Friday, June 17, 2011

Corporate Mergers and the Knowledge Gap

Recently my organization merged with a much larger one located 1,000 miles away.  Although both are well established not-for-profit companies, our cultures and histories are quite unique.  This was not a hostile take-over, nor was it a situation that would result in one side "winning" and the other "losing."  Fortunately, both organizations had significant opportunities to improve their work by coming together.

What to Share
One of the challenges organizations face during such a monumental change is how much information to share.  As with any merger, there are times of great progress and times of struggle.  Deciding what is truly important to share versus reporting on every little nuance of the process can be daunting.  Our team decided to over-communicate instead of holding back and only releasing polished press releases.  We felt that getting timely information out to our staff was most important.

Being "In the Know"
One of the primary focus areas for my team was to communicate early and often with our employees.  We chose several different paths to accomplish this:

- Keep the leadership team informed on at least a monthly basis (Board level to employees)
- Conduct quarterly Town Hall meetings for all staff on days, nights and weekends, led by Senior Management, to provide updates and answer questions
- Post all questions and new information on the company intranet
- Round regularly to answer questions on a more informal basis
- Work extremely closely with our new corporate partner to ensure consistency of all messaging

Lessons Learned
The primary takeaway from this experience was to never underestimate the knowledge gap between leadership and front line staff.  Leaders, particularly those deeply involved in the process are well aware of the issues.  Rank and file employees are far removed, despite herculean efforts to make information available.  So although updates and information were not only shared regularly, but were put in print and published; concerns about the future persisted ("Will I still have a job after the transition?").  By the way, yes, they all kept their jobs.

How About You
In retrospect we felt our communication plan worked very effectively.  But that doesn't mean it was perfect.  What communication strategies have you used during times of massive change?  Did they work?  What would you do differently next time?

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pic courtesy of SDSUJMS

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