The 2008 economic recession, the worst of its kind since the great depression, has slowed mergers and acquisitions. Corporate deal-making has picked up since the economy picked up. For instance, in 2010, mergers and acquisitions were worth $2.7 trillion up from $2.2 trillion from the previous year. Due to the frugal spending of corporations from the beginning of the recession until 2010, experts expect the increase in mergers and acquisitions will continue. Internal communications are critical for a merger or acquisition to succeed. Internal communications experts in these fields or these corporations must help ease the transition. This will be a tough time for employees and the company. It is also a crucial time for any internal communications department involved in a merger or acquisition. Poor internal communications were cited as one of the top 5 reasons that mergers and acquisitions failed in a study conducted by a very influential and trusted source for public relations professionals.

Initiating corporate deal-making internal communications is essential for several reasons. These reasons include employees worried about the loss of status and influence; uncertainty about the employer’s plans; a fight for individual survival as fear of job cuts takes hold; increased workloads because some people leave voluntarily or involuntarily; a spillover effect into individuals’ lives. Worries of loss of rank and impact, uncertainties of whether one will lose their job due to job cuts, and the impact M&A has on workers’ personal lives are all emotional reasons for why communication is important. This is because these issues will lead to underperformance, sabotage, and a lack of integrating properly to a merger or acquisition because of emotional issues that restrain adequate productivity. It will lead to detrimental changes in employees’ lives, such as drug use and divorce, which will affect any company undergoing a merger or acquisition, but also will disrupt people’s lives in significant non-work related aspects. An Internal issue such as individuals fighting for their jobs will lead to a non-friendly environment, sabotage, and other disruptive behaviors that are critically dangerous for any organization undergoing corporate deal-making. Increased workload will cause employees to have stronger negative feelings towards their job and corporation, which can make them resistant to successfully integrate with a corporation’s plans during a merger or acquisition. An excellent communications strategy will significantly reduce these adverse outcomes.

Implementing a communications strategy during this time is difficult and complicated. Communication demands much time from senior management when they may be devoted to financial and technical aspects of the deal and may not have considered the impact on employees. This is illustrated by how Benny Higgins, who in 2006 was an incoming CEO of the retail division of HBOS, dealt with the internal communications team when he was announced to be the new Chief Executive officer. The communications strategy to introduce the division to Mr. Higgins was an excellent one. They launched a website with background information about the new CEO. He conducted an extensive interview, and they gave employees the chance to talk to him via a special TV program, an online Q&A system, and a series of roadshows. This takes a lot of dedication and time towards an internal communications strategy, but even Benny had no contact with his communications team until his first day as CEO. Benny, not having any contact with the communications team until he officially started, shows how much senior management would not pay attention to communications during a merger or acquisition. This is because the importance of communication from senior management for a merger or acquisition or if there is an incoming CEO is the same. Benny was extraordinarily in sync with his communications team for senior management, and even he gave little thought to it. This means the run-of-the-mill senior management during a merger or acquisition would not care much about communications.

After a merger or acquisition takes effect, strategic communication is central to integrating the two organizations into a more effective single entity. It is vital for a good internal communications strategy to be implemented after a merger or acquisition if the merger or acquisition is to succeed. The reasons for this are to ensure a common understanding of the business case for the merger and the vision for the future; help people understand and internalize change; keep the organization focused on customers and productivity; reinforce desired behaviors; promote cultural alignment; help with retention and motivation of key talent; control the rumor mill. A communications team must promote a unified standing on why a merger or acquisition was a good move and what the company’s focus is moving forward. In doing so, this helps with another communication goal, and that is to support employees to understand and adapt to the change. This is important because without these issues handled well by a communications team, a corporation’s employees will have a challenging time fitting into the new organization’s culture. A chain reaction will take place where a focus on productivity and customers will decrease, which will lead to a net loss in revenue. The key talent will also leave or become unmotivated because of a feeling of frustration with the merger or acquisition. Finally, these outcomes will ignite the rumor mill to new heights, which will cause dysfunction.

