Best Practice

Employee communications in an M&A: key features to keep in mind – Part 2

Disengaged employees are one of the main causes of M&A failures.

The success of the integration and achievement of the objectives behind the corporate deal also depends on the commitment of the workforce and its involvement in the “migration” to the new partnership.

Leaders and managers should be aware of what employee engagement is, its benefits and how it should be built. 

The engagement model used in this blog was developed by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke in Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement, a report to Government, 2011 

Four enablers of employee engagement

  1. Leadership and the strategic narrative

Leaders who are visible throughout the entire integration timeline play a special role as effective communicators who can build trust and confidence, bringing employees along during the merger process, and inspiring and persuading them through a compelling narrative. 

Engaging leaders create meaning and understanding of the alliance, set a clear vision and business direction, and articulate the steps to change.

Leadership communication is usually high-level and general along the axes of:

  • Content: overarching messaging
  • Target audiences: all employees
  • Geography: global 
  1. Engaging managers

Engaging managers make the M&A vision and execution concrete and relevant to their staff. They should provide clarity about people’s roles and how employees fit into the new organization; but they should also give clarity on what is expected of them going forward, regarding tasks and, more importantly, attitudes and behaviors.

Caring for their reports and their well-being, they listen and talk to them, trying to understand their feelings and to offering answers where they can.   

Manager communication is at a micro-level and specific on the axes of:

  • Content: individual, team or function-related messages
  • Target audiences: specific groups of individuals
  • Geography: local mainly
  1. Employee voice

In an M&A, like in any transformation program, employees want to feel part of the solution and have their say. They expect their emotions to be recognized, views sought and opinions taken into account. Employee voice is also a powerful tool to measure communication effectiveness. It can, therefore, be looked at from three angles:

  • Listening to employees concerns, issues, questions about the new venture and fears about their future
  • Collecting ideas, suggestions, advice on what’s best for the new partnership
  • Using employees’ feedback to track levels of awareness and shared understanding of what is going on and why. Face-to-face communications in less formal situations that foster spontaneous interactions are best suited for checking message misunderstanding and where the chain of meaning might have been broken.
  1. Integrity

Aligning attitudes and behaviors with common values is a requirement for leaders and managers in order to unite employees behind the “new” culture. However, a gap between what is “preached” and what is actually done in practice by those in charge will have a disruptive effect on employees, leading to disengagement and lack of trust. 

Integration workstream communications

Internal communication to, within and among workstreams boosts efficiency and effectiveness, reducing the complexity of such transformation programs.

Employees in workstreams must be given all the relevant information to work on the integration projects, but they are also required to communicate productively with their colleagues involved in the same or other workstreams. If the workstreams are global or cross-functional, the expected effectiveness of communications is even higher.

Workstream communications are also top-down. Keeping employees informed of what workstreams are doing helps them feel united and aligned towards the same goals.  

Training

To become effective communicators, senior leaders and managers need a set of skills that cannot be improvised. During an M&A, expectations of employees are high and the integration process is full of ups and downs.

Hence, leaders and managers should learn, or perhaps strengthen or refine, their ability to energize and engage people. This can be achieved through storytelling, by conveying difficult messages personally and by empathizing with individuals to understand what they are going through. Training is fundamental for leaders and managers to find their voice and develop their own communication style.

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