In yesterday’s Advisor, expert Sherry Scott shared the first two of her four training tips for communicating during a merger and/or acquisition (M&A). Today, she shares her final two tips for HR professionals.
Scott is the chief operating officer and communication practice lead for Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement, culture change, and leadership. A certified woman-owned business, Gagen MacDonald has helped numerous Fortune 500 companies, such as DuPont, GE, and Johnson & Johnson, engage their employees and become better places to work.
3. Kill the Noise on Threshold Issues.
When the deal is announced, senior management wants to talk about attaining global leadership, reducing cyclicality of earnings, improving the research and development platform, etc. But the questions foremost in employees’ minds revolve around different themes, like who will run the business, and what will change? Do I have a future at this company? What should I tell my family, customers, and vendors?
Your acquisition strategy determines whether the target company will remain autonomous, partially or fully absorbed, and strategic decisions about integration drive the level of change envisioned, and communications support required. We equip leaders with a document of the top Q&As they’re likely to face—and these always include answers to tough questions about layoffs, benefit changes, and relocations.
Answer threshold questions honestly, even if the details aren’t clear. If layoffs are likely, say so upfront: “Yes, we’ll be looking at our workforce carefully to make sure we have the right people in the right places. We don’t have those answers yet, but we promise to keep you informed as they develop.” Then make good on that pledge.
It’s tempting to dodge sensitive questions entirely until final decisions are made—but this strategy is distracting at best. Stay upfront and you’ll keep your employees’ energies focused on work that really matters: serving your customers while making the future a reality.
4. Align and Equip Your Leaders.
Employees usually trust their direct supervisor much more than the CEO or HR. That’s why leaders at every level of your organization need to understand the deal’s strategy deeply and feel aligned and equipped to lead their teams successfully through an M&A integration.
The toolkit necessary to prepare leaders will differ with each M&A deal. Some of the tools we use to equip leaders include the Q&As mentioned above, as well as:
- Presentations to articulate the M&A story in compelling, emotionally infused terms;
- Videos and animations designed for teams to watch together and then discuss;
- Impactful infographics and journey maps;
- E-mail templates outlining key aspects of the deal;
- Immersive team experiences;
- And many more.
Post-close, CEOs often embark on speaking tours to every company location to meet the target company employees and engage in live Q&A sessions. Your intranet can be an invaluable tool for ongoing follow-up to M&As post-close, too. Socially enabled intranets allow employees to ask questions anonymously and create room for meaningful dialogue.
According to a 2007 Towers Perrin report, up to 90% of employee behaviors stem from the role modeling of leaders. Show your leaders clearly where the company is headed, and that direction will cascade throughout your organization.
Bottom Line …
People, communications, and culture matter much more to an M&A’s bottom line than you may have realized. With smart, well-timed employee communications, HR and communicators can drive meaningful contributions to shareholder value. Without addressing the “soft stuff,” however, your M&A can become just another statistic.
Click here for an infographic highlighting more on the M&A topic from Sherry Scott and Gagen MacDonald.