How to Create Harmonious Culture Post-Acquisition

Nicole St-Pierre has six steps that guided the former Optimal Payments to the present Paysafe

From the start, it has always been the “human” aspect in human resources that has spurred Nicole St-Pierre’s career. Though she started in actuarial science crunching numbers, the interaction with employees and diversification of the job itself quickly drew St-Pierre into the HR world. Her résumé includes 11 years with Aimia (formerly Groupe Aeroplan), where she was involved in creating company culture—and thoroughly enjoyed it. “I could expand beyond compensation, enter into a more organizational effectiveness aspect of the job, and build an employee experience in a strategic way,” she says. “From scratch; which was really cool!”

Nowadays, as vice president of human resources in Canada for Paysafe Group, she finds herself in a similar situation, but with the added challenge of bringing together the cultures of more than one business. Here, St-Pierre shares her keys for creating a singular vision of culture during a period of intense change.

“Speed is expected in this industry… not everything will come fully baked with a bow on it.”

1. Embrace the company’s basic goals

It was called Optimal Payments when St-Pierre joined the company in 2014, and being a part of the relatively young financial technology industry, there was much that was new and, as St-Pierre describes, “a lot of movement.” In 2014, that amounted to nine offices in four countries and a need for consistency. “We knew it would continue to grow through acquisition, so we needed to lay the foundations of one global corporate culture,” says St-Pierre. “Which sounded like a very interesting mandate to me.”

2. Understand the unpredictability of an acquisition

Initially, St-Pierre’s challenges were built around working with leader mind-sets, strengthening communication, and getting the rest of the HR team accustomed to its new role. But after only about six weeks on the job, Optical Payments announced plans to acquire the digital-wallet company Skrill. “We had to drop a lot of those original ideas because we started the due diligence process,” St-Pierre says. “Things I’d intended to implement just didn’t make sense because six months post-acquisition I’d need to do it all over again.”

3. Trust the importance of pre- and post-Legal Day One

The acquisition plans with Skrill were announced March 23, 2015, but not fully approved by the Federal Conduct Authority until August—meaning some changes could begin implementation right away, but many had to wait until “LD1,” or Legal Day One, in August. In-depth planning, the formation of an integration team, and other aspects of what St-Pierre describes as “the enablement work stream” could all be done pre-LD1. “We also worked on the engagement and culture stream towards the end-state culture that we wanted but also planning in terms of HR programs—where to focus our efforts post-LD1,” she says.

4. Take a global perspective

A classic dilemma was posed with the presence of contact centers in both Calgary, Alberta, for Optimal Payments and Bulgaria for Skrill: only one center was needed. For several reasons, the Bulgaria location was chosen.

On the other hand, as the company was rebranding into Paysafe, the team had to plan celebration events in every office—including in Calgary, where employees had just learned in the next year the staff would be cut in half.

“This is one of those times when you’ve really got to be careful in creating a culture that doesn’t exclude anyone,” St-Pierre says. “You cannot not celebrate because there are still many employees that will remain there, and that’s good news. But at the same time you’ve got to acknowledge that not everyone’s heart might be into it.”

5. Know that harmony is challenging but not impossible

“I’ve been in HR for a long time and I’m a true believer in the strategic value of the function,” says St-Pierre. “But going through the entire process led me to realize that the role HR plays in a transformation is even more crucial than I thought. The effort impacts so many aspects of the work experience! Doing it, living it, both from the aspect of making sure things go smoothly and efficiently for the rest of organization, while supporting a much more strategic aspect of what you want to create—you can’t do it without HR.”

6. Know the industry you’re in

Groupe Aeroplan, St-Pierre’s previous employer, specialized in data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics. While it, too, is a growing company, she is confident the Paysafe pace of progress is something else entirely. In fact, she was initially concerned they were trying to do too much too fast.

“But speed is expected in this industry,” she says now. “They’re in that beat. They’re in that mindset of ‘not everything will come fully baked with a bow on it’ and they’re okay with it.”