Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity has developed an unfortunate reputation in the world of business. With all the moving parts involved in this complex process, it can feel more like a cycle of chaos and confusion than a time of growth and opportunity. Change can be a terrifyingly tricky phenomenon, especially in business.
Proper maintenance of company culture and employee morale often gets lost in the shuffle as M&A stakeholders are busy checking off items on their to-do lists, leaving employees to question their roles within the company. Fortunately, there are clear actions company leaders and HR professionals can take to ensure consistency during this time of what-ifs.
Meaningful Communication Regarding Personal Impact Is Key
In periods of large-scale change, there is no such thing as overcommunicating. Nature abhors a vacuum, and employees will likewise fill any perceived gaps in communication with their own explanations in the absence of repeated, clear answers from leadership.
The first question that needs to be addressed is how the changes will impact employees individually. Until you answer this, your employees frankly will not care why the M&A is good for the company. Once the personal impact is made clear, communications can include the positive impact on the whole of the company. Providing employees with this type of detailed messaging will help them understand where they fit in amid all the change and realize the benefits and rationale behind the M&A.
Even if you feel your message is obvious enough to go without saying, this may not be true for employees, especially those who have been blindsided by the news. Reiterate what isn’t changing as much as what is, and regularly update your employees to maintain a level of comfort and continuity. An uncomfortable employee is an unengaged employee, and an unengaged employee will not be able to do their best work, which can negatively affect the bottom line and increase turnover rates.
Provide Total Transparency
Increased communication goes hand in hand with transparency. When you give employees the full story, they will feel safe, respected, and included in this pivotal moment in the company’s life.
When the employees are first informed of the M&A, the initial announcement will typically provoke a pattern of fear-driven questions: “Do I still have a job? Will my team members still have a job? Will my benefits change? Will the culture we’ve built transform?”
Until these questions are fully addressed, employees will not be able to focus on day-to-day tasks, resulting in loss of productivity. It’s imperative that HR professionals acknowledge these fears at the outset. If employees feel they are being taken care of, they will become more actively involved in future communication efforts.
Find Points of Commonality
Dividing employees into groups to discuss their fears and concerns is a fantastic way to encourage conversation and pinpoint areas of commonality. When employees are placed in a small group setting, they have an opportunity to share their voices with others and even discover that others feel similarly.
When employees find their concerns are shared by others, they can begin to have constructive discussions aimed at solving problems. These discussions help employees identify the barriers separating them from success and the necessary methods to overcome these obstacles.
Understand What Is Important to Employees
During an M&A, the immediate assumption for many employees is that everything is changing for the worse. Settling this initial fear begins with developing a solid understanding of the issues that are most important to employees.
HR professionals must accurately and quickly recognize those who will be most affected by the change and what those employees feel are the most important factors in the change. If you make assumptions about what employees value or expect, your assumptions may very well be incorrect. As a result, employees will feel unsettled and unheard.
Get straight to the point and ask employees what they find important. This encourages involvement and control during a time in which many employees may be feeling shut out and helpless. Additionally, understanding the factors that are important to employees gives you a chance to ensure those factors stay consistent — or at least as consistent as possible.
Control the Conversation
While feelings of uncertainty are inevitable with an M&A announcement, it is possible to showcase the positives by leading the conversation with transparent, informative, and proactive communication that addresses personal and collective impact. It is important to remember the effects an M&A might have on employees and prepare for a variety of questions and emotions that could come to light.
An easy way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of the employees. How would you feel? What would you want to know? These questions can help the HR and executive teams begin developing their communications to address the basic concerns of who, when, where, why, and how.
Addressing the personal impact, being honest and transparent, and keeping a regular cadence of communication will not only help your employees feel comfortable and potentially excited about the news, but it will also ensure company culture and morale remain supported through the process.
Sharon Strauss is chief people officer of CM Group.