Your company’s employees are standing at the edge of an open airplane door, going hundreds of miles an hour. They look ten thousand feet down, and as they hear the word, “Jump,” imagine what they’re thinking. What is going to happen? Will I make it through? Where will I land?
Successfully navigating a merger or acquisition is like skydiving – the stakes are high, it can be scary, and it requires careful advance preparation behind the scene.
- Providing employees with the information they need in each phase of the merger is giving them the necessary equipment to stay safe and feel confident that things will work out.
- In the free fall – during and immediately after the merger – everyone needs to stick together on the same trajectory, in order to eventually land together.
- For a soft and safe landing, employees will depend on their parachutes of readily accessible information and authentic communication.
The employees of an acquired company often feel the most vulnerable of all participants and need the most attention. When an acquisition is announced, they are likely to fear an unknown future and worry about job security and changes in company culture. To keep morale and motivation high, the integration team needs to carefully consider the informational and emotional needs of these employees.
Sharon Cullen, ROI vice president and a leader in M&A communication, says, “The risk of losing valuable employees can be addressed with strategically planned and executed communications about leadership, change, culture and onboarding. If your company is thinking about an acquisition, don’t forget the needs of the new employees who will soon be clipping on your company’s badge.”
In more than a decade of experience in mergers and acquisitions, Sharon has learned what works and what doesn’t work in these transitions. She’s found that the leaders of the most successful changes take their communication responsibilities very seriously. Here are some guidelines:
- Stay connected and visible, like a jump instructor
Successful managers are physically present, in the office with open doors. They walk the halls, they are available to answer questions, and they attend meetings in person.
- Be honest about the risks and rewards of skydiving
Leaders need to be authentic and real, acknowledging that change is often challenging and they may not have all the answers.
- Mark your landing target before you jump
Before a merger begins, have a concrete vision for the outcome. Communicate the context and rationale for the change and how it will improve the company and ultimately the employee experience.
- Stay in their ear while flying through the unknown
Constant communication is vital. Offer information in the way employees can understand, host town hall meetings, and drop in on smaller group meetings: communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Rely on other instructors to help improve the experience
Other leaders within your company can help keep morale high if they are well informed about the strategic direction and approach. Educate them so they can convey your message and drive information through the organization.
If you are embarking on one of these transformations, bear in mind the leap of faith the employees must take. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to know and hear if you were in their position?
With the right preparation, they can focus on the experience of the jump instead of the fear, knowing that the outcome will be a safe and pleasant landing.