How to Communicate Internally for Success in a Merger – Part 2
You may have sold the merger to investors, but you need to sell it to your people. This makes internal communications more like a political campaign than a traditional internal communication plan.
As explained in Part 1, the dialogue a newly merged company needs to embark upon is one of building trust. Here are some steps communicators can implement to promote trust in their company, and which help to create a strategy and a programme for internal communications change for employee success.
Charity begins at home: get your communicators working together at the earliest opportunity, starting with workshops and all-hands calls. This will help you identify the skills you can leverage, promote common teamwork in the new paradigm and break down barriers to trust. If communicators cannot break down the silos, then what hope for the business units?
Such workshops can also be promoted in the integration work of the business units, and communications can be part of this by training managers to communicate better. This is a new business, so the old ways and perceptions need to be challenged by a new and transparent way of communicating
Get the CEO and leaders out and about, visiting sites or holding townhalls. You may have sold the merger to investors, but you need to sell it to your people. This makes internal communications more like a political campaign than a traditional internal communication plan. You want hearts and minds, and direct engagement will save a host of hours and days crafting messages, brochures and e-mails. Treat employees like swing voters and remember, people often vote for they guy they met than the one who stays away from the constituency, whatever the message or the traditional ties.
Undertake an effective employee feedback programme, using an external author so you get an honest view of what employees are thinking and feeling. They are often keen to embrace the new company, but they are looking for a new source of certainty. They will offer helpful advice to management. They will also tell you what was wrong in the old company, because they may feel there is an opportunity to change things for the better in the new company.
You are learning about the other side of the merger yourself, and may find pockets of poor morale, since there may be a perception of being on “the losing side.” You need to find out more and seek ways to engage these employees, and ensure they are fit and ready for the journey.
From branding to daily use of language, you need to build a new verbal and visual language that engages everyone. Old company visuals and language reinforce the past. The new vocabulary can help employees feel engaged. Where old materials are kept, it should be for good reason and understandable to employees.
Finally, understand one thing, employees are feeling vulnerable in the wake of a merger or acquisition, and they have many questions. They are also, on the whole, reasonable people willing to give the benefit of the doubt. As in all internal communications, treat employees with respect, speak the truth to them, and explain the rationale for an action or holding back on detail, and they will be accepting, so long as it resonates with them and rings true.
These are just some of the first steps to thinking through an effective internal communications approach. Engaging your employees at the earliest stage in a merger, indeed in any change management, will help you take them with you on the exciting journey your business leaders want the company to take to achieve enduring success.