Seen through an employee's eyes, the company acquisition process can be an upsetting experience. Their first response naturally revolves around whether or not they're likely to keep their job, but it can also include concern about what new responsibilities might be added to their position: whether they'll be reporting to a new boss, how their benefits will change, etc. While it may not be possible to address every issue in the early stages of the merger or acquisition process, experts agree that new owners should do all they can to lessen employee concerns. During many acquisitions, "senior leadership is so focused on the technical aspects of the deal that they forget the communications side," notes employee communications expert Amee Kent. In such cases, "the information from leadership comes too late to mitigate resentment, confusion and an overall seamless transition."
If your focus is on managing employees during what might be a turbulent period, communications is far and away the most important factor in helping people adjust to any changes in the business or cultural landscape. Here are tips to keep in mind:
Put Together a Plan
It's hard to "over-communicate" during a time of uncertainty and change. Put together an employee communications plan that encompasses (a) the messages you wish to convey, and (b) all of the possible channels through which to spread those messages. Channels can include employee newsletters, a special page on the company website, or frequent public gatherings led by a senior executive. Strive for as much transparency as possible. The more details you can provide about the different stages of the merger or acquisition, the more employees will respect the fact that certain information must remain confidential until a later time.
Address Specific Employee Concerns
Within appropriate parameters, make sure your communications efforts center around retention plans (including stay bonuses or packages), information concerning new employees your current workforce will soon be working alongside if applicable, and changes if any, in the benefits structure. In short, all the areas in which your employees are likely to be affected.
Acknowledge When You Don't Have All the Answers
Inevitably, questions will arise for which you just don't have the answers. Rather than speculating on what might happen (which will only end up causing a new round of rumors and hearsay), simply say, "I don't know." Employees will likely welcome your honesty, but may also greatly appreciate it if you promise to find out what you can and get back to them with a more informed response; and letting them know when you expect to be able to deliver that information.
Recruit Culture Ambassadors
If it's your company acquiring another business, consider recruiting your most enthusiastic staff to serve as "culture ambassadors" to the incoming workforce. "Bring these people in to act as liaisons to their organizations to speed up buy-in from other employees," advises leadership expert Paul Spiegelman.
Start Designing a Vigorous Orientation Program
Chances are, once the acquisition is in place, employees will be assigned new job titles and responsibilities, with corresponding potential changes in compensation and benefits. Design an orientation program that can incorporate new workers and speed their onboarding process. Endeavor to include as much background information as possible on the company they'll soon be working for--its vision, growth strategy, standing in the marketplace, and so on--so they get a keener grasp of their new employers. This can go a long way towards reducing uncertainty and fear within the ranks.
With all the complexities and moving parts that go into engineering a successful acquisition, never overlook the role your employees--and employees of the newly acquired company--play. Failure to place a high priority on communicating to them every step along the way can result in severe damage to morale and productivity, and hasten an exodus of trusted, veteran employees at a time when you need them most.