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”
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!
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.