Employee communications in M&A (Merger and Acquisition) is one of the most important factors to ensure the successful integration of the organisations coming together to join forces.

When an internal communications plan is comprehensively developed to cover all aspects and stages of the M&A journey it helps to minimise undue employee concern and friction, it encourages greater engagement and buy-in and helps enable a more seamless transition to the new entity.

But it’s crucial that every aspect and facet of internal communication should be explored and considered before, during and after an M&A. This includes the different levels of communication (corporate, function/department, team, and individual; global vs. local), directions (top-down, bottom-up and horizontal), mix of online and offline channels and tools, message relevance (what’s in it for me?), audience understanding, tone of voice and result measurement.

However, the employee communications function or department frequently finds itself having to deal with the issue of confidentiality around a good chunk of M&A-related information, or information that can be disclosed only to specific groups of employees (in general those working as part of integration committees and workstreams).

In any change program, and particularly where companies are merging or part of an acquisition, it’s normal for employees to have concerns and questions about what the future holds for them. But, quite often, all the answers they are looking for aren’t always there, especially at the beginning of the new journey…

…Therefore, communicators have to make a compromise between what can and can’t be said to employees.  But instead of ignoring requests for clarification or hiding behind silence, they shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that if the answers aren’t available or can’t be shared yet, that the information will be made available as soon as possible when it’s possible to do so.

In this blog, I focus on important components that do not always get the weight and attention they deserve for a successful outcome.

Employee communications workstream

For employee communications to be highly effective during the entire integration lifecycle, the starting point should be the creation of an employee communications workstream with members from across the organisations joining forces. The aim is to ensure that:

  • Infrastructure, resourcing, and governance are in place
  • A common strategy is developed and plans are executed
  • Consistency of messaging is maintained across the organisation
  • Internal differences are assessed and addressed. From language and cultural nuances to stakeholders’ requirements and expectations, there are a range of organisational characteristics likely to impact how communications should be structured to reach out effectively to target audiences
  • Key milestones and what they entail from a communication perspective are identified and mastered

Designing a workstream with the “right” balance of skills and experience is essential if the communications component of the M&A is to be given the best chance of achieving the desired outcomes for the entire project.

Having communicators who are good at drafting messages and plans is not enough, as the complexity of integrations require people who have strong project management skills, understand change, possess a very clear picture of the business including its employees, and, above all, know the integration program in detail. Thus, having a cross-function workstream is a great advantage.

Strategy development and execution

It has to be highlighted and remembered at all times that Internal communications during company consolidation is a process and not just a one-off event. It must be structured and thought through; it should convey a  narrative and build engagement. Therefore, it requires a strategy and execution plans essential to:

  • Connect people to the business strategy explaining why the integration is needed
  • Create a persuasive narrative that drives rational understanding and emotional engagement, guiding employees from the initial stage of awareness-raising of the M&A to the consolidation of the new entity, and ways of working this into business as usual
  • Communicate core messages: overarching messages supporting the rationale behind the deal and vision for the future, and tailored messages for the different internal audiences
  • Put target audiences and their requirements at the center of communications and use data for segmentation based on employees’ needs. Unless what needs to be communicated about the M&A, is function or role-specific, it is advisable to not use hierarchical segmentation criteria as this can lead to information gaps between senior people and those who sit towards the bottom of the organisation structure. Senior people will get the full picture whereas the others will only get the practical details in a fragmented way, creating a sense of exclusion.
  • Identify obstacles and personal resistance to embracing change, and adopt solutions to overcome barriers along the integration process
  • Establish metrics and measure the efficiency and effectiveness of channels and tools, processes and messages, but also evaluate outcomes as shifts in attitudes and behaviors. M&As are very frequently characterized by rumors and speculation so it’s imperative to immediately clear up any misunderstanding
  • Emphasize the roles of senior leaders, team and line managers, change agents and other internal stakeholders as communicators
  • Develop schedules, assign tasks and responsibilities
  • Manage risk and contingency planning

In Part 2, I explain the Integration Lifecycle and share some Case Study examples. 

Gianluca Bregoli, first published this article with the employee communications company, Poppulo. 

Gianluca Bregoli