Who Moved My Cheese? Change Management During a Merger

When it rains, it pours, as the old adage goes, and no one is more attuned to this right now than Yahoo executives. Over the course of just a few months, the search engine company has endured a failed buyout by Microsoft, which walked away from the $47.5 billion bid; several departures of high-level executives--and the resulting scarcely populated roster of EVPs--forced a reorganization that also stripped away a layer of management. Surely a crisis of this magnitude could only befall the likes of Yahoo, whose tentacles have extended into so many crevices of business. But, the situation can serve as a springboard into a conversation that affects any exec in today's tumultuous business environment: that of change management, and how to endure shake-ups, executive departures and/or a merger and acquisition climate. The latter condition is particularly relevant to communications professionals, all of whom have witnessed the increase in M&As in recent years. Whether they are part of an organization going through or recovering from a merger or acquisition, or they are counseling a client in the midst of this change, communications execs must be equipped to handle the inherent challenges. First, though, it's important to note that both mergers and acquisitions share a number of characteristics that, in turn, present communicators with the same challenges: integrating disparate corporate cultures and brand identities, reorganizing reporting relationships, aligning both organizations' messaging and reaching diverse stakeholder groups. With that in mind, consider the following best practices for preparing for a merger or acquisition, as recommended by professionals who have been there. *Take it one step at a time. When JPMorganChase merged with Bank One in 2004, the media pounced on the story, infusing it with its own sense of skepticism. Eileen Zicchino, managing director/CMO of JPMorgan Treasury & Securities Services (TSS), admits that a fair share of challenges marked the road to the other side of the merger, especially for TSS: broader client bases, product sets and geographic distribution; overlap in functions; and different cultures needing to be aligned. "We [marketing communications] are the people who have to manage communications with employees and clients," she says. "[With the merger], our job became even more difficult, but we couldn't let them see us sweat." Based on her experience, Zicchino identifies the following six stages of a merger, which can help executives anticipate road bumps and plan strategies accordingly: rumor; denial; official announcement; elation, deflation or stagnation; acceptance or resistance; and business as usual. *Make new friends, but keep the old. In any merger, it is essential that both organizations' marketing/communications functions come together to collaborate, no matter how hesitant they might be to do so. Your own department can define the "old" culture's strengths and weaknesses, and the "other" department can do the same for their own company. Executives can then come together and compare similarities and differences. The points of overlap will require less attention throughout the process; the disparities, on the other hand, will need to be addressed at every step. *Be proactive. Zicchino says that both JPMorgan and Bank One's marketing management teams collaborated to propose their own organizational structure. They also created a fact book on every marketing communications discipline, which identified metrics, org charts and operating models. *Take it from the top. The newly formed entity must communicate its brand identity to internal and external audiences, but the former should be the first priority. Zicchino recommends having all employee communications come from corporate leadership. The tone should be set by the top, she says, also urging CEO road shows at employee sites, celebration of milestones and a single, corporate-wide internal newsletter. The execs at Cisco Systems also have change management strategies when it comes to focusing on senior leadership, though their expertise didn't come specifically from going through a merger. When attempting to shift their employee's behaviors around a culture of diversity and inclusion, according to Sheryl Lewis (managing director of ROI Communications) and Diane Bauer (senior manager, Cisco), the team leveraged its leadership in four distinct ways: 1. Clear expectations/simple tools. 2. Speaking the "language" through stakeholder analyses; assessments of leaders to inform the messaging strategy; and a campaign positioned around the business rather than an HR initiative. 3. The use of peer pressure. 4. Engaging senior leaders as role models through career coaching sessions and Web site features that include leader perspectives, videos and stories. *Be self-conscious and introspective. Employees are the most important audience during a merger or acquisition, but external stakeholders can't be overlooked or forgotten. All news surrounding the change should be credible and transparent and give reporters, investors and consumers specific insights into why and how the move is being managed, as this will leave them with fewer opportunities to challenge your motives. Zicchino notes the ways that her team kept their fingers on the external pulse: Listened and asked questions; Accepted blame; Conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups; and, Solicited feedback from sales. She also admits there were things she would have done differently, including reevaluating "the level of frequency of communications to clients, or [tailoring] them further." PRN CONTACTS: Stacy Wilson, swilson@eloquor.com; Lynn Zimmerman, lynn.zimmerman@ihs.com; Eileen Zicchino, eileen.zicchino@jpmchase.com; slewis@roico.com; Diane Bauer, dbauer@cisco.com Change Communications Planning & Stakeholder Analysis 1. Stakeholder analysis: You'll often be doing this planning with businesspeople who aren't familiar with communications best practices. Starting with stakeholder analysis gets them engaged in the process and establishes a foundation for the entire team from which to work through the rest of the process. 2. Communications objectives: These should be measurable and address behavioral or business issues. They shouldn't focus on implementation of channels (e.g., publishing three newsletters), but instead on behavior (e.g., 75% say they can explain the topic to others). 3. Primary and secondary messages: Ask yourself first what the initiative really isn't about. This helps you and others to be better prepared when employees raise issues that are unrelated and best dealt with separately. Keep primary messages to three, as this is how many anyone can realistically retain from one communication. Secondary messages should focus on specific stakeholder groups. 4. Initiative name and description: Use language that is familiar and intuitive to stakeholders when naming the initiative. Avoid acronyms or complex terminology. 5. Appropriate communication channels: Now that you have a firm understanding of whom you need to communicate with and about what, you can look at which channels best meet your needs for this particular change. Consider the type of content and how employees prefer to receive it. 6. Approval process and people: Changes often require approvals of many different people across the organization. Gaining clarity on who those individuals are and how the approval process will work throughout the initiative will save time and frustration. 7. Timeline/action plan: The final step is to develop your road map. Include specific channels, the message to go into that channel, the stakeholder to receive that communication, who is responsible and when it must be completed. Source: Stacy Wilson (President, Eloquor Consulting) and Lynn Zimmerman (Communications Consultant, IHS)

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