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6 Best Practice Tips for Leadership Communications During an M&A

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 — September 19th, 2023

6 Best Practice Tips for Leadership Communications During an M&A

Steering through the tumultuous waters of mergers and acquisitions requires more than just financial acumen and strategic prowess.

It demands a thoughtful orchestration of leadership communications that are built on a solid foundation of clarity, honesty, and empathy.

While the CEO may not be able to reveal all details of the merger or acquisition—due to legal, political, or strategic sensitivities— leadership communications play a critical role in shaping the perceptions, understanding, and trust of employees.

Here’s how you can help your employees navigate the challenges and changes, helping reduce their worries and fears, with your leadership communications:

1. Teamwork makes the dream work: M&A communications are likely the most critical, scrutinized, risky, and impactful communications you’ll ever get involved with in your professional career.

To mitigate any risks, leaks, unprofessionalism, or inappropriateness, keep your team of key stakeholders close—and your strategic advisors closer.

Effective M&A leadership comms are orchestrated as a team where everyone from the C-Suite to Legal, Finance, HR, IT, Corporate Comms, Change Consultants, Union Reps, and more, all take responsibility for shaping the plans and delivery of communications to employees in alignment with external and stakeholder communications.

2. Plan for alignment: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Leadership comms must never be done in isolation from the other communication cascades and channels.

Involve key allies (see above) to define target audiences and channels, align on key messaging and timings for sharing information before, during, and after the merger or acquisition. This is one plan that will need to shapeshift as the M&A unfolds, so treat it like you would a crisis communication plan and live and breathe it.

Your plan must outline roles, responsibilities, and a clear approval process for any communications from the outset.

The outside world is the inside world when it comes to any communications, especially M&A comms. Messaging needs to be consistent across all communication channels, from official announcements to internal memos or town halls and external press releases, as inconsistencies lead to confusion and erode trust.

3. Set the tone for clear and transparent messaging: Nobody can smell spin better than an employee—it erodes employee trust faster than a springtime flood. So craft clear and honest messages from the outset that explain the reasons for the merger or acquisition, the expected benefits, potential challenges, and the overall vision for the merging organizations.

Employees will trust and respect leadership more if the comms are honest, even if they don’t like the message.

4. Dial up the empathy: M&As are unsettling periods for everyone involved, even if it means the future promises to be brighter as forces join. Change can be met with resistance, especially if employees are unsure about how it will affect them.

This is the time to acknowledge the emotions, challenges, and concerns faced by employees who may be anxious about their roles or the future of the company. Balancing this with an emphasis on the shared benefits and opportunities the merger or acquisition can bring, can foster a more receptive attitude from employees.

5. Facilitate regular two-way communication: Keeping employees and stakeholders informed at regular intervals is key during an M&A.

Communication voids are catalysts for causing rumor mills to spin and undermine the integrity of leadership communications. Ensuring regular updates are provided, even if there is nothing to say or that can be shared, keeps official communications the trusted go-to source of information.

Encourage feedback and questions from employees and stakeholders throughout with opportunities for open dialogue through Q&A sessions, feedback forums, town halls, and direct communication channels with leadership.

This ensures employees and stakeholders feel valued and listened to, and informs messaging and communications to ensure they continually meet employees where they’re at.

6. Ensure leaders are visible and accessible: During periods of change, employees look to leadership for guidance. It’s critical to support and enable leaders to be actively visible and connected with employees throughout the M&A process and any integration or change period thereafter.

Leaders can play a vital role in quashing speculation and uncertainty, keeping up morale, guiding their teams on priorities and purpose to keep up productivity, and helping to maintain a culture of inclusivity, respect, and trust.

However, they need support to do this with empathy and conviction. Arming leaders with guidance, communication toolkits, briefing sessions and opportunities to gain the support they need to role model good leadership throughout the M&A transition and integration period is probably the best investment you can make in the whole communication process.

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