When a company embarks on a merger, acquisition or corporate restructuring, much of the focus of leadership is on the financial and legal aspects of the deal.
Often the need for a communications strategy is underestimated or completely overlooked in the flurry of other activity.
A lack of communication, or poor communication, during such a major change at a company often leads to negative outcomes both internally and externally. From bad press to employee strikes, effective communication can often mitigation or eliminate negative backlash before, during and after a merger.
Communication needs to start well in advance.
The words “merger” and “acquisition” have become synonymous with layoffs and cost-cutting, often resulting in the rumor mill working overtime. Combat a negative atmosphere by communicating early with as many audiences as possible. Allow employees to feel that they’re part of the process by hosting open forum meetings where employees are free to express their thoughts and feelings. Listen and ensure them that they will be updated throughout the process.
If you know that there will be layoffs, tell managers early. If a location is going to close, give people enough time to prepare. Have a process in place and communicate what it is early so that no one is taken by surprise. Have empathy and take the time to tell employees why these decisions have been made. It may not make them feel any better about what’s happening, but it will likely mitigate an environment of frustrated and disgruntled employees who may take dramatic actions.
Identify ALL your audiences.
Do a full analysis of everyone who will be affected by the change. Employees and customers are obvious audiences, but don’t forget about vendors, referral sources, contractors, etc. Even if the change will have very little impact on them, make sure that you’ve identified how and when they will be communicated with.
Be able to answer the 4 Ws: who, what, when and why.
The 4 Ws are going to shape your company’s story. They will be the launching pad for your message to each audience. They also provide the necessary facts for each audience to help them understand how this change will impact them.
Be prepared for leaks.
Even the best laid plans need a Plan B. Have a strategy in place in the event your news gets out before you’re ready. If the leak means that now your company must shift into crisis mode, be prepared for that. If it simply means that your communications timeline is pushed up, know that in advance and move to make it happen. Preparation for the worst will ensure your strategy is not blown-up with an early leak.
Over communicate with your internal audiences.
Your internal audiences are also the folks who are client or customer facing. If they’re feeling frustrated or unhappy you can bet that those feelings are going to be translated to your customer base. Craft a plan for regular updates to all internal audiences – anything from weekly small group meetings to regular memos from the CEO. Arm managers with FAQ documents so that they can answer questions or concerns from their staff. Ensure that there are defined lines of communication between departments and with leadership, so that any potential issues are addressed before they become big problems. Communicate frequently and thoroughly to ensure a smooth transition process.
Communications continues well after the deal is closed.
Plan for check-ins and post-merger updates for up to a year after the deal has closed for both internal and external audiences. It can take some time for new processes to become embedded and combined cultures to meld, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open for some time.
If a merger, acquisition or corporate restructuring is on your horizon, reach out to Maven and we’ll be happy to work with you to develop a communications plan that will ensure transition success.