The member vote is over, and the merger has been approved. The need for further merger communications is over, right? Wrong.
The proposed union between cooperatives may have been approved, but the success of the union is still far from guaranteed. In fact, the crucial blending of systems and culture is still ahead. Much must be accomplished to secure the benefits of this union, both for members and employees.
Failure of an accounting system switchover or the resignation of key employees can still move emotional meters from positive to negative—even after a vote. More talent and sales may be lost if you do not continue to communicate the progress, challenges and reasons for the merger.
Merger is messy
One of the most unfortunate misunderstandings between the board and members, or between management and employees, is that a merger or acquisition is complete when a positive vote is obtained. The average member may be under the impression that the tough part is over. They make think that all will now be well and benefits will accrue.
This is naïve and dangerous. Accounting systems can fail, personalities can blow up and whole departments can mutiny in the process of putting two organizations together. Merger is messy. Members and employees should be prepared for a protracted period of 6 to 12 months of semi-chaos as employee groups are combined, facilities are consolidated and systems are synced.
One big thing a merger communications plan can do is keep you talking with the stakeholders after a vote.
Remind them why you merged
Good merger communications will include regular progress reports after the vote and the effective date of the merger. In these reports, you should highlight the headway you are making at unifying both systems and cultures.
When a glitch occurs—and it will—apologize to both members and employees. Thank them for their patience, and spell out the steps you are taking to correct the problem.
Frequently remind both members and employees of why the board of directors backed the merger. This reminder should include the benefits to both stakeholder groups—which may not materialize for several months or even years.
In Part 1 of this blog series, I referred to a great co-op manager who practiced making his members “partners” to anything major that happened within the company.
“Before we get started, I tell them what we’re going to do and why we are going to do it,” he stated. “Then, after we start, I tell them what we’re doing and I remind them of why we’re doing it.”
This manager, who taught me much about co-op communications, had one more piece of advice. “After it’s over, I tell the members what we did and I remind them again of why we did it,” he said.
Even after the vote is taken and the merger papers are signed, keep telling your members and employees why you did what you did. Don’t assume they remember. Hopefully, this persistence in communication will give you the “honeymoon” you need to get your merged organization on an even keel and growing into the future.
Senior journalist Dave Aeilts has been helping VistaComm clients with merger and acquisition communications for more than two decades. If your organization needs help communicating change, or even starting a communication program, put our expertise to work for you.