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Having recently being involved in the due diligence phase of an acquisition process, it was interesting to think through the communication during acquisition, from the seller’s perspective.  Also from the perspective of the people employed in the plant that were were trying to acquire.

Who should you communicate with during acquisition?

This particular plant (I cannot give any details) was a subsidiary that the selling company decided it wanted to either close or dispose of. At the start of the process the managers in the plant knew that this was what was planned.

However what to tell the staff? Simple answer – tell them the truth, as far as you can.

Let us be frank, people are intelligent, and the rumour mill will work far faster that you do. (These are two of my ten heresies of strategy communication) So you can assume that your people have worked out what is going on long before any formal announcement. Also they will see teams of people arriving at the plant, disappearing into board rooms and, if they have any sense as a potential acquirer, getting a detailed tour of the plant. People will naturally ask, who are they?

It is pretty obvious to any half awake, intelligent, employee that something is going on.

The due diligence process affects communication

However there is a catch – the due diligence process. As seller you do not wish to play your cards too early, nor do you wish to disclose who is bidding in a way that would potentially leak to other players. (The fact that we were intelligent and could ultimately guess is irrelevant). We were even waved through gates without signing in and were greeted at reception without putting names or companies in the visitors book – an obvious place to look if you want to find out who visitors are and even who came to see the plant previously.

So, what to tell staff?

Be honest with people

I think it is clear – you have to tell them what is going on, without naming potential bidders, and inform them of the process, time scales and decision points. Let’s be frank, if this is an industry sale then someone at the plant knows someone in a bid team somewhere. Nevertheless you still need to keep the story clean, open, but tight.

You are creating uncertainty, even though you know there is a certain number of options. It is uncertainty that causes problems with people speculating. Even if you explain uncertainty, people will appreciate it.

Remember that these are human beings – people with families, children, careers, liabilities, mortgages, etc.

So, you need to brief at the start of the process. You need to brief at key events during the process, and when a deal has been negotiated, then brief people.

As it turns out our bid was unsuccessful. The seller turned it down. We don’t know the fate of that site now, now the people who work there. But I do hope that the existing managers have updated the people at the plant what is going on and given then an explanation and described the new future. It is the least they should do.

You can get more advice in the blog on Communicating strategy and strategy communication techniques and tools.  My Book, Communicating Strategy, gives clear advice on developing a communication plan, that would be especially useful after acquisition.