Leadership Communication in a Merger: Internal Communication

Principal at Nexant and Former Global Head of Specialty Gases & Equipment at Linde

Why is this interview interesting?

  • What are the pillars of an effective internal communication strategy in a merger situation?
  • What should leaders avoid communicating in a merger situation and why?

Executive Bio

Stephen Harrison

Principal at Nexant and Former Global Head of Specialty Gases & Equipment at Linde

Steve’s career the Industrial Gases business has spanned over 27 years working for The BOC Group (a FTSE 100 company) and Linde (a DAX30 organisation). He was active in all major business areas: tonnage pipeline supply, bulk process gases and packaged cylinder gases. Over that time, he spent 15 years in global strategic leadership roles and was heavily involved in acquiring and integrating business from Air Products, Airgas, AGA, Gaspro, Matheson, Praxair and Spectra Gases. More recently, he has been running his own consulting practice at sbh4 and is the principal, Germany, at Nexant Energy & Chemicals Advisory – responsible for consulting activities in the DACH region. Read more

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Interview Transcript

What have you learned about crafting a communication strategy in this context?What do people need? They need facts and the truth is that the facts can sometimes change. Facts and policy, a fact might be that we are going to retain 400 people. That might be the fact as we know it today, that fact might change. People need facts and they need quick communication when those facts have changed. They need honesty about uncertainty. So if 400 people are going to stay but it could actually be between 400 and 500, we don’t know. Be honest about uncertainty, people need to be heard and their questions need to be addressed, they don’t always need to be answered immediately but it’s essential to maintain a good two-way flow of communication.If questions can’t be answered they must certainly be addressed and acknowledged and hopefully can be answered at a relatively quick point in time down the road.What do people not need in terms of a communication plan? Well they don’t need arrogance from senior management, they don’t need people at the top who think they’re in control and know all the answers and who think it’s going to be an easy process, because the truth is everybody knows that it probably isn’t. They certainly don’t need arrogance, or dogma, the sense that things will be done a certain way for no particularly good reason. Let’s understand why we’re doing things the way that we are. People don’t need uncertainty to be built up or mixed messages, with one manager saying one thing and the other saying something else. People want some level of certainty and the way that communication can take place, can either build or erode that level of uncertainty, consistency is critical.People really don’t want insensitivity, for me that is all about cultural/intercultural insensitivity, whether that’s working across geographies, or whether it’s somebody communicating with a complete lack of empathy for the audience and the emotional responses that they might be creating within that particular audience.People don’t want to feel manipulated, they don’t want lies, or exaggerated reassurances that can’t be followed through on. “We all know it’s a tough situation, don’t treat me like a child, I’m strong enough to deal with this, don’t try and tell me that everything is going to be okay.” Because the truth of it is that we know not everything is going to be okay for everybody, there will be people who are hurt, people who will lose their jobs that didn’t want to.We don’t want witch hunts, in terms of deciding who is going to get the top roles in the new organisation, we have to acknowledge that these people are good and that’s why we’re giving them the job. Let’s not start going around saying that certain people were terrible and that’s why they’re out, we don’t need that negative kind of presentation of people’s careers at this stage and in this situation.Similarly we don’t need any personalisation of the situation either, in terms of how the communication is presented, maybe roles are being made redundant but we don’t want to start saying “Well you’re out of a job because you were useless and you never delivered on your targets.” This isn’t a performance review, it’s an M&A process, yes there will be casualties but there is no need to personalise the situation at this particular time. There will be perhaps fewer management roles, we’ve selected the people that we think are going to be most appropriate to take those roles and that’s why they got them. We don’t need to say anything beyond that around the people who didn’t get them.
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