A proper welcome requires collaboration

Dr Tracey Leghorn
by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Business Services Officer | SUEZ recycling and recovery UK
What makes for a smooth and successful business acquisition or contract mobilisation?

With little prospect of growth in the UK economy, at least in the near term, now might not seem the most apt time to be posing that question. However, the challenges involved in corporate takeovers and mobilising to serve new customers has been front of mind with SUEZ recycling and recovery UK since the summer and through the turn of the year.

Our parent, the SUEZ Group, has an ambitious target to expand its business. Contrary to those current macro-economic indicators, SUEZ has strong confidence in the future of our resource and recovery business in the UK. Which is why we ended 2023 with two strategic additions to our commercial waste operations.

In October we concluded the takeover of DCW (Devon Contract Waste), an independent provider of ‘zero-waste-to-landfill’ collection services extending to Cornwall and central Somerset. Then in December, Luton-based FR Cawley – a family business, which includes a battery recycling facility – became part of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

This expansion came hard on the heels of a major mobilisation on the municipal side of our business in Milton Keynes. September saw the launch of our new household waste collection and recycling contract as the borough switched from sacks to wheelie bins and an all-new collection truck fleet, including electric vehicles. More important, we welcomed and trained the transferring 250 employees to deliver collection, street cleansing and grounds maintenance services.

And to answer my opening question, this intensive period has only served to reaffirm the value of collaborative project management when making acquisitions and mobilising new contracts.

Our UK business has changed radically since it was established in 1988. But it has pursued a sustained strategy combining organic growth and acquisitions as modernisation and regulation have together driven consolidation in the market. As Chief Business Services Officer with responsibility for HR within my portfolio, my HR team has had responsibility for onboarding hundreds of new colleagues transferring from councils or incumbent contractors under TUPE regulations or as employees of newly acquired companies.

Since becoming Chief Business Services Officer, I also lead on Health, Safety and Wellbeing, Facilities, IT, Project Management, and Business Transformation. All these functions have critical parts to play in delivering a successful acquisition or mobilisation. Given all these moving parts, success hinges on how well the relevant teams collaborate towards a common goal. And that includes other support services, such as finance and communications, which fall within the portfolio of senior team colleagues.

Another important part in the transition is the visibility of senior management in supporting the mobilisation teams, but also in taking the time to personally welcome new colleagues.

For instance, I attended the Welcome Meetings at Milton Keynes, and subsequently spent a day out with a collection crew.

We all know that a change of employer is worrying when it’s not of our own choosing. Our HR team work closely with our Operations Teams to do our utmost to allay those concerns. We host welcome sessions to explain the expertise and support available to incoming employees and their line managers. From an HR perspective, this covers areas such as: benefits and payroll; wellbeing and inclusion; learning, development, and talent; HR systems support; people administrative services; and HR operations.

The importance of benefits and payroll shouldn’t be under-estimated. We have received some brilliant feedback both on the efficiency of our payroll processes and the breadth of our benefits package. A seamless payroll transfer is essential for people with bills to pay, and it reinforces positive first impressions of the organisation. We also ensure everyone gets a booklet outlining the key benefits we provide for employees and their families. From the outset, people know they are valued.

It's also crucial to get across our ‘Safety in Mind’ philosophy (safety being our absolute priority) and set out our Wellness for All charter so that individuals immediately feel they are in a safe place, physically and psychologically, within SUEZ UK. These key messages are conveyed throughout the transfer process and embedded during our induction weekends.

Involving both classroom and practical sessions, the inductions include presentations about the SUEZ health and safety culture and procedures, performance standards, and our commitment to communication and consultation. The practical, on-site elements involve vehicle familiarisation and role-specific instruction in areas such as bin lifting mechanisms and manual handling. Both sessions also provide ample opportunity for people to ask questions.

Colleagues from various departments, head office and our regions are involved collegiately in the entire acquisition/mobilisation process. In Milton Keynes, for example, fleet technicians from across our national network were on hand at the weekend before the go-live date. Their input proved very helpful, and the Welcome Meeting was really well received by the employees and client as a way of encouraging engagement early on.

Our project management team brings these various contributions together, coordinating activities, and ensuring consistency in messaging. In this way, we bring to bear the diverse skillsets and experience of people across the business, and we achieve a more comprehensive mobilisation outcome.

Collaboration is not only inter-departmental. Our project managers work closely with local authority clients, the contractors we replace, and the management teams of acquired companies, who continue to play a valuable role as operations become part of the SUEZ business.

In all of this, communication and culture are central. All communications with transferring staff must be transparent, honest, clear, and consistent. SUEZ has an open and collaborative company culture, so it’s easier for incoming employees to assimilate quickly. Team Spirit is one of our core corporate values, demonstrated by our project managers and all involved in the onboarding process. Much of the messaging to our new colleagues also emphasises another key value – Customer Focus, which is the common goal uniting all our efforts.

Any effective project management process also captures lessons from the experience and its outcomes – what really worked and anything that could have been done better. This helps inform and plan for future mobilisation success.

We may be veterans of numerous acquisitions and staff transfers (to and from our workforce), but there is always scope to improve and be creative in how we inform, engage and inspire our people.

And I know that 2024 will provide fresh opportunities to put what we’ve learnt about collaborative acquisition and mobilisation management into practice.