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?

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