How we manage company culture through hypergrowth and mergers

People & Culture
How we manage company culture through hypergrowth and mergers

Saskia Bille, our head of culture, was a guest on “The Ins and Outs of Work” by Talentsoft, a weekly podcast exploring the transformation of HR and the future of work topics in 2021 and beyond. It’s hosted by Neelie Verlinden, an experienced HR writer, and Joe Sweeney, the non-HR part of the duo providing questions from an outside-in perspective.

You can listen to all of their episodes on your favorite podcast streaming channel or simply by clicking HERE.

In the podcast, Saskia walks the listeners through our brief company history and dives into how we manage culture at sennder. During 2020, a year of two mergers and acquisitions, her team also spearheaded the company integrations on the people and culture side.

Find the interview on Talentsoft’s YouTube page and read the recap below with some of Saskia’s insights.

About sennder’s hypergrowth

Over the last 1,5 years, Saskia has led the people experience & culture team that most notably organizes the onboarding program that every new joiner goes through, the sennder Academy.
The team also manages internal branding, internal communication, and projects revolving around employee engagement, events, and the general workplace experience.

She starts by breaking down the growth path that sennder has been on since our inception. Initially, the objective was centered around optimizing the parcel delivery industry by using unused capacity in passenger busses, which we moved away from in 2017 to develop into the leading digital freight forwarder we are today, focusing on database technology to connect large shippers with smaller carrier companies.

We’ve grown rapidly in the last couple of years, opening 6 international offices since 2019, including the merger with Everoad and the acquisition of Uber Freight Europe. We started 2020 off with about 250 employees and ended the year with more than 700, followed by our Series D funding announcement in January 2021. In short; a complete rollercoaster ride.

On how we manage company culture when we’re opening new offices

Saskia: Data-driven decisions, team spirit, and deep customer orientation are key principles in our culture that have also been at the core of our evolution. Also, with the fast speed and recent changes, adaptability is a useful skill to have to be successful in this scale-up phase.

We focus a lot on onboarding, onboarding about 35-50 people every month, to make employees feel welcomed and involved and getting the resources they need to be able to contribute to the company from the first week. This is where the sennder Academy comes into play with workshops and sessions around our business model, our vision, meeting people, and, of course, our cultural values and how everyone can contribute to developing them.

Especially the session with CEO David Nothacker is the most appreciated and generates the best feedback. He details our founding story and company journey but also talks openly about times when things didn’t work so well, which humanizes the company in a way that people can connect to very easily. This really gives them an understanding of where we come from and why we work the way we do.

It also helps to have the sessions and workshops run by different sennder employees, including some who have been with the company for years, who can bring in the personal touch and anecdotes of their experience with the company development.

We work a lot with feedback in everything we do and analyze surveys every month to evaluate what works and what needs an update. On a continuous basis, we adapt to the different needs and expectations of the different people who are joining.

About how we live out our values and company culture during hypergrowth

The most elementary part is that the people department reflects the values in all our processes. The value and culture drivers play an active role in our feedback and promotion processes, e.g.

Previously, many of our company successes and rituals were celebrated and practiced on-site. Now we try to get people together as much as possible through digital solutions like lunch roulette dates. And at the end of every onboarding academy, we have a virtual show-and-tell segment where the new joiners get to introduce themselves to the rest of the organization.

And of course, in our monthly global all-hands meeting, which has the highest attendance, we look at how the company is doing through employee stories and reflect on what has been happening.

The main point is not about keeping or preserving culture but about developing it and being open to the changes that come with that. It is always important to actively articulate what you believe to be the most important parts and the core of the culture, but naturally, that changes with new employees and new leaders. Being open and mindful about that is important, which is an artful skill to master as well as your employee base grows and there are more expectations and needs that need to be managed.

And one of the ways to develop your culture is through rituals and conscious programs that make spaces for people to communicate and voice their opinions about culture. Working with an employee engagement tool like Peakon has been successful for us, as it makes it possible to assess how employees are doing and feeling based on a lot of different drivers. It has become a tool that we look to a lot to make sure that employees come back to it to have a voice and give us feedback and suggestions of what they would like to see. It is a powerful mechanism in that process.

About how we merge different company cultures and key learnings

The question comes with a whole set of other questions, e.g. how you measure culture and how you measure the success of a merger. Culture is such a complex topic, so the first point would be to define what success looks like and how we can say if things are working or not. A blend of company cultures is a given because it isn’t possible for one culture to just absorb the other. And going into these merging processes we look at the partner company through audits and do our due diligence where values and culture compatibility is a factor as well.

It is a learning process where we in the post-merger integration phase ask people what is working for them and evaluate how that might add to the overall sennder culture.

We are lucky that we have founders who very early on recognized that creating a culture that is based on values, team spirit, and bringing people together is very important. And my key learning is to really stay open and adaptable throughout that process of developing company culture because there is no way that culture looks the same with 50 people as it does with 500 people. And that is a good thing. Because with every new joiner coming into the company there are new potentials, perspectives, and experiences that can add to the culture and make it richer and more holistic.

So my role becomes about navigating and steering it so it comes together in the way it is intended to. And I think that it is a life-long process of understanding what people need and what the right way for us is. It can be one way in one company but if you move on to another company it can look a lot different. So I think that it is about openness and re-inventing your mindset throughout every growth phase of a company. Always thinking about what people bring to the table and how that ultimately benefits the company.

Follow the Talentsoft podcast and listen to the full interview HERE.

If you’re interested in learning more about sennder, our culture, and open positions, go to our career site HERE.