Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

You want effective communications in an acquisition? Recognise your employees’ perceptions as the actual baseline and own it…simple really!

Anyone you know who hasn’t been through a deal of some kind? I thought not…even those who work in the public sector will have had some strategic transformation thrust upon them. It’s a part of corporate life, whether you’re a senior stakeholder or an entry level employee.…and what has their experience been like, do you think?

  • Positive…’I’ve learned from the experience and my career has been enhanced’
  • Neutral…’It’s only affected me on the periphery’
  • Negative…’The experience has largely been detrimental for me personally and / or from a career perspective’


If you do even the most perfunctory analysis of your network on the subject of mergers and acquisitions, the reaction you will get is at best neutral, and mostly negative. What’s more, the experience stays embedded in their psyche and the memories surface in a heartbeat. The truth about integration failure is not a secret…and is completely consistent with many people’s experience.

With that in mind, and thinking about communications on the announcement of a new transaction, what’s the realistic starting point for your employees? I would suggest that you can probably choose from a combination of the following four statements:

  • “I don’t believe that this deal has any benefit for me or my colleagues’
  • “They have no idea what they’re doing”
  • “They don’t care about us”
  • “My life is going to change and this transformation is going to be hell”

Get me out of here

Hardly neutral…and given the contextual nature behind the way we learn, likely to be reinforced with naïve and anodyne statements that tell you little and ignore the things that you’re feeling at the moment.

What are the key components then that we need to consider in solving this? If I think about great communication that I’ve experienced recently, there are a few things which appear every time:

  •  It’s personalised: even if the message might be equally applicable to a bunch of people who have the same challenges / needs as I do, I feel personally engaged.
  • Comes from an individual (often someone I know), not an anonymous source. There’s an individual I can turn to, if necessary, and I feel that that individual will at least know who I am.
  • The message may provide a solution but if not, it offers a timeframe and a process which may ultimately lead to one. There is some commitment to this from the individual.
  •  The message is deeply empathetic but also honest…if this is an issue which is not going to be resolved, it’s clear, unambiguous and without fudge!

Obstacles 2

What are the obstacles to applying these principles in deals?

  •  How can I deal with people personally given the scale of our organisations?
    • Bang for your buck – choose your targets carefully. Identify the opinion formers (they don’t correspond with the organisation hierarchy by the way) and give them the licence to communicate.
    • Identify what channels are going to be most effective from a recipient’s perspective and commit to them.
  • How can we compete with the grapevine in terms of speed?
    • Embrace the informal channels – change the context from ‘I need approval to deliver this message’ to ‘I will deliver this message unless you specifically tell me not to’
  • Distraction from other priorities
    • Recognise that as a senior stakeholder, your only job in post-acquisition integration is communication whether it’s related to customers, regulators, suppliers or employees.

Categories: Communication, Complex transformation, Governance, Language, Mergers & acquisitions, post acquisition integration, Post merger integration, Prioritisation

Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Ben
    I really like your point about influencers. This also impacts the grapevine. Knowing who the key opinion influencers are and engaging them in conversations about the future is key. Plus as you say they are not usually those with most formal authority so it takes some questioning and listening to understand who they are

    Liked by 1 person

    • great to hear from you, Yvonne…thanks for your comments. Sometimes the size of the task (in terms of workforce) makes the communication responsibility seem impossible, until you start to segment the population and understand different motivations, channels and perspectives. Politicians do this really well…we could certainly learn from them in this regard, if not in any other!


  2. Ben,
    Fantastic article! It’s always about the people. I’ve seen great M&A deals go south from not starting with employee perceptions. Understanding culture integration and communication models is the key – learning the language and blending cultures early and often is a huge benefit. Communication is consistently a challenge, especially in times of great change. I was acquired twice in 3 years, and eventually led over 60 acquisitions for GE Healthcare before starting my own consulting firm. Seeing both sides, from basement to boardroom, has been an insightful journey. You nailed it – thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks for your comments, Kevin..great to hear from you. Like you, being acquired gives one a powerful insight of the confusion, lack of clarity and lost opportunity that arises from poor communications. It often seems to be last on the list of priorities when, in my view, it should be first. Feel free to share!


  3. Ben,

    Interesting piece.When I’ve chatted with people and their own experiences on previous acquisitions it’s usually negative, or neutral at best. It’s always about communication and the lack thereof that people complain about. Nothing new, but as we all know the best communication is face-to-face chats with individuals and small groups that are frequent, honest and genuine. That personal touch has a tremendous impact. Simple really. But not always done well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments, Toby…as ever, great to hear from you. I’m glad that your experience reflects mine in terms of the expectations of employees re M&A. Leadership needs to be aware that their workforce is firstly, aware of the potential impact, secondly, not particularly looking forward to it, and thirdly, not silent! Re-setting the baseline of understanding may finally lead to the focus which comms requires in transactions!


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