March 30, 2023
Is Your Firm In M&A Talks? Don’t Go Silent With Internal Stakeholders
No matter how hard your firm tries to keep M&A talks under the radar, it’s inevitable that employees and other stakeholders will notice and start speculating about a potential changeover. And when rumors and leaks attract unwanted media attention, it’s only natural to focus on controlling the public narrative.
But it’s a mistake to de-emphasize internal communications in the process. While employees are your strongest brand stewards, they are the likeliest source of leaks. By proactively discussing a potential merger or acquisition with them at the right time, senior leadership may be able to stop (or at least significantly reduce) the spread of unhelpful rumors or misinformation around your upcoming deal.
Even better, with a thoughtful internal comms strategy, you can empower employees to become advocates and champions of your message which, in turn, prepares your organization for a smoother post-M&A integration process. Or if a deal happens to fall through, it’s important to communicate internally why it was abandoned.
Either way, there’s no upshot to avoiding an internal dialogue with your senior leadership, who have a line of communication to employees. It’s important to provide them with the tools to communicate to their teams about prospective deals—whether or not they close.
The Dangers of Neglecting Internal Comms During Deal Making
Employees expect transparency and vulnerability from employers now more than ever. And because they can easily amplify their own voices on platforms like Fishbowl and Reddit, you have a vested interest in helping them internalize positive, believable and strategic messages about the inevitable organizational change your M&A deal will usher in if a deal is completed.
In particular, employees need to understand:
- The business strategy that’s driving the merger or acquisition. Communicating the “why” of organizational evolution is a vital part of gaining buy-in and support.
- Where your firm is headed. Paint a picture of the new work you’ll be able to take on thanks to the deal. Give employees a reason to be enthusiastic about the next stage.
- How the deal will affect their jobs. Even if you can’t give specific information outlining forthcoming changes to positions, roles, and responsibilities, address the elephant in the room and let employees know when they can expect to hear more, and from whom.
Failing to communicate can result in:
- Leaks. Whether accidentally or intentionally, employees who feel anxious and reticent are more likely to let sensitive information slip.
- Misinformation. If you don’t provide employees with a narrative regarding your M&A transaction, they may receive and spread false details, or fill in knowledge gaps themselves.
- A culture of mistrust. Although every organization will always have its skeptics and cynics, you don’t want your internal culture to be defined by suspicion. A lack of trust can erode morale and impede your organization’s forward momentum.
- Employee attrition. M&A deals can threaten employees’ sense of job security–which means they might start looking for another position, rather than risk sticking it out only to lose their job later on.
To ensure a successful post-merger or post-acquisition integration, you need key talent to stay on board. Here’s how to communicate effectively and win their trust.
Seven Stages of Communicating About M&A Internally
As important as it is to regularly communicate with internal stakeholders, the fact remains that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. Legally, there will be details you can’t disclose until the contract is signed.
There are basic stages of communicating an M&A deal externally. In what follows, we’ll explain how to align your internal communications plan with those steps, assuming a deal has closed, or will soon. Some stages can even be applied to deals that have fallen through.
1. Rumors and Speculation
You may not be able to provide much detail about preliminary M&A negotiations as rumors swirl–but even a simple acknowledgment of the situation can quell employee anxiety. This is also the time to solidify your comms plan, so you can roll it out once you’re able to share more details.
Meet with your senior executives and managers to explain the situation at a high level and arm them with talking points. Instead of a knee-jerk response to rumors, employees will appreciate information from a trusted source (e.g., a direct manager) and are more likely to wait for more information than fan the flames of speculation.
Identify your internal audience segments and think through the questions they’re most likely to ask. Then empower regional leaders, practice leaders and front-line supervisors to cascade your message to the employees within their purview. This can be done a number of ways, depending on existing internal communications protocols and cadence. Tools range from a simple statement to an FAQ to an agenda item for a regular staff meeting with talking points.
2. Confirmed M&A Talks
As soon as you’re able to publicly confirm you’re in talks regarding a merger or acquisition, let employees know, too. Provide the initial rationale for exploring this move and share how it could advance your firm’s overall growth strategy.
Be careful about the optics as you proceed. If one firm is doing the acquiring and another is being acquired, don’t categorize the move as a merger of equals. Rather, make sure both firms are communicating a unified message that articulates how the deal is a force multiplier for all involved.
Consider how you’ll address concerns about redundancies as well. If you can truthfully tell employees that you don’t expect any reductions in your workforce, say that. If layoffs will be part of the deal, give employees as much assurance as you can without providing false hope.
3. Speculation on Business Case
Once you’ve confirmed your firm is in talks regarding an M&A transaction, people may begin to dig deeper into your business case. Anticipate that your employees may have questions (or even doubts) about your stated reasons behind exploring the deal.
To manage this stage effectively:
- Leverage the pre-established communications cascade to counter incorrect narratives.
- Clarify the rationale and restate the business case to reinforce prior messaging.
- Communicate clearly and transparently about the organizational changes you foresee occurring as a result of the deal.
If you begin to encounter concerns and objections you didn’t see coming, use this moment as a gut check. It’s never too late to make sure your stated business case aligns with your firm’s overarching mission and values.
4. Progress Updates
As talks continue, internal stakeholders will gradually become accustomed to the impending change. They may ask fewer questions and speculate less about what’s coming. Even so, it’s important for you to stay ahead of the narrative and continue communicating regularly.
The more you can share about the deal’s progression, the more you can turn employees into advocates who advance your message and correct misinformation within their sphere of influence.
5. Quiet Period Around Closing the Deal
The most precarious point of any merger or acquisition is when it’s time to seal the deal. During this stage, you really do need to go dark and stop communicating externally and internally while the parties involved iron out the final details.
But if you’ve adhered to a proactive internal comms strategy, you’ve laid the groundwork and have made your business case with stakeholders. That means you can afford to hold the line and maintain silence for a short period of time until you can make an official announcement.
6. Official M&A Deal Announcement
When it’s time to announce your merger or acquisition, do your internal audience the
courtesy of sharing the news with them first.
For your employees and stakeholders to truly embrace and champion this change, they need to know:
- Specific details regarding how the deal will be structured, especially if there will be changes to how employees should talk about and deliver your firm’s brand promise.
- The best way to respond to client inquiries and concerns.
- Any immediate changes to the way roles and responsibilities are structured — as well as an overview of changes that will be rolled out over time.
Although the news of the deal should come from the top first, use the communications plan you’ve already established to further socialize the message and anticipated merger integration activities and roles across the organization.
7. Post-Announcement Integration
In this final and ongoing stage, it’s time to turn your organization’s collective eye to the future. What will your firm achieve in the coming week and months? How do you plan to bring your separate entities together? What efficiencies and synergies do you expect to achieve as a result? And who can employees turn to when they have questions and concerns along the way?
It’s wise to ramp up face-to-face communication strategies during this transitional period. Use group meetings, forums, and town halls to underscore the shared values that will guide your continued integration efforts.
Keep Internal Stakeholders Engaged During Your Merger or Acquisition
Partners and employees are the lifeblood of your firm. And in order to advance your M&A-driven growth strategy, you need these key advocates to be properly informed and on your side. A deal is an opportunity to reiterate firm strategy and get your people excited about the future.
That’s why you can’t afford to go silent when a merger or acquisition is on the horizon. It’s imperative to get ahead of the rumor mill, address speculation head-on, and give employees the “why” behind the business strategy you’re advancing.