Moving your company? Here are 3 ways not to screw it up
It’s funny how deeply our knowledge is tested when, as entrepreneurs, we come face to face with the other end of our own service experience -- that is, when we find ourselves standing squarely in the shoes of our customers. That’s what happened this summer when my cofounder and I found ourselves packing up and moving our moving company across the country. (No, that's not a typo. I actually said move our moving company.) You see, after we expanded nationally in March, my co-founder and I realized we needed to be in a place where we had access to the right breed of talent to grow our tech-enabled service business and the right conditions to do it profitably.
After considering a few cities, we decided on Las Vegas. In July we informed our team and investors we were leaving New York City to strike out west.
We learned several lessons along the way, not least of which is that relocating your company is no joke. It takes the same skills as launching an initial product and fundraising: messaging strategy, logistical planning, resourcefulness, and the fundamental belief that you’re heading in the right direction. As a founder, you have a responsibility to help people see what you see, get them on board, and execute swiftly.
The things we learned along the way surprised even us. In the spirit of taking the stress out of moving, here are a few hard-won nuggets of wisdom:
Tailor the message. Your investors and your team need different things. Moving your company means something different to your team than it does to your investors, mentors and other stakeholders. Telling the latter ideally involves a short, succinct explanation of the move’s benefit to the company’s bottom line and general outlook. Professional investors, true to form, want to see the business succeed, and if you can present the case around why uprooting it will help it do just that, there’s not too much to stress about. This is not an emotional case; it’s a rational one, so it’s pretty straightforward. Drive with logic, and communicate it clearly, and you’ll be fine.
Telling the team, however, is another proposition altogether.
When you ask an employee to move, you have to recruit them all over again, only this time, he already knows what life inside the company is really like and you don’t have a big offer to persuade or get her excited. And everyone (including us) hates moving.
A big relocation is the single most high-stakes request you can make, and consistent, trustworthy messaging is critical. Explaining exactly why the move will benefit the company is as important as it is in your discussions with external stakeholders, but in addition, each individual needs to know exactly relocation means for her. Is the move critical, for instance, or is there a possibility of working remote? If it’s imperative, tell her why. If you’re offering assistance with finding employment for significant others (known as “trailing spouses” in the relocation industry) and schooling for children, explain that and offer specifics.
The first thing employees do when finding out about a move is talk to one another (to compare notes) and call home about it (to see how their families feel). So, rehearse each one-on-one conversation, taking into consideration what it will likely mean for each person, and be absolutely consistent in your core messaging with every team member. It’s critical that you make this case right the first time. Each employee needs to know the reasoning and understand their options before she can convince her boyfriend/spouse/kids that moving is the right call. Her pitch is more important than yours in making the move happen and making it stick.
Once the news is out, set aside time to respond to follow-up questions over the next several days or even weeks. While your reasoning for making the move might be black-and-white, your employees’ process of getting on board will almost certainly be less so.
Set deadlines and budgets, and then get everyone on board with them. For our company, we had several new hires who had been given start dates in the new city; it was important for the entire team to be there to greet them and get started on the brand’s new chapter together as a solid unit. So, we announced a date and made sure to spend time getting our team members’ buy-ins, ensuring that each wanted to be an integral part of helping the company grow and mature.
Another important step in securing the confidence of those who are relocating is to set specific budgets for their personal moves. Simply saying “We’ll take care of it” does little to quell the stress of a move; it tells them you care and you’re behind them, but does not give them the information they need to make a decisions, or come up with a plan. The relocation process can vary wildly in cost and timeframe, and a concentrated effort to work within set budgets and timeframes can save a considerable amount of money, energy and frankly, sanity.
Money-saving tip: If at all possible, encourage team members to group their plans and leave town around the same time, it might be possible for them to share space on a moving truck, which can cut down on costs and even the time it takes for possessions to be delivered to their new homes.
Know that the move isn’t over when the truck pulls away. Once a team has arrived in a new city, that’s when the real work begins. As everyone begins to judge the quality of their new environment (and, in turn, the validity of the move itself), any leadership issues, organizational weaknesses or other sources of discontent will roar to the forefront and need to be dealt with. As tensions run high, the need to listen to your team and resolve conflicts as swiftly and thoughtfully as possible runs even higher.
As team leaders, you should grease the wheels of transition as everyone settles in. Refer them to competent realtors and invest in team dinners and outings that help them blow off steam or calm down after experiencing sweeping change. The most important thing you can do is start putting down the company’s roots and setting big goals.
Get an office space, and move the key people, and they'll stop guessing who might quit. After a certain point, you can't just paint a picture of what your company might be like in the new city. You have to just build it, and create the positive momentum. Setting organizational goals, whether it’s in sales or other metrics, is key in showing the team that the move was worth the commitment -- that they haven’t uprooted themselves for nothing. The sooner you get the business up and running in the new location, the faster the anxiety and all the concerns will fall away.
As with any pivotal point in in a business's life, it’s just as much about how you manage perceptions as it is what you’re actually doing and why. Knowing what resources are available to you -- and using them to their fullest capacity -- is as important as your rationale for moving in the first place.
If you trust your gut as well as your data, treat your team members with the respect they deserve and be humble enough to know you’ll have to learn new things and provide lots of answers along the way, you’ll likely be making a move toward ultimate success.
[Image via Thinkstock]