Whether it’s a result of reading about the Southwest/Air Tran deal, hearing the rumors of an AOL/Yahoo merger, or talking to my brother-in-law about how to survive while his employer is acquired by a huge global technology provider, I definitely have mergers on the brain these days.
I find myself thinking back to my own merger experiences and reflecting on the advice that would give to a friend or colleague facing a merger. Sure, I can offer some great best practices from mergers I’ve supported, and recommend some recent articles on the importance of communications during a merger and what to tell employees throughout the merger.
But I would be doing my friend a disservice if I were to limit my advice to communication strategy and processes, because a communicator has other roles to play – manager, leader/role model, spouse/significant other, family member. And those roles don’t simply disappear the minute you are tapped to serve on the merger communications team.
So here’s some advice to communicators to help prepare them for those other roles:
Be present. Sure, you are going to be pulled into confidential meetings, and will spend a significant amount of time behind closed doors or traveling to special work sessions. But the staff sitting outside your closed office door is anxious and will interpret your absence in the worst possible light. It is absolutely vital that you are out and about, interacting with your staff, and monitoring the grapevine to squelch crazy rumors.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Your staff will want to know what’s going on, and what it means for them. Will there be layoffs? Will the office close? Will people be forced to relocate? In most cases, you won’t know the details of the personnel decisions for months. So get used to admitting that you don’t know the answers, but avoid getting frustrated by having to answer the same questions over and over again.
Remember that this is your job, not your life. While it is easy to get seduced by the prestige of being selected to serve on the merger team, remember that, at the end of the day, you still have a personal life and obligations to yourself, your family and your friends. This is the time to hire someone to clean the house, get the car inspected, pick up the dry cleaning, etc. That way you can spend your precious free time watching your kid’s soccer game, or having dinner with your spouse/significant other. Remember that, the day after the merger closes, you may not be working for the new company…but your family will still be your family.
For most communications managers in Corporate America, a merger is a rite of passage, and offers countless opportunities to test their professional skills. It’s also a test of their ability to adapt to change – both in the workplace and on the home front.