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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Workplace Doctor: Amid takeover concerns, clear communication is crucial

Consider what you can do as a team leader during times of uncertainty, and how best to manage the communication process with your team

When a merger is in the air, clear communication in the workforce is vital. AFP

I am a middle manager for a property group where I have been for several years. Management chiefs have rarely been very communicative but in the past few months rumours of a company takeover have been circulating. I have tried to raise the issue with my boss but he flatly refuses to discuss it. My team and others are becoming increasingly nervous and I believe it is affecting our performance. How can I deal with this issue effectively?

NA, Dubai

Often the most important factor in a successful merger or acquisition is the extent and the effectiveness of the communication, both internally and externally. In fact, it is estimated that 50 to 70 per cent of mergers fail, not as a result of the structure or regulatory elements but due to poor communication from both sides.

Communication is also one of the most complex aspects of the process for, on the one hand, as you are already noticing within your own team, mergers and acquisitions can provoke significant rumours and anxiety across the organisation. As with most workplace rumours, these often start because there is a lack of adequate information via official channels. In an attempt to seek the truth and anticipate the extent and possible consequences of the potential change, employees spread information based on hearsay, potentially triggering concern and even panic. When these rumours are met with silence from the organisation, they tend to intensify; leading to uncertainty and negativity, which ultimately impacts overall morale, engagement and productivity.

On the other hand, senior management are often embroiled in complex negotiations and are at times, certainly initially, legally bound through non-disclosure agreements. That could explain your boss’s current resistance to discussing the issue with you.

That being said, it is useful to consider what you can do as a team leader during this time of uncertainty, and also how best you can manage the communication process with your team, should the takeover proceed. Right now, even if your boss is not receptive or able to answer your questions, it is still important that you keep him informed as to how your team and others in the organisation are feeling and responding.

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This way, he can inform senior management of the current pulse across the organisation, which may well accelerate the decision to provide greater transparency or reassurance from above. They will be acutely aware of the detrimental impact of a collapse of trust in management, not only during the early stages but also when the all-important consultation processes begin.

As the team leader, communication within your own team is particularly key. Even if you don’t have any answers, you still need to be communicating frequently, by listening empathically, deflating any rumours that you know are purely speculative and also assuring your team that you will share any information as soon as you can. It might also be worthwhile engaging your team in conversations around the potential upsides of a takeover, which could lead to significant gains.

In one actual example, a takeover provided access to greater investment capital, which facilitated funding in new technology, research and development, marketing and brand building, people and career development, being part of a larger organisation and ultimately, greater long term financial security of the acquired organisation.

If and when the takeover is formalised, make sure you agree the communication protocols and channels throughout the process, so there are no unwanted information leaks. It’s also important to understand the process for consultation carefully, checking for clarity and understanding so that you can help your team review the options and make the best choices for them as individuals and for the organisation.

Beyond your team, you will also need to give careful consideration how to best provide breaking news and updates with major partners, suppliers and key customers, to ensure effective business continuity. So, in effect, you have to operate on two fronts; keeping your staff informed as well as your key external stakeholders.

Doctor’s prescription:

You play an integral part in keeping your team motivated and engaged, not only in the run up to any potential takeover but also through the process itself. As the interface between your team and senior management, it is important to let your team know that you appreciate their concerns and that you will share information with them as and when it becomes available. By acting with integrity and sticking to the commitments you make, your team will trust you to support them through this time.

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