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Consolidation Craze & Craziness: How to Communicate Effectively During a Merger

Imagine this: You manage a few people – or a lot of people – and your company recently announced a merger (or sale!). The emotions of your team range from anxious to dejected to outraged. They’re asking you what it’s all about and what the future holds, and you’re not entirely clear yourself.

Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe this situation is unfolding for you this very moment. We’ve had an unprecedented year for mergers & acquisitions in our industry. Often these new alliances get off to a rocky start, fraught with speculation and rumors that ultimately lead to stellar talent leaving.

There has to be a way to circumvent this painful adjustment period… A way to communicate the master plan to you – a manager and leader – so you can make your team feel safe and optimistic about the future.

That’s the topic of this week’s post: Effective merger communications.

Let’s start with where communications breakdown. When a merger or sale is announced, the immediate focus is often directed at external clients and investors. There’s a lot of talk about why the merger is super duper fantastic for the company, its customers and shareholders. Meanwhile, nothing’s said about what’s top of mind for employees: Its impact on job stability and career trajectory.

Best Practice #1: Address Employee Concerns

Merger communications that don’t answer fundamental questions, like Who will I report to? Will I get the promotion or bonus that’s been promised to me? What should I tell my clients? Will I have a job next week? are a big miss. Says one agency executive, “Most people don’t like change and become even more anxious when the future isn’t clear.”

If agency leadership is silent, ambiguous or takes too long to communicate its vision, conjecture and speculation can often lead employees to envision a much worse reality. “Make it your priority to quickly establish the new chain of command, reporting relationships, account ownership, etc.,” advises a Client Service Director. “No news is disconcerting. We understand if all the details haven’t been worked out or can’t be shared. But acknowledge what’s on everyone’s minds and define a timeline for when questions will be answered.”

Best Practice #2: Move Quickly to Retain Your Best

Everyone assumes mergers create staff redundancies and are the precursor for layoffs, but retention can be a real issue too as uncertainty about job security and cultural assimilation lead employees to consider other opportunities. Not to mention, once word hits the street, all the best people become targets for poaching.

Once the dust settles, employees often find themselves in an environment of more business than resources. Long hours and murkiness about reporting structure can lead those who stay to wonder if their contributions are being noticed.

If job security can’t be immediately guaranteed, rewarding their commitment and making them feel part of the future vision can inspire loyalty. I recall that one of my former employers offered a 10% retention bonus for those that stayed thru the agency transitioning our account to a sister company. No kidding, that was a nice touch, but it doesn’t always have to be monetary. Anything that conveys the idea that your best players are critical to the company’s success is meaningful.

Do you have a Best Practice to add? Please leave a comment or email me directly here.

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