By Randy E. Pruett
Employee communication and commitment are keys to organizational success. At no time is this more apparent than during mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Yet, even with the tremendous impact of such change, companies often neglect these critical aspects of a successful transaction.
“Effective communication can guide employees to let go of the past and embrace the way forward, allowing the organization to realize the value of the deal sooner,” states Mercer Human Resource Consulting. “Getting communication right also helps to mitigate other M&A risks, such as loss of key talent, diminished customer service and satisfaction, a lack of confidence in leadership and increased resistance to change.”
Leading by example is a trait of a true leader. Stakeholders look at the people in charge when they want to check the temperature of an organization. The job of CEO, especially in a changing environment, is never easy. When it is done right, it’s “leadership;” when it is done wrong, it’s “calamity.”
Commitment strengthens when others see and feel the passion of management. Leaders achieve a vision by motivating and inspiring, helping others understand what lies ahead and appealing to fundamental yet often untapped human needs, values and feelings.
A rowing team doesn’t go far when everyone rows at a different pace, in different directions. A parade isn’t a parade unless everyone marches in time, in the same direction. A group of individuals with poor leadership will quickly degenerate into discord, because everyone sees things differently and will naturally lean toward different solutions.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say, “I have a strategic plan.” He created a crusade by shouting, “I have a dream.”
Embrace the magnetism of momentum. Give the team a “platform” and watch the organization come alive. People want to be part of a company that’s clear about its vision and where there’s no confusion about what’s right and what’s wrong.
In truth, the only person who likes change is a wet baby. Dramatic change can seriously damage employee loyalty. Expect resistance. Imagine how difficult it is to stay committed if employees feel less worthy because leaders don’t value their input or address concerns.
Employers ask more of everyone during transitions, but often fail to tie that request to the heartstrings of employees. The leader must justify the struggle and aim the team toward something special. Everybody wants to be on a winning team. Never underestimate the power of purpose.
Communication responsibilities and cultural integration often fall on the shoulders of human resource departments, even though it’s rare for these professionals to be skilled in M&A communication. Certainly, there are sensitivities and issues to address that human resources is aware of during periods of change.
Public relations support is often only brought in for media relations and crisis communication.
However, to ensure a smooth transition, the point of entry for public relations should be working with the merging companies’ human resource functions before the change is announced.
Public relations acts as a bridge – communicating internally first – then externally with customers, vendors, community, media and social media channels. It is clear that HR and PR must work side by side before, during and after M&A.
Change allows companies worldwide to develop, expand and grow. A successful M&A begins with a transformation strategy, followed by distinct messaging and thoughtful execution. Incorporating these elements into the M&A process will help enable a seamless integration.
Consider how many people show up for work every day, but don’t “belong” to the organization. Some quit; others stay, but their hearts don’t come to work.
Engaged employees, on the other hand, are those who are committed to the company’s vision and eager to contribute during M&A. They are productive and live by the employer’s values. “Whereas engaged employees challenge those around them to do more and better, disengaged employees demoralize the productive employees with their lack of passion and intensity,” according to Clint Swindall’s “Engaged Leadership: Building a Culture to Overcome Employee Disengagement.”
Note the story of three people who were at work on a construction site. All were doing the exact same job, but when each was asked about his or her job, the answers varied. The first replied, “Breaking rocks.” The second said, “Earning a living.” The third answered, “Helping to build a cathedral.”
The secret to gaining commitment isn’t as easy as donuts on Mondays. Include everyone in the communication loop. In keeping with Dale Carnegie Training, it’s suggested that generally the answers to the following statements can help measure employee commitment. How would the team rate these statements on a scale of 1 to 5?
The next question is, “how would leadership and management answer them?”
Ultimately, M&A is about more than legal contracts and a well-written media release. Many business leaders today acknowledge that M&A efforts have suffered from inadequate attention to the people side of the deal, and they are making a determined effort to better address these issues. Effective communication is a powerful tool for gaining the commitment to support and accelerate change. The investment of time, energy and resources in communication not only wins the hearts and minds of employees but strengthens brand loyalty, retains and grows the customer base and builds stronger teams to lead the organization forward – all with a direct and immediate impact on the bottom line.
Randy E. Pruett is an Account Supervisor in the Dallas office of Pierpont Communications, one of the largest independent communications agencies in the Southwest with offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. His work focuses on communication strategy and planning, employee communications, media relations, thought leadership and event planning and execution. He’s an Accredited Business Communicator and a Certified Association Executive. www.piercom.com
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