Employee communication and commitment are keys to organizational success. At no time is this more apparent than during mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Yet, even with the tremendous impact of such change, companies often neglect these critical aspects of a successful transaction.
When done effectively, communication will help employees to spend energy on solutions and the future and not waste time on emotions and the past. This allows the organization to realize the value of the deal even sooner. Getting communication right also helps to diminish other M&A risks, such as increased resistance to change, lack of confidence in leadership, loss of key talent and weakened customer service and satisfaction.
The Roles of HR and PR
Communication responsibilities and cultural integration often fall on the shoulders of human resource departments, even though it’s rare for these professionals to be skilled in M&A communication. Certainly, there are sensitivities and issues to address that human resources is aware of during periods of change.
Public relations support is often only brought in for media relations and crisis communication. However, to ensure a smooth transition, the point of entry for public relations should be working with the merging companies’ human resource functions before the change is announced.
Public relations acts as a bridge, communicating internally first and then externally with customers, vendors, community, media and social media channels. It is clear that HR and PR must work side by side before, during and after M&A.
Three Tenets of Communications Success
Change allows companies worldwide to develop, expand and grow. A successful M&A begins with a transformation strategy, followed by distinct messaging and thoughtful execution. Incorporating these elements into the M&A process will help enable a seamless integration. These include three essential tenets of success:
1) Create an Effective Plan. Every communication effort must be carefully planned. Create written plans with clearly stated objectives and the tactics for reaching them. Communication plans should be clear concerning the major parameters of the deal, such as:
- Is this a merger, acquisition, joint venture, takeover or divestiture?
- What should employees say to customers, vendors and other stakeholders?
- Which systems, policies and processes will change?
- Will leadership be changed or kept intact?
2) Engage in Authentic, Two-Way Dialogue. Credibility must be established and maintained through honest, open, timely two-way communication throughout the organization. The ways in which companies communicate are often just as important as the substance of the message. Create multiple communication channels, such as:
- Face-to-face discussions
- In-person forums and meetings
- A transition microsite
- Voicemail blasts
- A dedicated help desk
- Dedicated “open door” hours for managers
- Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
3) Engage and Re-evaluate Your Plan. Communication programs should be complete, flexible and ongoing. They should be proactive, not reactive, particularly as you navigate each phase of the M&A activity. Be sure to address significant issues for each audience along the way, such as:
- Employees – Does this change my employment status?
- Sales Staffs – Will accounts and territories be changed?
- Unions – How can we save jobs and protect benefits?
- Managers – What should I say to my team? What support tools will I have?
- Executives – How do we change behavior? Is there evidence of success?
- Customers – Will service be disrupted? Will the quality be the same or better than before?
Moving from Employee Engagement to Commitment
Consider how many people show up for work every day, but don’t “belong” to the organization. Some quit; others stay, but their hearts don’t come to work.
Engaged employees, on the other hand, are those who are committed to the company’s vision and eager to contribute during M&A. They are productive and live by the employer’s values. “Whereas engaged employees challenge those around them to do more and better, disengaged employees demoralize the productive employees with their lack of passion and intensity,” according to Clint Swindall’s Engaged Leadership: Building a Culture to Overcome Employee Disengagement.
Note the story of three people who were at work on a construction site. All were doing the exact same job, but when each was asked about his or her job, the answers varied. The first replied, “Breaking rocks.” The second said, “Earning a living.” The third answered, “Helping to build a cathedral.”
The secret to gaining commitment isn’t as easy as donuts on Mondays. Include everyone in the communication loop. In keeping with Dale Carnegie Training, it’s suggested that generally the answers to the following statements can help measure employee engagement.
For example, how would the team rate these statements on a scale of 1 to 5?
- I have confidence in the leadership and management.
- My supervisor is interested in me as a person.
- I look forward to going to work.
- My employer encourages open communication.
- I believe that all employees are treated with respect.
The next question is, “how would leadership and management answer them?”
Ultimately, M&A is about more than legal contracts and a well-written media release. Many business leaders today acknowledge that M&A efforts have suffered from inadequate attention to the people side of the deal, and they are making a determined effort to better address these issues. Effective communication is a powerful tool for gaining the commitment to support and accelerate change. The investment of time, energy and resources in communication not only wins the hearts and minds of employees but strengthens brand loyalty, retains and grows the customer base and builds stronger teams to lead the organization forward – all with a direct and immediate impact on the bottom line.
Randy E. Pruett is an Accredited Business Communicator and serves as Programs and Events Manager with Pierpont Communications. He focuses on public and media relations, marketing communications, content management, thought leadership and corporate events.