Building and sustaining a strong culture in your MSP is quite a challenge, but even more so when you grow your company with mergers and acquisitions. So now you have to find a way to carry your culture into the acquired company and hope they welcome it with open arms. 

Kevin Blake has done that successfully – six times to date! Kevin, the president of ICS, a 150-employee MSP spread across upstate NY and the New England area, knows the importance of having a sound culture in the workplace.  He shared his knowledge in an episode of “Sunny’s Silver Linings” podcast. 

“We invest heavily in our people and our culture,” Kevin said, noting that his personal core values are heavily aligned with those of his business: Family. Integrity. Team.  They spell out the acronym “FIT”.  

You might think that those are just words, but ICS uses them as guiding principles to make decisions. Because of the talent shortage that has plagued the MSP industry, Kevin knew that ICS had to get very strategic about its retention policy and its recruiting policy.  

“It’s one thing to bring candidates in, but it’s another to keep the ones you have. Our people are our product.” 

He does that with culture. “Our vision is to make a difference in our employees’ lives, the businesses we serve and the communities that we’re in. We back that up with money, time, and our ICS Cares program. That’s how we lead. And the culture we’ve built has been a big differentiator.” 

For instance, ICS holds an annual charity golf tournament and other community events to make an impact. But he still faces two distinct challenges to keeping the culture sustainable. 

  • Hybrid workplace 
  • Growing organically and inorganically (acquisitions, serving new regions, opening new offices, etc.) and getting those core values into these new locations 

So how’s he doing this? 

Kevin makes certain that he has the right people in the right leadership roles and invests in leadership via training, by attending conferences, etc. ICS leaders must match the company’s core values. Senior leaders meet with the next level of leaders to identify where they are hitting the mark and where they are not. ICS formed four committees that are comprised of team members from every area of the company to get a consensus about what’s important to the teams. He noted that the findings provide great feedback and “give us a voice to help guide us. Like where we should be spending our dollars related to fun activities, events, etc.” 

ICS also conducts an exercise run by its retention and recruitment committee that generate anonymous feedback from team members. Its survey asks such questions as, “What should we be doing differently? More training? Communicating differently?” The result of this committee gives leadership invaluable information on what’s working and what isn’t, what’s confusing to people, and what’s wrong in the organization. 

Kevin said he reads every single line in the committee’s report. He takes the results and separates it into themes – including compensation and communications. “These are important things to understand,” he said, “so we’re trying to be more purposeful in getting the feedback.” 

What’s the impact of culture during a merger and acquisition? 

As a buyer, Kevin said he has to determine if the company in question has a culture that is a good fit for ICS, so he looks for ones with cultures that are closely aligned. It’s difficult to get that information in the sea of data that includes financials, revenue history, customer retention history, etc. So Kevin schedules a face-to-face meeting with the owner.  

“I want to know, ‘What makes that individual tick? What are their hobbies? What’s important to them?’ Because I’m looking for good companies with strong cultures. I’ve seen companies’ with strong financials, strong customer and employee retention, etc. But their attitudes toward their employees is very poor. There have been times when I said, ‘I can’t work with this culture.’” 

How do you integrate the employees from the new company into the ICS culture? 

“It’s easy to buy a company, but it’s much harder to integrate a company because now you’re dealing with people,” Kevin admitted. 

It’s not easy to match cultures. So he tries to preach the ICS culture into a new organization using a real hands-on approach. ICS has an integration team that very effectively handles the transition for the employees of the newly acquired company. 

Upon closing a deal, Kevin meets with every employee at the new company. He asks how long they’ve been with the company. What’s important to them? What bothers them. He takes notes. He shares with them his personal core values and those of ICS, plus the mission and the vision.  

“I want one company, one family,” he said. “We don’t go into an acquisition looking to replace employees. People are a key to our vision. I’m looking to walk alongside these people and help them do better personally and professionally.” 

He cited some helpful focus points that he uses for best-in-class retention strategies: 

  • Give the employee a voice. I ask them, “Why are you staying in your job when others are leaving theirs?” 
  • Implement career road-mapping. “Show the employee the possible career path for them.” 
  • Conduct twice yearly pay reviews to make certain that the pay aligns competitively. 
  • Hire more junior employees and invest in them so that they can grow with the company. “We put a huge emphasis on building our resources,” Kevin said. “We’ve had a lot of success taking employees who began on the Help Desk and are now leading departments.” 
  • Be more purposeful. Invest in more charitable events in the local communities. ICS employees get paid to do volunteer work. The company once had 40 employees spend an entire day working as volunteers. 

“We’ve built a very strong community here with impromptu drink nights and holiday parties. We’ve had employees who’ve left ICS ask if they can come back just for the parties,” he said, laughing at the recollection. 

There’s no laughing at the success ICS has experienced in building its culture in-house and after acquisitions. Click here to listen to the entire podcast for more valuable takeaways from Kevin. 

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