3 rules for employee communication during a merger or acquisition

Of all corporate change scenarios company merger or acquisition is one of the most unsettling for employees. It triggers all possible fear responses – is my job safe? For how long? What about my colleagues’? If I do keep my job what else might change – how we do things, new responsibilities, new manager, change in location?

At this time more than any other good internal communication is vital to minimise the risk to the business by maintaining productivity, customer service levels and employee motivation.

Of course the challenge is that all the answers aren’t available on day one. It can take time to establish what the new business model will look like and in the meantime to maintain business as usual you need to communicate – quickly, honestly and regularly.

Act quickly

Even if they are negatively affected people prefer certainty as it allows them to move on. It doesn’t make it easier on anyone to delay communication of difficult decisions and in the interim the business will be distracted, unproductive and disaffection will quickly spread. The disaffected will hedge their bets by looking elsewhere and quickly disengage;

Communicating quickly also means telling employees news before you tell the outside world – or at least, if there are regulatory constraints, simultaneously. Employees discovering news that affects them via a Google alert seriously damages trust.

Be honest

There can be a temptation to try to downplay the situation with ambiguous or non-committal statements in the hope of keeping people calm and playing for time while critical decisions are made. These seldom work. Statements like ‘we will be taking the best of both companies’ or ‘we hope to avoid any redundancies’ should not be used if they are based only on good intentions. You will be left having to dash the hopes you have raised and your credibility will be seriously undermined.

Keep talking

There is nothing more unsettling during a period of change than silence. To say ‘We will update you as soon as there is something to report’ leaves a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by rumour and speculation that is difficult to control. There may well be nothing new that you can report but you can take control by talking regularly to people.

With each communication tell them when the next update will be issued – and then make sure you do so. If there is nothing new to say then repeating and reinforcing existing messages can be reassuring. You should also take the opportunity to respond some of the concerns you are picking up via your feedback channels – a dedicated email box for example can help employees and help you keep your finger on the pulse of employee sentiment.

Do you agree? What are your tips for communicating during a merger?


Communication trends from this year’s ‘best companies to work for’

Reading through the first instalment of the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For guide this week it would be easy to believe that the secret of success must be to incorporate sporting events, charity projects or team away-days into the working week.

Of course who wouldn’t want to work for a company that took you on a weekend in Ibiza, paid for you to develop a hobby or offered free manicures! It’s not at all surprising that people who work here rate the companies as great places to work.

But look behind these headline grabbing initiatives and you will see some rather more realistic and decidedly less sexy practices taking place. Quite clearly this year there is a trend for improved communication which as well as raising employee satisfaction actually improves employee engagement (where employees understand what they need to do, and willingly give their discretionary effort to do it).

The communication trends that are clear this year are that:

Companies are doing more of it –consciously increasing communication during challenging times. They are keeping employees informed through periods of uncertainty and are building trust by being open and honest even when the news is not good. Some have involved employees where cost cutting has been required and this has increased understanding and acceptance of the measures.

Managers are listening –at all levels (line managers as well as senior managers) they listen rather than just tell people what to do. They engage in dialogue, encouraging feedback and ideas – some via structured suggestion schemes, others with more informal brainstorming lunches or inter- departmental breakfasts. These companies recognise that some of the best ideas for improvement can come from those working at the coal face.

Leaders are visible – regularly communicating with employees. Some run breakfast briefings; others use technology such as webcasting. They all offer employees the opportunity to raise their concerns and ask questions no matter how difficult the answers might be.

Employees are being recognised – whether acknowledging a good idea or recognising a job well done, saying thank you reinforces positive behaviours. The act of recognition can be more significant than the actual reward so incentives do not need to be costly – a thank you card, a mention in the company magazine or a profile on the intranet. Some companies offer vouchers, lunch with the boss or even use of a special chair for a month!

Using eye-catching benefits to create workplaces where people want to work will undoubtedly help attract and retain talent. However solid management and communication best practice will really drive employee engagement and reap the business benefits this can bring. You can read more about why employee engagement makes good business sense in our briefing available on our website.

What communication practices do you think make companies better places to work in? Tell us using the comments box below…

Why do managers hide behind email?

I wonder how many managers saw the news story last week  about Carlisle City Council telling employees to ‘clock off for non-work chat’ and thought ‘that could have been me’.

An email sent with good intention to raise productivity has had exactly the opposite effect by disengaging employees and of course generating the type of publicity that every organisation dreads along the way.

For managers faced with a difficult message to tell their teams ‘hiding behind’ an email rather than have a face to face conversation can feel like an easy option. They haven’t got time for a discussion on the matter, they don’t entirely agree with the message or they simply prefer to avoid confrontation (who doesn’t?!)

With so many ways to communicate now it becomes more important to select the right tool for the job.  And when it comes to difficult messages, particularly where there is a chance they will be misunderstood or prove controversial, nothing is better than a face to face conversation.  Sending out an email might be a quicker way of getting a message to everyone but it doesn’t allow you to gauge reaction and refine the message accordingly, to read body language or to provide instant answers to questions.

Of course most managers understand this but many just don’t feel equipped to have those difficult conversations.  Some basic communication training can empower managers to talk confidently with an audience, diffuse aggression, avoid confrontation and be open to feedback.  Regular face to face communication can strengthen teams, improve engagement and provide the opportunity for dialogue.  Can your business afford not to encourage this?