Your company is about to close on a merger or acquisition. The project team has been feverishly hammering out the details for months. You’ve been working with the team to plan effective change communication, but you’re worried—there are so many variables to consider!
It’s going to be a challenge to make the big announcement. You’ve got to:
- Share the message with all employees at the same time
- Create excitement about the accomplishment
- Start building knowledge of the new business strategy
- Generate confidence in the new company
- Break through the rumor mill and employees’ anxiety about job security
That’s a lot! So where do you begin?
Start by taking a deep breath. Now, put on your thinking cap and break out your project management skills, because you’ve got a lot of coordination and creative thinking to do. And we’re here to help you through it.
To develop effective merger or acquisition communication, divide your work into two main phases.
First: Develop a communication timeline
Your first goal is to create a communication plan and tactical timeline. But the closing date is a moving target, so traditional planning methods aren’t going to cut it.
Take the following steps to map out a plan that you can quickly adapt as milestones change:
- Meet with senior executives—those closest to the deal—to understand potential timing scenarios and likely obstacles that could delay the closing date.
- Develop a communication timeline based on the most likely closing scenario.
- Develop back-up options for two or three other scenarios.
- Consider how days of the week, holidays and certain times of year could impact your communication. For example, what if the closing happens the day before Thanksgiving, and you have employees in the US, Europe and Asia?
- Schedule regular check-in meetings with senior executives and/or project team members so you’re able to continually update your timeline as things change. Remember to get buy-in for your plan iterations along the way.
Second: Implement a variety of high-touch tactics
The communication plan for your merger or acquisition should include a diverse set of strategies and tactics so you’re able to engage all employees in multiple ways, no matter their location or job.
Here are six ideas for creating a closing day experience that will get employees excited for the company’s big step forward.
1. Spice up the initial announcement
For most organizations, it’s critical to send an all-employee message announcing the close—typically an email. But so many emails fall flat because they:
- Simply restate the press release (“I already read that.”)
- Fail to hit an exciting tone (“Yawn!”)
- Don’t tell employees what the merger or acquisition means to them (“So what?”)
Instead, send your workforce an email with a short, two- to three-sentence introduction with a visual or interactive message. Try one of these ideas:
- Film a video of your CEO announcing the close, but add a twist, like a 20-second clip of employees from both companies introducing themselves.
- Set up a live chat on your intranet so employees can submit questions and senior leaders can respond in real time.
- Create a photo reel of senior executives and project team members working on the deal (use captions to describe the action).
2. Hold a company-wide town hall
During times of big change, it’s important for employees to hear directly from the CEO. Leadership communication engages employees by creating focus, building trust and dispelling rumors.
Here are a few ways to make your town hall a success:
- Change the format. Instead of a boring run-through of seven senior leaders talking at employees, try a panel discussion or talk show technique to make the meeting more dynamic.
- Make sure there’s plenty of time for participation. Signal that conversation will be a key component by devoting 20 or 30 minutes to a question-and-answer session.
- Get employees talking by asking them a question, like “What concerns do you have about the merger?” or “How can we ramp up production during our complex transition?”
- Give everyone an equal experience. Some employees will attend in person while others will join via web or phone. Assign facilitators in each office to share attendees’ questions with the main location. And offer web chat for remote employees.
3. Involve leaders in the plan
Leader visibility is essential to building trust and knowledge during change. Leaders articulate direction, set context and provide motivation. Help leaders step up to the plate by providing them with resources, advice and plans to communicate effectively about the merger or acquisition:
- Hold a prep meeting to get leaders on the same page. Provide details of the closing and inspire leaders to act as the voice of the change.
- Develop toolkits to help leaders speak knowledgeably about the closing. Include key messages, FAQs and tips for communicating.
- Send leaders on a roadshow. Deploy your executives to major locations around the globe. This will give your workforce the opportunity to ask questions in person and feel included.
4. Develop eye-catching workplace communication
If you want to break through the clutter and create an impact, try something visual that will capture employees’ attention in unexpected places. Create posters, digital signs, banners, table tents, window clings, floor decals or even coffee cup sleeves. Here are some tips for success:
- Stick to one message. The less text on your sign, the easier it will be to read.
- Use a compelling image. One arresting visual is all you need to get noticed.
- Have fun. Add a little humor or an unexpected photo to pique interest.
5. Host on-site parties
The majority of your employees haven’t been involved in negotiations and are feeling out of the loop. So get them involved by planning parties at major locations for all to enjoy. It’s the perfect way to celebrate this key milestone, and employees won’t forget it. Here’s how:
- Recruit liaisons to plan logistics and host the parties.
- Give liaisons clear recommendations, like “spend $500 on refreshments such as cake or make-your-own ice cream sundaes,” and “order blue and green mylar balloons.”
- Ask senior leaders to give a short speech.
- Create printable signage that employees can hold while taking photos.
- Plan contests and give winners gifts with the new company logo.
6. Create opportunities for employees to get engaged
Increase participation levels and make sure your remote employees can join the excitement with interactive communication. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Create an online photo album where employees can post pictures of themselves celebrating closing day.
- Host chat forums so employees can discuss the change in real time. Create threads for different topics, like organizational design and benefits changes.
- Run a contest where employees have to answer questions about each legacy company’s history. This will promote cross-company awareness while encouraging play and building engagement.
Now that you’ve got a flexible communication timeline and a set of immersive tactics, you’re ready to conquer closing day. As a result, employees will be well informed and equipped to support the new company’s goals.