8 Top Tips for Successful Acquisition and Integration Comms
Acquisitions and integration programmes are a common occurrence in today’s business world and as the ultimate change programme presents a number of challenges for internal communications professionals. It’s often a moment of truth for an internal comms team in terms of the value they bring to the business.
Here at The Internal Comms Team we have provided communications support for successful integrations during our ten years, for clients including RSA, Lloyds and most recently the Deb Group. Here are our top tips for starting out on the right track…
Be part of the agenda setting
Right from the start make sure internal communications is a priority near the top of the Integration Team’s checklist. There is extensive research and recognition these days that getting the people part of an integration is fundamental to its success and that cultural incompatibility is one of the major reasons that integrations fail. So people know that employee comms should play a very important role. The key is getting the Comms team involved as early as possible in the deal process, so that they can help set the agenda and shape the story and messages, way before the deal is signed.
Plan, plan, plan
Link your comms plan to the deal timetable as soon as you can and stay engaged. Track the key milestones and develop your plans accordingly, the actual ‘Signing’ date may change, but the comms plan can still be pre-developed and agreed and just kicks in once the deal gets moving. Just be prepared to adapt and refine once some of the variables fall into place. Same goes for your stakeholder plan. You may not have exact employee numbers or names but you can start to develop your stakeholder plans both for your company and your ‘target’ through the due diligence process. This makes sure you’re ahead of the game when you come to prioritising audiences and their particular needs.
Working with the leadership
Help the top team to understand their comms role and the time commitment they will need to make. Your CEO needs to work closely with you to develop the story, link it to the company’s vision and strategy and be properly prepared to lead the announcement comms. The cascade starts from there, the next job is to get buy-in from the entire Senior Executive Team.
Think about your approach to help all senior leaders stay on message and have the right tools and training to be able to interact with their teams once the deal is announced. There are likely to be a series of tough conversations or job losses to discuss further down the line. Are your managers well trained and equipped to handle this? Would toolkits be enough or maybe they would need some training to be able to communicate effectively with their teams?
Make it real and inspiring
The most successful integrations are driven by strong leadership and great articulation of the company’s vision and strategy – how the deal ‘fits’ and ultimately accelerates the company’s strategy. Inspirational and passionate leadership is what will drive the change and emotional engagement. There is no better way to build this trust than by having your CEO or senior manager tell people the story face to face and hear them answer questions and concerns. You need to make people feel connected to the journey, wherever they are in the business.
Fast and frequent
Timing is everything. There may well be restrictions over what you can say and when – but you can still be quick and open and honest in your communications. Press speculation? Then acknowledge it and commit to keeping people informed. The last thing you want is a void which your people will inevitably fill with speculation.
The announcement of the deal is just the start, use comms to keep up the momentum and show how the integration is progressing. Link and label where you are on your journey, celebrate what’s gone well and acknowledge where you can do better. It will be a bumpy road and no-one really expects perfection, just honesty and the right information.
How would you feel?
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and fine tune your messages and approach from there. Some teams will undoubtedly be facing more change than others, give them extra support and the forums they need to be heard and voice their concerns.
As you move through the integration prioritise your audience groups within your stakeholder plan to make sure you have the right level of tailored comms and support for their leaders. At the other end of the spectrum don’t bombard people with information that is not relevant and meaningless in their role. Stay connected with the feedback and the line managers, if common themes are coming back in the feedback think about how you can play these back in your comms.
Get people together
Once the deal is completed you’ll be able to get teams from both companies together. Be careful that these sessions don’t get too transactional too quickly. Of course there is an important business agenda and speed is an essential element of making integrations work but give people a chance to meet each other and start to build relationships, it will make the road ahead and collaboration so much easier.
Don’t just broadcast
Listen and respond and put the mechanisms in place to gather this feedback. Then you can fine tune your comms, responses and channels. Help the senior team understand the power of two way communications and building employee voice into your day to day comms. People do not always respond to and cope with change as we predict they will – don’t second guess them, ask them.
These are just a few important things to think about and is by no means an exhaustive list as every situation is unique. What is a given though is helping ensuring that employees stay engaged, positive and productive through the integration process will be key to its success.