Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) were at a record high last year. Health care and technology companies saw the most M&A activity—impacting thousands of employees across the country. We’ve helped many of our clients successfully navigate mergers, acquisitions, company separations, and splits during the past 10 years, and have noticed a pattern among them.
While there is no shortage of information about how to successfully execute a merger or acquisition from a financial perspective, there’s been less attention paid to the human side of the equation—a key reason why so many of these business realignments fail. Often, it all comes down to one thing—poor communication. Even though the stakes are high, many employers pass up the opportunity to reaffirm the value of their benefits, a key factor when it comes to employee satisfaction and retention.
Creating a regular cadence of benefits communications demonstrates respect and caring for employees. And by putting yourselves in your employees’ shoes and addressing sensitive issues up front, you have the opportunity to build loyalty, trust, and credibility during challenging times.
When we develop M&A communication strategies for our clients, we focus first on the three most common personal concerns of their employees. Then, we use employer data and enlist internal help to further inform the change management communication.
Tackle the “me-focused” issues head-on
It’s human nature to resist change. Regardless of the size and scope of the companies involved, that resistance can lead to low morale and decreased productivity, and have a negative impact on customers. Addressing the three questions that are top of mind for your employees is key to ensuring they remain engaged at work.
1. What will happen to me?
This is the No. 1 question on employees’ minds. Until they have an answer, it will be hard for them to focus on anything else. Communicate early and often to let employees know they are valued, and create two-way channels to encourage the dialogue.
Managers, too, have unique needs to help drive the business forward, both as individuals and as trusted sources for communication. When your managers are engaged, they’re more likely to be invested in the success of your organization, and advocate on behalf of the changes under way. One way to engage your managers is to enlist them as in-house “benefits champions.”
This employee group is often underutilized when communicating companywide changes—employee benefits included. Treat your managers as extensions of your benefits teams and keep them apprised of any benefits changes on the horizon. You may also want to consider providing them with key messaging and positioning statements, or tip sheets that will help them address employee questions or fears head-on.
2. What will happen to my benefits?
Instead of just focusing on what’s changing, use this opportunity to reinforce the value of your company’s benefits. Reaffirm that your company cares about employees by promoting EAP programs and counseling that help them identify and manage stress, along with wellness benefits like preventive care, exercise, and better nutrition to increase resiliency. You can also give employees a sense of control by reaffirming the financial protections offered by their health care and retirement benefits.
3. What’s going to happen next?
Be honest. It’s okay to tell employees what you don’t know, along with what you do know, as long as you’re authentic. The Benz/Quantum 2014 Health and Engagement Survey confirmed that employees want leaders who are straight shooters—people who tell the truth, even if the information is negative. Be clear about what’s coming, what it means for employees, and what steps they need to take, if any.
Let your metrics lead the way
During times of change, employees turn to their benefits. Anticipate their needs with a pulse check on the data you already have, and promote benefits that can help employees manage stress and increase their resiliency.
Be sure you monitor these key metrics when you create your change management communications strategy:
- Web traffic and search terms—Have certain topics seen an increase in traffic on your employee benefits website or intranet? What are the most common search terms?
- Benefits claims—Are specific health care or behavioral health claims trending upward?
- 401(k) loans—Are you seeing an increase in loans within the 401(k) plan?
Fluctuations in these numbers can tell you if employees are disengaged, stressed, and/or panicking financially and emotionally because they’re feeling uncertain about their future. By examining these data points, you’ll know where you need to focus your communications efforts to ensure the success of your merger or acquisition.
Create a change management communications roadmap
In addressing your employees’ top questions and analyzing key data points, you’ve laid the groundwork for your change management communications roadmap. Now you’re ready to identify the types of communications you’ll need to get your employees on board.
We typically include the following components in any M&A communications plan we create for our clients:
- Benefits website—Whether you create a transitional site for the short term, revamp and co-brand your existing benefits website with a fresh look, or create a brand new benefits website from scratch, establishing a single, trusted source for benefits information promotes stability and will help foster trust through transparency.
- HR toolkit—Create a toolkit for your HR team to use so they can respond to questions about upcoming changes as they’re revealed. Get out in front of the chaos and provide key messages, positioning statements, and FAQs for your HR team.
- Manager tip sheet—Develop a tip sheet with talking points for managers. Lean on these “benefits champions” as peer-to-peer communications vehicles to address employee questions directly, and direct them to the resources that are designed to help them do just that.
Go forth and communicate
With your change management communications strategy in place, you have an amazing opportunity to continue building trust and credibility by communicating regularly about what matters most to employees. Employees want your help and trust your advice with their health and finances. Use those insights to educate them and direct them to the resources that are designed to do just that.
And if you need help staying ahead of organizational change, we can work with you to develop a comprehensive change management strategy and communications plan that address your specific employee engagement challenges. Contact us.