Mergers and acquisitions are on the rise again after falling 70% during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. While M&A activity can create real business opportunities, corporate leaders have to tread carefully to ensure that their new and evolving cultures do not destabilise successful organisations. Effective internal communications is an essential ingredient.
Where people are the major asset of an M&A it’s essential to keep these assets productive. However, if they become dissatisfied, they can walk out through the door to a competitor, take others with them, closely followed by hard won customers.
History is littered with examples of cultures crashing together and failing to deliver on their promises. Just changing the logo is not going to make employees and clients feel confident. Communications can be the key element to ensure that all the strategic benefits of an M&A are not lost.
This month Turner and Townsend agreed to sell a majority stake to global property giant CBRE. It’s made it clear that the changes offer great opportunities for its staff and its clients. It wants to avoid the staff losses EC Harris experienced when Arcadis bought them, and it has gone into overtime to sell a message of opportunity.
Creating a new harmonised culture requires careful planning and engagement to ensure that all parts of a new organisation (NewOrg) identify as part of the new family, feel part of the process and accept change.
Peabody and Catalyst, the latest housing giants to agree a coming together, say they’re looking for efficiencies. This is a sure-fired way to create uncertainty among staff in duplicate roles across both organisations. You can imagine the ‘what do you think’ watercooler conversations. These will determine the tone of engagement between colleagues, customers and suppliers. Inadvertently misunderstanding the intent of an acquisition or merger could destabilise those who think they will be affected.
It’s critical to put in place a plan that ensures that no party feels disenfranchised and that the coming together of the NewOrg will be a success. Here are my Top 10 Tips for communication professionals planning internal campaigns during mergers and acquisitions.
- Don’t let the finance director write the press release and send it out on an email after the deal has been agreed. I’ve known this to be done and it’s not ideal. Quoted companies will have to follow strict regulations but where possible, time your announcements so that your employees hear about the merger or acquisition from you and not a competitor, client, supplier or headhunter.
- Prepare bespoke messages for external and internal audiences. Internal and external audiences demand different messages and tone. Internally digital channels allow organisations to broadcast directly to their internal stakeholders. Once the news has landed keep close to the reaction among employees and address areas of concern.
- Bring all senior managers into message delivery at the earliest opportunity to make them feel part of the process and help to sell the message you want employees and the market to hear. Managers and supervisors will be asked what’s going on and what the future holds, so how they respond will be a critical component of success.
- Research the views and opinions of your employees. What you think your employees think might not be what they are thinking. Therefore, set up small open forums to capture what awareness, perceptions and expectations exist. This qualitative approach demonstrates intent to reach out and involve people in the process of change.
- Deliver regular updates even if there is no new news. Digital communication brings the benefits of almost real time updates but integrate it with a personal touch. Plan out a schedule of communication and let your internal audience know when it is going to be published e.g. once a week.
- Face to face is the most powerful techniques. Gone are the days when everyone was called together. One of the benefits of the pandemic has been the ability of online meetings to bring employees and key stakeholders together quickly, and hear first hand from your leaders. However, try to maintain real contact and engagement as messages cascade up down and across your firm.
- Mix up techniques. Don’t rely one method to articulate your message. Combine in-person, digital and print. Avoid rumour and inuendo by keeping your ear close to the ground and set up a answers to evolving issues that address immediate concerns festering.
- Recognise achievement and build pride in the NewOrg. Pick out real life examples that demonstrate the sparkle of the new organisation and show the vision of what can be achieved on a wider front. Share best practice and encourage cross fertilisation of ideas so the different parts of the business benefit from association and help to make your assets grow.
- Avoid the temptation to create a new logo. Not every merger and acquisition needs a new look – especially if you’re joining an established and successful brand. So don’t be tempted to rebrand until you have established what you are and what you want to be. Ensure that everyone feels enfranchised in the process.
- Confine the old organisation to history. Where old brands remain and continue to develop these must be respected and protected; especially where they are an integral part of the NewOrg. However, if the NewOrg is going to take over from the old then find a way to celebrate the best of the old and build the future around the new.
And finally, here’s a bonus. If you’ve not done so already include a merger and acquisition section in your crisis management plan. Pre-planning prevents problems, so when the CEO phones you late one night to let you know about an acquisition or merger you can react with confidence. If there is no crisis management plan, write one now…!
Adrian JG Marsh
Editor and Executive Director
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