Prairie State Tractor Grew and Thrived Through a Merger with Culture Alignment and Change Management

Prairie State Tractor (PST), a John Deere dealer in Illinois, was formed in 2021 when two dealerships—Kelly Sauder Rupiper (KSR) and Holland and Sons—merged. For generations, both KSR and Holland had provided exceptional customer service and taken great care of their employees. Yet, despite plenty of alignment, the businesses also had their own approaches to things like managing day-to-day operations and prioritizing HR initiatives.

Change Management and Intentional Culture: The Foundation for Success

CEO Chris Rupiper and HR manager Paul Kelly knew that culture differences could complicate the change-management process and even put employee engagement and retention at risk. So, Rupiper and Kelly decided to be proactive. Three months ahead of the merger, they contracted with People Spark Consulting to guide KSR and Holland leaders, who together would form the new Prairie State Tractor team. People Spark showed PST leaders how to:

  • Develop a cohesive vision, mission, and set of values that reflect the new company’s goals and priorities
  • Define and articulate the culture of PST so leaders could communicate clearly and consistently from day one
  • Tie values to behavior so everyone at PST was empowered to move the business forward
  • Ensure current (and future) employees feel motivated, engaged, and inspired

Results Exceed Expectations

PST’s investment in culture and change-management development meant they exceeded every measure of success. That’s impressive at any time, but during a period marked by a tight labor market, high turnover, low engagement, and the “Great Resignation,” PST’s results are remarkable. Consider:

  • Soaring recruitment: 40+ new hires in 11 months in 2021
  • Soaring growth: +14 added headcount this year
  • Soaring engagement: During 200+ 1:1 HR reviews, the prevailing feedback was, “My spouse/significant other says I’ve never been this happy at work before!”
  • Soaring praise: During the Annual Dealer Business Review, John Deere recognized and thanked PST for its commitment to organizational excellence

“When you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, it drives the right behaviors all the time.”

– Paul Kelly, HR Manager Prairie State Tractor

“Company Values Must Be More Than Just a Poster On the Wall.”

Chris Rupiper and Paul Kelly knew KSR and Holland leaders must agree on the new company’s values and culture ahead of the merger. If they didn’t, PST could be at a competitive disadvantage. Potential problems included:

  • Employees feeling disengaged and disconnected from the new organization
  • An “us vs. them” mentality between previously separate teams
  • Difficulty implementing future changes, like systems updates
  • Failure to realize the full potential and leverage all the resources of the bigger company 

“The first thing People Spark had the PST leadership team do was make a huge list of things we liked and didn’t like about our previous companies,” Kelly recalls. “A lot surfaced.”

Bring Values to Life

The values-based discussion revealed a collective commitment to things like integrity, excellence, follow-through, and acting for the betterment of all. Next, the conversation shifted to behavior. For “excellence,” for example, leaders had to articulate:

● What does this value mean to you?
● On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the company on “excellence” today?
● What behaviors will help you achieve excellence?
● What behaviors will prevent it?

“People Spark helped us understand that our company culture and values must be more than just words,” says Kelly. “We had to talk them into existence and bring them to life by recognizing them both in ourselves and in others.”

“With the merger, we wanted to take the best of both worlds and be fair and equitable to all our employees. The Ignite to Perform program helped us do it.”

– Paul Kelly, HR Manager Prairie State Tractor

One Measure of Success: An Unforgettable Moment…

After intentionally defining the culture and direction for PST, leaders could communicate clearly and effectively throughout the merger. Paul Kelly shares one memorable moment that, for him, proves the People Spark investment has paid off. He recalls a long-time employee who didn’t like the idea of a merger and announced he’d be retiring in a year. When the merger was complete, Kelly followed up.

“This guy, who’s a bit of a curmudgeon, told me, ‘The merger didn’t make sense to me at first. Now, I like how you take care of us. You’re available. You’ll have the hard conversations. You’re living up to your values. I’m sticking around.’”

Already Planning for the Future

With that proof point and so many more, Paul Kelly is looking forward to another phenomenal year. To ensure it, the company is investing in developing their leaders through People Spark’s 8-week Ignite to Transform for Team Leaders program. Kelly says it’s just one more smart investment in PST’s long-term success. “We’re a new company, but we have deep roots. Now that we’re more intentional about our values, we don’t just say who we are. It IS who we are.”

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People Spark Consulting is a Minneapolis–Saint Paul, MN based consulting company that specializes in transforming business cultures through human resources and people strategies.


Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

The success of your business depends on your culture. Therefore, it is critical to establish an intentional culture in your business and build strategies that support and reinforce it. The purpose of this eGuide is to provide a foundation for your business culture and ensure your people strategies and practices are aligned with it. Grab the guide - it’s free!

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