Start to plan comms even before the deal is done. It will:
– Get key dates in leaders’ diaries early
– Ensure you have a seat at the top table
Well run mergers have a clear leadership team in place with responsibility and accountability to make decisions.
2. Control the rhythm
Have a distinct beat and pulse to your comms. Keep to a regular pattern as this will help drive audience expectation and will ensure there is no silence that gets filled by gossip and misinformation. Plus, if you deliver comms on time you deliver on your promise and trust builds.
3. Leadership comms from the top
Have a leader available for comms. A clear in-tray will ensure 90% of the leader’s time is spent on the M&A. To maintain trust, ensure clear, candid and honest communication happens. No shallow promises. By all means share a new vision to retain the stars of tomorrow who will drive the new organisation … but make it credible. Avoid generalisation and be specific.
4. Clear and frequent feedback loops
Staff are key to the success of any M&A, keeping them engaged is the key priority, so ensure there is true two way dialogue. If you are not a comms professional, get one in. This will help you earn a quicker return on your investment. Set up feedback loops … be it intranet, event Q&A, focus groups … engagement drops if people don’t feel listened to. Where you have regulatory restraints that affect comms, it may mean some answers are time restricted but be clear when they will happen and make sure it beats google alert!
5. Have special M&A channels and message
Set up clear M&A channels, aligning the internal and external stories. Be assured a percentage of your staff will be looking at what analysts may be saying, so your narratives need to be congruous. Having customers or third parties commenting on the merger is a real bonus. For example investment bankers would help bolster the positive story as long as it is on message.
6. Know the story inside out
Explain the big ‘why’ behind the merger and then quickly get onto the benefits to the employees with a timetable for those to hit. Similarly, where jobs are at risk, be clear and honest. Successful mergers succeed in stemming brain drain – understand what core talent areas to focus on and get face to face quickly. Have a clear “what it means for staff” so they stay engaged rather than spending time on job sites.
7. Get middle managers on board
Trust your middle managers. They’re at the coal face to amplify and spread the story, so make sure it’s the right one. Remember trust is transitive, use the story to inspire them, in turn they will inspire others. If you don’t give them something to say they will make it up!
8. It’s a marathon
Mergers take a while, you’ll need to be resilient, consistent in messaging and to challenge and support your leaders to be the same. Train up your leaders of tomorrow to start supporting and be the mavens for of the more remote outposts to be affected.
9. Process should not be confused with communication
As George Bernard Shaw wrote in Pygmalion “the biggest challenge with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Just because you have change team meetings, endless PowerPoint presentations and visionary sharing sessions doesn’t mean a message is landing. Keep testing, build trust with those near the front line and test what is sticking. Face to face, talking to the audience is where true credibility comes out.
10. Looking good…
Leaders’ reputations diminish or flourish depending on whether change is well executed. The good ones set the tone and pace, make decisions and difficult calls fronting up and doing lots of face to face, face to audience work. They recognise that difficult HR decisions only get harder the longer they are left. If you have the gift of a charismatic, authentic, courageous leader, use them. Be their trusted advisor. Believe me at times they are going to be lonely, have doubts and want counsel, Make them look good as communicators and you, them and the business will all benefit.