Mergers and acquisitions are an attractive growth strategy for many companies. However, every merger (or acquisition) drives significant change within an organization and creates challenges for employees. That’s why it’s critical to focus on employee engagement during the transition, so employees feel like they’re still an important part of the company’s success.

How can you keep your workforce focused during a merger or acquisition? Here are five compelling change communication strategies for engaging employees:

1. Debunk rumors
Minutes after employees hear about a merger or acquisition, the buzz begins! Employees are likely to turn to each other to swap news, voice anxieties and share opinions. While it’s difficult to prevent this from happening, you can use it as an opportunity to address concerns and provide accurate information. Here’s how:

Host coffee chats devoted to open dialogue
Schedule time for a senior leader to sit down and chat with employees. Lunches or coffee breaks provide a casual atmosphere to help employees feel comfortable discussing what’s on their minds. Don’t draft an agenda or design PowerPoint slides. Just let the session be a natural conversation between employees and a leader. You may want to provide the leader with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), so he or she is ready to speak accurately about the merger or acquisition. By the end of the conversation, the leader will have a better understanding of employees’ issues and employees will have accurate information.

Design town halls to address questions
​Our research shows that the most memorable part of any town hall is the question-and-answer (Q&A) session. So leverage this strength by designing town halls to respond to employee questions about the merger or acquisition. A good rule of thumb is to dedicate 40% of a town hall to answering questions. To help stimulate meaningful dialogue, encourage leaders to start the Q&A by asking the employee audience specific questions.

Leverage social media
If your organization has a robust internal social media platform, use that forum to stimulate discussion by encouraging employees to ask questions and involving a leader or subject matter expert to address them. If employees are hesitant to post questions on the social media platform, ask leaders and managers what they’re hearing — and craft communication to respond to employees’ concerns. Create special events like one-hour live chats or one-day discussion boards to provide more opportunities for online dialogue.

 

2. Empower employees to play a key role
During times of change like mergers and acquisitions, recruit influential employees to be change champions or change agents. You can select these advocates from across the company to become knowledgeable about what’s happening and share that knowledge with colleagues.

Change champions should represent areas of the business, such as department, function, role or location. They are the bridge between leaders, those managing the merger or acquisition, and employees. Change champions’ responsibilities often include:

· Actively building awareness and understanding about the transition in their business area

· Listening and gathering feedback from employees

· Identifying knowledge gaps

· Sharing energy and enthusiasm

· Countering rumors with facts

· Directing employees to resources to learn more about what the merger or acquisition means to them

Champion networks are most effective when change advocates clearly understand their roles and are well prepared for communicating change. It’s important to coach champions to ensure they have the information and tools they need to be successful.

 

3. Create high-touch experiences
One of the most powerful ways to engage employees during a merger or acquisition is to create interactive experiences. These activities make it easy for employees to learn and feel engaged, especially when you incorporate exercises that encourage conversation or a chance to play or collaborate. Here are two interactive ideas:

Hold problem-solving sessions
When employees are involved in figuring out the details of a change, they’re more committed to seeing it through. In other words, don’t simply tell them what’s happening; involve employees in the process of shaping the change and making it a reality. Host a series of workshops where employees of all levels can volunteer to help brainstorm a solution for a challenge related to the merger or acquisition. Divide session participants into groups of no more than six. Describe a problem that needs to be solved. Then:

· Give each player an index card and have him/her write down an idea/solution

· Ask each player to pass his/her index card to the right

· Tell each player to write an additional idea motivated by the original one on the index card

· Continue to pass the cards, adding ideas until each participant gets his/her original card back

· Write ideas on a whiteboard, creating a mind map of similar ideas, and have a discussion

Develop a board game
When employees learn their company is merging or being acquired, many employees will be uncertain about the security of their job and the future. Not knowing what’s going to happen is bound to make employees uneasy, and anxiety can lead to low morale, low productivity, and absenteeism. So turn the mood around with a playful board game that’s fun and engaging. For example, create a game designed to explain career paths after the merger or acquisition. As participants play the game, they discover different types of career moves and opportunities. The result is a deeper understanding of many career development possibilities.

 

4. Ramp up wellness efforts
Wellness and employee engagement go hand-in-hand, especially during times of change. Studies have shown when employees feel their best mentally and physically, they are happier in the workplace. Since mergers and acquisitions can be a stressful time for employees, it’s a good opportunity for companies to acknowledge the situation and try to create a more “zen” work atmosphere.

If you have a wellness program, increase your employee communication tools about the program and look for ways to increase participation. If you don’t have a wellness program, organize a company volunteer event or a team walk. Or establish stress-relief breaks, such as onsite yoga classes, chair massages or moments of uninterrupted relaxation in a quiet room.

 

5. Celebrate success
Finding ways to pay tribute, demonstrate progress and recognize employees for their hard work helps build pride and engagement during the transition of a merger or acquisition. Here are three ideas for bringing achievements to life:

Build a time capsule
What better way to honor the past than with a time capsule? Taking a moment to look back in time creates a bond among employees and is a valuable learning experience for newer workers. Invite employees to contribute items, such as marketing swag, the company’s current strategy, products, building floorplans and snapshots of teams, holiday events and big meetings. Host an event to close the capsule, creating a memorable moment for all involved.

Feature employee stories
Good news can have a positive effect on employees’ attitudes. So develop success stories — examples of how the merger or acquisition is benefiting employees. The most effective method is to have real employees telling their own stories. You can share employee experiences by using communication channels, such as posters, videos, articles, social media or spotlights during town halls.

Tie recognition programs to the transition
It’s critical to recognize progress as it occurs — and to acknowledge employees who are taking initiative or simply doing what needs to be done to reach key milestones. Consider developing a program where employees can nominate their colleagues for outstanding contributions to the merger or acquisition. Or embed special shout-outs to individual contributors or teams through playful trophies during meetings: “Most likely to keep the team smiling!”

During mergers and acquisitions, companies often struggle with change management communication and connecting with employees, who can be left feeling confused and worried about the future. By incorporating these five strategies when creating your merger and acquisition communication plan, you’ll help employees stay engaged and focused.

Originally published on medium.com

Join for free to access more information
Register today to learn more