Jessica Miller-Merrell | , , , ,| By
There’s nothing scarier than showing up to work one day to find your world turned upside down by an acquisition or merger. For your employees, it’s one of those big company announcements you never had really given it much thought but when it comes happen it creates a huge amount of fear and anxiety. Executives make plans behind the scenes, contracts are drawn up and employees go on with their daily business completely unaware. Then all of the sudden, when the details are finalized and it’s set in stone, the workforce is given the word. It could be two months, two weeks or even two days before the actual change occurs but it never feels like enough time to prepare for the questions you’ll soon be asked by your employees.
Handling Employee Questions When Being Acquired or Are Merging Companies
Having been through my share of mergers and acquisitions, I have to tell you that as shaken as your average employee can feel when this change occurs, it’s just as overwhelming for HR professionals as it is for the rest of the company. In one acquisition, HR was kept completely out of the dark until just two days before the official announcement. Fortunately for me, I knew the acquisition was happening because my cousin who worked at the company we were acquiring tipped me off. The employees at the other organization knew something was up. I walked into my boss’s office and asked him when the acquisition was happening.
Like any organizational change, especially one like a merger or acquisition, HR and organizational leaders must not only display a unified front but also must anticipate employee questions, concerns and potential problematic situations. It’s especially hard in situations like mine when HR isn’t in the loop at all. While I understand that things happen quickly, however, I’ve been part my own share of due diligence investigations which is why I knew that our VP of HR was keeping the rest of his team out of the dark intentionally.
With only two days notice, we sprang into action. Our team divided our time between having a presence in the field and meeting with employees within the store to provide reassurance, to listen and to answer any questions quickly before rumors and fear spread.
#1 – Build an FAQ
Putting together a frequently asked questions document will help you think through all the questions employees may have, will help inform employees and will also keep you from having to field each question individually. Tracking down answers before questions arise will be one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself and your team.
#2 – Evaluate pay by location, band and position
Compensation was one of the first pieces of the acquisition puzzle that we began analyzing during the rushed acquisition I was part of, and it will be one of the first things you’ll face as well. The beginning stages of the acquisition or merger is when you want to evaluate positions, pay bands, pay by location, similar job titles and position responsibilities. The best case scenario like we had was in the fact that our entire organization has just had a compensation analysis and with the exception of one city all the stores were located in the same communities. Workforce planning and adjustments are inevitable, and while you won’t know all the details or be prepared to answer questions about compensation right away, you should have a grasp on what’s to come.
#3 – Create talking points for your management team
Those in the field and on the floor are the ones who will be fielding the majority of the questions, so draft talking points for them that are clear, and helpful for both them and their employees.
#4 – Provide connection points
Everyone communicates differently, but almost everyone will have a question at some point. Provide a 1-800 number, HR email address or a private, HR specific Facebook page to field questions, share information or connect with your employees. For my team, we divided and conquered setting up open office hours at the different facilities to meet individually and talk with employees.
#5 – Communicate, communicate and communicate again
Utilize different channels to share information and get the message you want people to hear to as many as possible. Stop the rumors by communicating in ways that are convenient and easily understood for employees, whether that means conference calls, PowerPoint presentations, one-on-one meetings, group meetings or in the company portal or social media platform. These should be held on an ongoing basis throughout the transition. Continue to rely on both company’s communication tools as distribution outlets to over-communicate everything.
#6 – Share your timeline
At the end of the day, your people just want to understand what’s going on and how it will affect them. Share your timeline so they know what changes will be made and when. This is especially important if you are planning a cost-of-living or pay-band increase.
#7 – Don’t be a stranger
With any massive organizational change like a merger and acquisition, you can’t just visit a location and be one and done. Organize and execute an ongoing plan to have regular visits at all location by different members of the leadership team. The key is consistent support that’s accessible and ongoing. Don’t be a stranger to your own employees. This includes HR, senior leadership and key members of the change and transition team.