Forcing a company’s employees that work for a corporation that will merge acquired or got acquired by another corporation to adapt entirely to the new organization’s methods in a stringent fashion or trying to make them entirely integrated to the corporation through a very happy-go-lucky theme, such as roadshows with a show and a meal does not work. There are several internal communication strategies to make sure the process of either the communications part of a merger or acquisition is handled correctly. One of the first things before a merger or acquisition is announced an internal communications team must look at is a company’s culture. They must identify the differences between the two corporations and continue from that. For instance, send out a survey measuring a corporation acquired by another to determine their corporate culture. Then do a top-down communications plan that would achieve the desired culture. The internal communications strategy must include a top-down approach that motivates and supports both managers and their subordinates. Before an internal communications team implements a strategy for a company merger or acquisition, they must realize the importance so they could work on it early. Early work by the internal communications team is essential for a successful merger and acquisition. Employees realize that “something is in the air” when a merger or acquisition is about to happen. Internal communications should inform employees if one of these things is about to happen even before it is formally announced.

An excellent tactic for successful communications that should be implemented before a merger or acquisition is a Corporate Cross-Match. This type of survey relies on a framework of paired attributes representing opposite ends of a spectrum. The employees decide where their corporation and the other corporation falls in regarding each attribute listed. Each question relates to the upcoming merger or acquisition. Once that survey is conducted, the communications team should review the resulting data. They then should select the target group and direct another questionnaire that focuses on select procedures and policies based on the previous survey. After the surveys are conducted, the communications team can set up a plan to communicate to employees the need for processes and policies that seemed restrictive to them.

Distributing surveys to employees are used in nearly all communications’ strategies because of their usefulness. For instance, the wholesale banking team at ING conducted a communications program in 2008 in response to the financial crisis where they sent out a survey. Unlike this one, the survey was done after the communications’ strategy but had the same purpose. That is because a survey was sent out to see where employees stood on specific subjects. The results came out great. If the results had not come back so positively, they would have set up a new communications strategy to get desired effects. The corporate cross-match, although more detailed, has the same purpose, which is to help set up a communications strategy to get desired effects.

The next part of the communications strategy should be for the communications team to work with the CEO. The communications team should entice the chief executive officer to work with them by asking questions that show the value of communications, such as “How do you deliver on the value you promised shareholders and investors while simultaneously “keeping the wheels on the business”? and in the wake of a merger, how do you successfully integrate operations while maintaining your focus on customers?” Once the CEO is on board, he or she must then communicate a shared vision for value creation. He or she can do this by having a dialogue with managers through an interview that gets shown to them through a television broadcast and can be seen on a website and with a question and answer session that addresses the vision for value creation. These forms of communication with managers are two out of the four relative tactics used by the communications team of HBOS’ retail department for Benny Higgins as the incoming CEO of that HBOS division, and it was very successful. Advocacy of HBOS as an employer went up 13 points, service advocacy went up 8 points, and product advocacy went up 10 points. The CEO can also reach employees and managers; he or she can do this by blogging. With all the internal communications tools and practices out there, the number one place for employees to get news is still the water cooler, and the virtual water cooler is blogging. He or she can blog any essential messages related to a shared vision for value creation. He or she must be careful not to post anything he or she wouldn’t want competitors, customers, or the public to know.

There are several things an internal communications department should do after a merger or acquisition; they will follow. The communications team must recognize the importance of communication during a merger or acquisition. They must do this to implement an effective plan. Employees must fully understand the corporate vision and to act to bring it about. This is a communication task. Senior managers must know their constituencies closely and to remember the communications goals while segmenting them. Managers must also know of the logistical and cultural factors needed to communicate with staff in several locations. When Hallmark shared its marketplace activities and finances with their employees, they counted on managers to communicate it to their subordinates. The internal communications team discovered that the managers couldn’t communicate it properly. This was a big problem for the company, and the communications team went to work right away on providing the managers the skills to inform their subordinates of the company’s marketplace activity and finances. This is almost the same task as managers who must also know of the logistical and cultural factors needed to communicate with staff in several locations. It is also almost an identical task because the managers had to learn the logistics and cultural factors to communicate with employees in the case of Hallmark. This is because Hallmark was undergoing a major change by making their market activity and finances available to their employees. Therefore, the culture of the company changed, and the logistics, therefore, changed as well, and they had to be made aware of that during their communication training.

The internal communications team must be prepared to adjust according to feedback. The communications team must have a dialogue with senior managers and maybe managers and employees. Dialogue is the richest form of feedback. Finally, they should continuously check the senior managers’ commitment to the communications plan and to communicate it consistently, firmly, and honestly.

Originally published here.

Read more: Communication is Key: How to Ensure Your Companies Merge Effectively