We’ve all heard it said that good communication is the key to a successful marriage. While we’re not relationship experts, we do know a thing or two about effective communication.
When we talk to our clients about communicating a merger or acquisition, we point to this wise saying. Let’s face it…a merger or acquisition is essentially the marriage of two companies. Much like the blending of two families (yes, like the Brady Bunch). A merger requires honesty, an openness to change and a little bit of communication magic.Consider the facts:
We all know the impact effective communication can have on employee engagement – and quite honestly, a good internal communication strategy can make or break the success of a merger or acquisition.
- During an acquisition, the number of actively engaged employees typically drops by 23%, even if their jobs are not impacted.
- It generally takes three years to reach the pre-merger level of employee engagement. (Source: Aon Hewitt)
When you combine the following 6 tips for communicating during a merger or acquisition, you can ensure that employees from both legacy companies become ONE happy bunch.
Have a Plan
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) require hours of planning and negotiation surrounding the deal. Never underestimate the importance of communication surrounding the deal and be sure internal communications takes a seat at the table – early! A calendar and timeline for all milestone dates will help to ensure organized communication.
The communication plan should include the coordination of communications efforts for both the acquiring company and the company being acquired. It will outline the communication steps and timing, as well as stakeholders and key messages. When it comes to M&A projects, we generally think in terms of three phases:
The planning process is often highly confidential and subject to unexpected twists and turns, so be sure your plan is flexible and includes a strategy for addressing possible information leaks and rumors.
Know Your Story
Storytelling is important to connect with your employees on an emotional level. Employees need to understand why you’re merging or acquiring – and more importantly, what this will mean to them personally (“What’s in it for me?”). Clear, consistent and carefully crafted messages will help dispel rumors and keep morale high and ultimately create employee engagement (and, no we’re not talking about weddings here). You need to develop the dialogue – and branding for before, during and after the merger. Who is the new post-merger company? And what makes them better, stronger and positioned for success?
Consider the Psychological Effects
Change can be scary. The announcement of the merger will not excite everyone. In fact, some employees may find the news to be devastating. It may mean significant changes for some employees – and you may see some resistance. Be sure you have a plan in place to minimize stress and to make sure your valued employees don’t jump ship:
- Understand what different groups of employees may stand to lose and have carefully crafted messaging ready to distribute that acknowledges this. Consider the impact of any job loss, restructuring, or benefit changes, etc.
- Provide a scheduled timeline and plan so employees know what to expect and when.
- Show empathy in your messaging and an understanding that change is not always easy to accept.
- Emphasize the potential benefits of change, but don’t sugarcoat the message.
- Commit to frequent and honest communication throughout the process.
- Consider personalized communications using employee names and information to drive home that every individial is valued and important.
Arm Your Managers
Keep managers and HR representatives well informed of all information throughout the merger or acquisition process. Employees will generally turn to trusted managers when they have questions. If buy-in and engagement is secured early on from managers, they will be equipped to positively address any issues or concerns. To keep the message on point, it’s important that they know what to say, and just as importantly, what not to say.
Keep an Open Dialogue
Answering employee questions is critical to managing the process. We recommend that you provide updated FAQs to employees throughout the process. You might consider a custom microsite on your intranet dedicated to merger-related communications – ideally it includes a forum for employees to submit questions and access up-to-date FAQs. A master FAQ will also ensure that language is accurate and consistent and supports the “story” you want to tell.
Remember, if you don’t have the answer, it’s perfectly okay to say so. Be honest. M&A projects generally have many moving parts, so it’s okay to let employees know that you will provide an answer as soon as it is known.
Ongoing Communication = Harmony
The post-merger communication may just be the most important part. Once you’ve made your announcement, the cake is gone and the balloons have deflated, now the communication rollout is just getting started. It’s important to develop ongoing communication to promote unity, help employees understand the new direction of the harmonized company and their role in its success. It is common for employees to be frustrated or uneasy about change following a merger, so be sure to keep the communication flowing.
Post-merger communication may include ongoing FAQs, reminders about the reason for the merger, information about using the harmonized benefits program and policies, promotion of company resources and training, and information to help employees feel connected to the newly merged company and its brand.
Communication should be delivered in a variety of ways, such as email, FAQs, meetings, the intranet, videos, conference calls, town hall meetings, etc. An ongoing company magazine or online newsletter can be a great way to help employees (and customers) in different locations stay connected and, ultimately become one happy, blended family. Anything you can do to enhance and grow company culture will benefit both the company and employees.
Have you successfully blended your employees as a result of a merger or acquisition? What communication strategies or tactics have you used?