As the old saying goes, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”
You may be a well-respected, trusted leader. You have probably spent years building that trust with your staff, investors, the media, and your network of advisors. Then along comes that amazing deal that looks like it can transform your company for the better…and suddenly no one trusts you anymore.
Why? Often it is because leaders don’t do these five simple things when communicating about a merger or acquisition:
- Address “What’s in it for me?” Upfront
This is the first thing employees think about when they are told of an upcoming M&A. There is a thirst for information. People want to know if they will still have a job, if they will still get their bonuses, if they will be able to support their families, if they will have to relocate…and a myriad other questions. Tell them as much as you can upfront.
2. Tell the Truth
Trying to spin the message so that the deal sounds more appealing or making statements about how the new company will be run, people’s job security, benefits, etc., could come back to damage your credibility as a leader. Things change rapidly during M&A. There are many unknowns. As a leader, it is better to acknowledge the unknowns, listen to and empathize with people’s concerns, and simply be honest about the things you can disclose than it is to paint a rosy picture that turns out to be untrue.
3. Empower Staff to Take Control of Their Own Lives
The days of being with a company for life and having that company take care of you are long gone. There is no such thing as a merger of equals. Provide as much information as you are allowed to so your staff can make informed decisions about their future. You will lose some people, but you will gain the trust and respect of everyone else.
4. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
This is especially relevant if you are the company being acquired. While you may believe that your suitor will do the right thing and take care of your employees in the same way you do, that often isn’t the case. Be truthful about what you know.
5. Communicate Often…and Listen
In times of change, people want to hear from their leaders. They want to know what’s going on. Even if there isn’t much you can talk about, get out there and listen to what your people are saying. Aside from earning respect and building trust, it will help you identify pain points that need to be addressed to ensure the transaction will proceed as smoothly as possible.
It may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many leaders fail to use these simple communication practices to build trust with their employees. Without that trust, it is very difficult to lead your organization through what will be a challenging rollercoaster ride to the completion of a successful M&A.