The placement of this article on merger and acquisition communications this late in the M/A chapter may seem strange considering that most of the other articles discussed the need for communications with various groups. This article discusses some overall concepts that apply to all of the various communications recommendations. As previous stated, the mere suggestion that some form of M/A transaction is being considered will severely test the trust bond between senior management and employees. That relationship, if not broken, will be very fragile with employees being hypersensitive to any rumors or facts as they appear. Two very important elements in repairing or solidifying the trusting relationship are consistency and timing. Even slightly different messages (what people hear) shared over different time periods can result in worsening, not helping, the situation. Below are some suggestions to consider when developing an overall communications plan.
- If one of the M/A transaction participants is a publicly traded company, clearly explain to everyone the SEC restrictions on sharing information. Provide specific guidelines and examples. Be sure to explain that individuals can be prosecuted and go to jail over this issue. It is, therefore, not to be taken lightly.
- Although everyone will want final, definitive answers when the M/A discussions first begin and word leaks out, everyone knows that it is unreasonable to expect them. Reinforce the “work in process” aspect of the discussions in every forum to help ensure that people keep the transient nature of the discussions in mind.
- Logical answers, especially when delivered by “analytical” people such as financial or legal specialists will do little to put employees at ease. Feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and even betrayal reside in the heart, not in the head. Logical explanations will not change anyone’s heart. Emotions will run high, acknowledge those feelings; empathize.
- As soon as is practical, paint a vision of the end-game; where you believe your organization will be in, say, eighteen months IF the discussions, in fact, do result in a transaction. This vision will be part of the answer to why a transaction is even being considered.
- Remember being in the car with your parents or hearing from your kids, “Are we there yet”? Employees will want to know when a decision will be made. Of course, an exact date will not be known. However, what can be shared is the planned process that will take place. Along with the process description, a commitment to keep everyone informed of the progress should be made.
- Delivering the same overall message to everyone is important, but different groups within the organization will have different detailed questions. For example (and as a generalization), software engineers may hear the news and then want to immediately get to work. Individuals that may feel more vulnerable such as manufacturing, administrative, or accounting specialists, may want to hear as much information as possible. Accommodate both groups with meetings that start with high-level comments and allow people to stay or go as you address those interested with more details.
- If you don’t know something, do not be afraid to say “I don’t know.” If you DO know, but for some reason, you cannot comment, be forthright and acknowledge it. Never use the “I cannot confirm or deny the …” That response will raise the ire in everyone.
- Be bold when the answer is obvious but uncomfortable. As an example, if someone asks, “Can you guarantee that everyone will retain their jobs?”, the only truthful answer is “no”; that guarantee can never be made.
- Employees have personal relationships with customers, business partners, and even competitors. It must be assumed that every comment made in an internal open forum will be shared with these outside groups directly or indirectly within 48 hours. Openly discuss this issue in each communication setting and discourage editorial comments be given to others. Instead, provide written statements that can be shared with outsiders if required.
- Identify and make known who specifically will inform customers, prospects, and business partners about the discussions and when it will be appropriate for those communications. Fill the information void with these key groups before someone else, perhaps a competitor does.
- Before any of the communications meetings suggested in the articles in this chapter are held, write out the answers or points that you intend to cover. This may seem like an unwieldy burden, but it is the only way to help ensure consistent and appropriate messages are delivered. Except in the case of the employee FAQ document described in the next article, the written responses do not have to formal or made available to others. The logic behind this recommendation is simple: we write much slower than we talk and are far more careful in what we put down on paper versus what we might say extemporaneously. It is easy to backspace when writing but not so easy when speaking!
- Invariably some key individuals will miss the M/A communications sessions. Set up a regular routine of answering the following two questions, “Who is not here that should be?” and “Who is going to fill them in on what was covered?” You can bet that “someone” will fill in the missing person. It is better if you decide whom it should be.
- The article, 4.030403, “Communicate Consistently and Regularly”, as its name implies, discusses the need and method to communicate with company personnel. Two forums are discussed in that article; the first is referred to as “Town Hall Meetings” which is an all-hands gathering and is the presumed format for the communications sessions described in this chapter. Of course, some of the meetings with owners or senior managers need to be restricted. The other forum discussed in the article is referred to as “Round Table Meetings.” These small, six to eight person meetings allow the CEO or another senior manager to meet with a small group of employees from across the organization to have more intimate discussions. Holding a series of these meetings will have a profound impact on the entire organization. Employee participants, after attending a session, will share their experience and insight with others. They always work! It takes time and commitment to hold these sessions, but there is no other single activity that a CEO or senior manager can do to restore the trust and commitment from employees than these meetings. Employee leaders, who may or may not be managers, will set the tone for the entire organization. Find them and communicate with (not to) them; they will carry your message.
All of the above suggestions may seem to be too time-consuming or even unnecessary. However, the consequences of not communicating effectively or worse, letting others fill in the blanks with what they think is going on will be, far, more time-consuming. Remember the old adage; “It is hard to unscramble an egg.”