I believe communication is an imperative. It is at the heart of what gives us harmony as people. Good news can be shared and celebrated. Grievances can be aired and understood. Opinions can be debated and respected. Without communication our world would be incapable of coexisting.
I come to this belief through an honest heritage. My mother was a psychotherapist. My father was a psychologist. The phrase “how does that make you feel?” proved to be a common conversation starter throughout my childhood. While I endured the question as an eye-rolling adolescent, it has proven to be a cherished perspective that I frequently reflect on in all aspects of my career. That simple question has volumes of understanding and its capacity to unfurl is fascinatingly overlooked in the hyper, fast-paced world of business.
Don’t get me wrong; the last thing I’m suggesting is that every leader put a “The Doctor is In” sign on their door. But let’s face it – if we don’t understand what is important to the employees of our organization or how our customers behave based on their values, we’re really just playing “pin the tail on the donkey.” Over 2000 years later, Aristotle’s words still ring true. “If communication is to change behavior, it must be grounded in the desires and interest of the receivers.”
Never is this made clearer than when two organizations merge in an effort to be more together than they were as individuals. Inevitably when two organizations come together, change is at hand. And with this change you’ll find employees first and foremost feeling concerned with personal survival. They won’t be able to wrap their minds around what’s best for the company until they have been assured of how the change is in fact best for them.
While leadership has likely had months of due diligence to acclimate themselves to the idea of why the merger makes sense, be prepared for your employees to need much more than merely a “town hall” meeting announcing how excited the leadership team is to be merging and what it means for the marketplace. Truth is, your employees are going to want to know what it means for them. And if you’re the CEO, no matter what your open-door policy is, they won’t come to you with their questions. That means you’ve got to arm your managers with all the information they’ll need to answer almost any conceivable question while concurrently supporting them with a constant and consistent flow of communications.
The key function of communications in the merger process is retaining a high level of trust throughout the organization, and information is being shared in a timely and open manner. This keeps the rumor mill from running rampant and more effectively manages the inevitable stress that accompanies change.
This timely, open communication is the first step limiting the negative impacts of change. The earlier you engage a communications strategy across the organization’s leadership, managers and work force the more successful you’ll be at engaging the true power of the merger – the support of your people. To steal a riff from Price Prittchett, “The first word in merger is ‘me.’”