M&A Communications – Getting Day One right
13th April 2022
Internal communication plays a key role in M&A. When done well, it supports change, builds internal alignment and maintains employee engagement.
Structured communication along key moments is essential for the future success of the combined organisation. After the signing of the deal, the legal closing usually represents the next big process milestone. Internally, ‘Day One’ is an opportunity to celebrate the combination with a symbolic act of togetherness. It builds momentum and sets the tone for the integration.
So, how do communicators get Day One right?
Think about timing.
We would always advise clients to not plan Day One activities on the same day as the legal close. There are too many last-minute issues that can, and routinely do go wrong. With so much strategic significance riding on Day One, careful plans shouldn’t get disrupted by unforeseen delays due to legal transactions. In any case, Day One is more of a symbolic than an operational event as most changes will be implemented successively after closing. So, think about the actual changes taking place on Day One and plan your communications around them.
Day One is an opportunity to start answering questions that have been brewing during the preceding ‘quiet period’ when communication on a number of topics was restricted. Having said that, it’s very likely that Day One won’t bring all the answers people have been waiting for. Even so, you can be clear on what is changing on the day, and what not. You should also outline next steps and when people can expect to learn more. Don’t forget to keep customers and partners informed about relevant developments – communication guidance and supporting materials for customer-facing colleagues ensure a consistent approach and aligned messaging.
The integration narrative – a set of easily understandable key messages – should answer central questions like ‘why are we doing this now’, ‘what will be different or better than before?’, and ‘what’s in it for me?’. The integration narrative should also reflect the nature of the deal. Is it a merger of equals or a straightforward takeover? Will the future culture and working practices really be ‘the best of both worlds’ or is it a matter of swiftly integrating the smaller party? How will synergies be created? Naturally, these questions matter deeply to managers and employees so there is no point hiding uncomfortable truths in your internal communications. These fundamentals need to be addressed in a way that respects the heritage and strengths each party brings to the table, but also individual sacrifices. Attempting to skip round these issues because they are uncomfortable is more likely to create problems, for morale and productivity, and indeed for the deal.
The focus of Day One is the celebration of coming together as a new team. Leaders should use the opportunity to launch their vision for the combined business and invite their stakeholders to be part of this journey. A strong integration motto and visual will help drive recognition and alignment, while creative campaign elements create excitement and tap into positive emotions. After the celebration, what often follows is another period of discomfort – at least for some stakeholders. Most integrations go hand in hand with structural change. An inspiring vision and a clear sense of strategic direction help to mitigate retention risks in times of prolonged uncertainty and change.
Plan the cascade.
Don’t just think about Day One – plan ‘Day One plus one week’ to ensure that key messages permeate the whole organisation. Initial communications on Day One will be driven centrally and from the top – e.g., with a CEO email, a global townhall, a CEO video. But to ensure that key messages reach people, it’s important to plan the cascade and enable leaders and communicators to tailor messaging and initiatives to local requirements. Make sure to inform and involve leaders early on and be clear on their role and expectations of them in the integration process. Supporting communication toolkits should contain key messages and communication assets (e.g., slide decks, Q&As) and provide guidance on local comms activities as well as an overview of next steps.
Remember: Day One is just the start.
Getting ready for Day One takes an enormous amount of effort. After this landmark date, exhaustion often gets the best of everyone involved. Leaders are keen to refocus their attention and return to ‘business as usual’. However, this is when the integration starts, and the real work begins. Instead of losing precious momentum, communicators should have their next steps planned and ready. A key challenge in the following integration phase is often to unite different cultural identities within the company. During this time, we often advise and support clients on identity and vision processes and on how to jointly operationalise strategic business objectives.