do more to influence the community and help shape design trends as one digital agency. A year has passed and we’ve launched exciting and prominent campaigns, created and promoted multiple fundraising events for our community and abroad, and learned invaluable lessons about merging two companies.

Here, we’ll share a few of the most important lessons learned in the first year of merging, rebranding, and relaunching our business. Lesson one starts below.

If people are afraid to confront problems in the workplace, both culture and work will suffer. It’s critical to make people comfortable with criticism, regardless of title or position – especially when merging two separate teams.

The larger a company becomes the less involved managers are with the day-to-day details. At ThreeSixtyEight, we rely on our team more than ever to work together and be real with one another, so we’ve incorporated Kim Scott’s radical candor “say what you think” principle in our office. Learn more about Radical Candor here. And read the Radical Candor blog featuring ThreeSixtyEight here.

Coworkers should be bold enough to constructively confront each other to help grow the business. The most productive teams balance both constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. One without the other is inauthentic.

Takeaway: Encourage your team to feel confident in speaking honestly and constructively with one another, even when it’s uncomfortable.

 

With a merger, focusing on your people is more important than ever. The culture is going to change. Make sure your employees are happy by listening to their ideas and involving them in the process. It’s important to help everyone realize the company is “us” and not “them.”

As you begin the merger process, help your team assess whether the new company and its vision are right for them. If someone does not buy into the new vision, that’s ok. Change is inevitable, and it’s better to tackle it head on than to risk a toxic work environment bred by unaddressed discontentment. Be realistic about the company’s growth, and educate your team on the increases in responsibility and shifting expectations.

Logistics such as titles, roles, responsibilities, morale, and even technicalities as small as sitting arrangements can make a huge difference. Set a standard procedure for titles, requirements for promotions, salary range per position, etc. At ThreeSixtyEight we utilize a company wiki to openly share company org charts, office maps, workplace ethics, processes, bonus structures, and more.

A strong community both in and out of the office builds relationships between new team members. The stronger and more open the relationships, the more productive the joining forces become.

Takeaway: A universal understanding of each employee’s significance in relation to the new company is imperative to retaining talented people.

 

Everyone should have a firm understanding of their role in achieving the company vision. When people understand their purpose, they become bought into the big picture. Meaningful work results in staff members who think like owners instead of employees. Allowing every team member to play a critical role in the company vision generates productivity, loyalty, and unity.

Before our merger, both companies were small shops of less than 10 full-time employees. As a smaller company, it may seem easy to keep everyone up to speed on company goals and aspirations. A merger rapidly changes that dynamic, sometimes doubling the size of an organization overnight. Don’t assume that everyone knows the mission and vision of your company. During a merger, team members often make their own assumptions about the future, so don’t trust that everyone shares the same vision.

At first, we operated on the assumption that the team would pick up the company goals through conversation and the actions of leadership. After surveying the team, we learned that this passive approach was highly ineffective. Now we post our goals around the office and brief the team formally in monthly meetings.

At ThreeSixtyEight, we conducted an internal workshop based on this Google strategy of identifying the new company’s purpose, personality, and positioning as a team. This exercise allowed the whole team to participate in paving a path for the future of the company. By openly collaborating on this vision, our team operates as a unit rallied around a common purpose. The end result is a contagious forward momentum, even when challenges arise.

As a leadership team, we used the V2MOM method to align on our strategic plan. This framework serves as a powerful tool for business leaders to set the vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures for the future.

In addition to mapping the vision, growth, and goals for the merged company, we believe that promoting responsibility towards philanthropy is critical in developing the most balanced team. An outward focus cultivates a healthy perspective and deeper sense of purpose during the workday. We believe that meaningful work leads to deeper happiness and greater creativity.

Takeaway: Set clear company goals and vision at the outset. Get buy-in from the entire team and reinforce the goals and vision often.

 

In a merger, forget everything. No matter how much you think you know, nothing will work quite like it used to. The whole team, including leadership, should be re-educated on every aspect of the company: goals, service lines, processes, standards, benefits, etc.

Leadership should focus on the big picture – factors such as finance, service lines, legal, and sales strategies. Prepare for necessary and expensive legal fees. You will need everything from an Operating Agreement to Employee Agreements. In addition, you will encounter many unforeseen unbillable hours in planning, meeting, and executing a merger. Build a clear plan of attack to empower your team to execute on the tactical components of the merger.

Empower the team to tactically execute the merger by delivering a clear plan. Everything hinges on the team executing and delivering the many tasks at hand such as the new brand, online presence, communication initiatives, collateral updates, email changes, launch events, and community outreach. We went for the simultaneous, “everyone makes a social media wave” approach, so that meant setting up all the new accounts, teaser messages for the old accounts, along with “day of” messages and graphics for each team member. Hint: Leveraging a platform like Thunderclap helps coordinate social messaging.

We created an internal company Wiki that outlined internal processes to help onboard everyone as if we were a new company. We reference and adapt this knowledge base as the company grows.

Takeaway: The community is watching and waiting. Being fully prepared for a streamlined merge and launch of a new company requires careful planning from all team members.

Sales should be a critical component of your growth strategy, both fiscally and creatively. When we merged, it was because both agencies realized that together we could push each other into substantially greater growth through a stronger team capable of tackling larger projects. We quickly learned that selling a blend of newly merged services on behalf of a new brand is very difficult. Don’t underestimate this challenge.

It’s important to keep deal flow constantly moving and initiate projects to sustain the company while seeking out larger projects that can significantly grow the business. Processes such as our proposal response times took longer because of the learning curve in quoting new services.

Our sales strategy had to adapt, and fast.  We want to bring in clients that challenge our production team to grow through every project. At the same time, we must increase our profitability to better compensate the team as they mature in respective disciplines. It became critical to hone in our sales process in order to close new business in the face of a turbulent dynamic. We had to vet the work for clients that both satisfied our creative team and our fiscal responsibilities. To do this, we utilized a series of tools and tactics that allowed us to best achieve this pursuit:

  • Our sales team worked with project managers to build a collection of in-depth Typeform project briefs that aligned with our newly developed processes
  • We weighed each opportunity against a client scorecard that allows us to objectively measure the complete value of new relationships
  • We engaged the community and leveraged our personal networks to expand our reach and evangelize the new brand
  • We developed key messaging that informed clients and community about the value of our merger
  • We identified both hunters and farmers within the agency, utilizing both for their respective strengths in the appropriate context

Takeaway: The strongest sales strategy should satisfy both creative and fiscal responsibilities, accounting for both external and internal necessities. This approach places value on more than just dollars, and ultimately results in greater success.

 

We hope that you can leverage these important takeaways to thrive in your own career. While we have covered a handful of lessons here, expect to encounter many more along the way.

Interested in talking more about what we learned through our merger? Please contact us – we’d love to chat. Want to get more tips and freebies from us? Don’t forget to subscribe!

Dusty Cooper

Dusty may be in his thirties, but he is fresh to marketing and the ThreeSixtyEight team. Moving around the country from Louisiana to Phoenix to New York City, he gained over a decade of experience in photography, digital production, and creative writing. Then, after living in Thailand for two months, he returned to Louisiana to earn his Master’s in English. Now, he has combined his many hobbies for the good of ThreeSixtyEight and the community at large.