M&A: Managing Stakeholder Communication and Engagement
In a recent post, we discussed the importance of data in a successful merger or acquisition. Data management is vital, to be sure, but perhaps even more important is communication with the various stakeholders in the transaction. Failure to get everyone on the same page, rowing in the same direction, or whichever metaphor you care to use, will doom the results as surely as poor data management will. Here are some key considerations for communication and engagement:
Who are the stakeholders? You can’t communicate until you know who you’re communicating with, so step one is to identify the key stakeholders in the transaction. These will include employees, customers, suppliers, and in some cases investors and regulatory agencies. Each of these will have different needs and concerns to be addressed.
Tell the story. Crafting a compelling narrative about the transaction, one that’s tailored to each group of stakeholders, will go a long way. What’s the rationale behind the merger or acquisition? What are the expected benefits, not just to the new entity, but to employees, suppliers or whomever you’re addressing? What changes can they expect, and when?
Start early. These communications should begin as early as in the process as possible, with regular updates, and should be as transparent as possible. Understandably, there will be fear of change from employees, suppliers and others. Open communication will help to alleviate those fears and build trust, and to head off the speculation and rumors that are an inevitable part of any transaction.
Plan for training. Any merger or acquisition will involve more than one learning curve for the various stakeholders as policies and procedures change to reflect the new entity. More often than not, new software and other technological changes will be a part of the picture as well. Head off the potential frustrations of users by having a detailed plan in place to address the necessary training so everyone is equipped to succeed in the post-merger environment.
Involve managers at every level. Special attention should be given to communication with managers at each level. They are the eyes and ears, and often the voice, of upper management, so the story they’re telling should be consistent with what’s coming from the top. They should also be encouraged to close the loop with feedback from the front lines. What are employees saying and feeling? Is the provided training adequate, or are users frustrated by new systems or software? Getting managers involved will help in keeping a finger on the pulse of the organization and in knowing about problems sooner rather than later.
Don’t forget culture. It’s easy to get stuck in the details of technology or company procedures. Remember that any two organizations will have different cultures that now need to be merged into one. An open discussion about those differences, and the encouragement of feedback and collaboration, will increase the odds of a successful result.
Address conflicts. No merger or acquisition is without challenges. There will be unforeseen problems ranging from software conflicts to personality conflicts and beyond. Addressing these challenges promptly – really listening to stakeholder concerns, engaging in constructive problem-solving and taking the necessary steps to a solution – will help to foster a winning culture.
Celebrate successes. To encourage greater morale and a sense of unity, make it a point to celebrate milestones reached and other successes, whether they’re individual or group accomplishments. A leadership team that amplifies the positive and promptly addresses the negative is a hallmark of a successful culture integration.
Repeat. The work of integrating two organizations doesn’t stop when the paperwork is signed. Leadership must continue to monitor and evaluate stakeholder satisfaction, whether via surveys, formal and informal discussions, or some combination of those. Communication in the other direction should continue as well, with regular updates to stakeholder groups on post-merger integration progress.