Posts Tagged ‘mergers and acquisitions’

Where is your company today? Where do you foresee it being in the next year or in five years? One thing is for sure, organizations must constantly embrace change in order to survive and thrive in a fiercely competitive environment. And, the other thing we know for sure is that change is never easy. In fact, Fast Company magazine has devoted a number of articles to the mechanics of change saying, “significant organizational change is one of the most difficult strategies to implement.”

Here, we will focus on one critical piece of the mix, whether an organization is restructuring, merging or just shaking up the org chart – employee communications must be a priority. The one truth that should never be overlooked is that employees are an organization’s most critical audience and their reaction to change can make for smooth sailing or place the company’s very survival in jeopardy.  Employees not only keep operations running, they are brand ambassadors – representing the face of the organization to customers, vendors, the community and the media. Ensuring that employees understand and embrace the change and are prepared to deliver key messages to external audiences is an essential element of the process.

Internal communications during a time of change takes careful planning, regardless of the size of the organization. One mistake we see far too often is that senior management waits until there is a backlash and the gossip vine is running rampant before bringing in a communications professional. It’s smart to include a professional communications strategist at the very beginning of discussions, making him or her a part of the strategic team.

So, what value will a professional communications strategist bring to the transition process? Expect a series of steps that will include initial research, the development of a plan that outlines specific objectives, and careful implementation that allows for continuous feedback. The following steps can serve as a guideline for establishing an internal communications plan.

1.    Do the Research

The first, and arguably most important step is research. A strategist will need to know how internal communications are currently structured or if a communications program will need to be built from scratch. Are management and employees engaged in a two-way conversation? Will focus groups need to be convened? How will the planned changes impact employees, the community, and the longevity of the organization?

Internal audiences will need to be clearly defined, especially in large, complex organizations. Each group of employees may require different channels of communication (emails, small group meetings, etc.), and the changes may impact different groups in different ways.  Demographics must be considered. For example, people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds may not fully understand the use of bankruptcy as a corporate strategy and become fearful that the organization is liquidating.

Managers’ communications skills will need to be evaluated and training provided as needed. Those on the front lines must be empathetic to employee fears and prepared to relieve anxieties.

Even senior management should be evaluated, as they will set the tone and provide inspiration for success. The strategist will want to consider every eventuality.

2.    Identify objectives, develop a plan and communicate often

Together with the strategy team, the communications professional will identify key objectives such as maintaining morale and productivity, retaining high-performing individuals, getting buy-in for the vision and establishing the credibility of new management.  Once objectives are agreed upon, the strategist will develop a plan and a timetable for implementation.

Employees deserve timely, frequent updates. They must be given the opportunity to express their concerns and know they are being heard. Knowing what to expect, even if it’s negative outcomes, will help relive anxiety and avoid wild speculation. Throughout the process, top executives will need to be visible and accessible.  Employees will respect management for providing explanations as soon as possible. Allowing employees to hear of the merger by radio on the ride home will cause distrust and anger. If things are not yet certain, tell them – they will appreciate the frankness.

Executives will need to be prepared to tell employees how the change will impact jobs and what the future holds. Tell a story – link business objectives and goals with strategies and values. Engage the employees and allow them to become a vital part of the process, to experience the changes and see the benefits. Communications strategies must engage, motivate and inspire management and employees.

Part of the planning process will include the selection of communications channels. Face-to-face meetings tend to be the most effective during times of change. These may include manager briefings, one-on-one meetings with with key personnel or in the case of multiple locations, a town hall style meeting with senior management appearing by video in all locations. Today’s technology allows these types of meetings to actively engage the audience and immediately capture employee reactions.

Ensure that employees have ample opportunity to make suggestions, ask questions and express concerns. Surveys, focus groups, employee hot-lines, suggestion boxes and open-door policies are just a few simple ways to encourage employees to engage in two-way conversation.  The key is to communicate often, let employees know how the merger is progressing and how their roles may change. Make employees feel as though they are part of the family, that the success of the business strategy is important to them.

When layoffs are unavoidable, let employees know as soon as possible. Use tact and be empathetic in the messaging. Treating employees with dignity will engender respect. Smoothing the transition by providing resources to employees who are leaving, including payouts and retraining, will create good will with those who remain. Avoid making promises as change is risky and circumstances can change.

Finally, be sure to thank employees for everything they are doing to ensure the success of the merger, restructure or management change.

3.    Evaluate consistently, listen to external conversations, and make adjustments as needed

Every communications program should include several measures so that the success or failure of tactics can be evaluated frequently as the plan progresses. Two-way conversations are an important tool for understanding if employees understand the business strategy and their roles.

As with most communication plans, the strategies and tactics for internal and external audiences will dovetail with one another. Monitoring external conversations is critical to tracking all the factors that shape employee perceptions. Social media can allow a rumor to go viral in a short period of time. Launching an internal social media platform in the communications mix might be a good way to encourage employee feedback and gauge reactions.  But don’t overlook the buzz on the outside – your employees are certainly hearing it. Mainstream media will need to be tracked so inaccuracies can be corrected and rumors dispelled. Community leaders will need to be engaged, as they will have concerns regarding the impact of large layoffs or the closing of local facilities, and their reactions will have an impact on employees.

Ultimately, organizations must communicate early and often, with total honesty during periods of change or risk severe damage to the credibility of the management team. Bringing in a communications strategist early in the game is good business strategy.


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