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Don't neglect frontline communications in M&A deals

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Organisations must take care not to neglect frontline staff communications during M&A activity, Guy Pink, executive director of HR at substance misuse charity Addaction, has told HR magazine.

Many organisations forget to reassure more junior staff, with communications often not very descriptive of the reality of the situation, said Pink.

“Something you often see is the words are quite trite and the reality is a massive programme of cuts, and there’s no connect between the words and the actions,” said Pink. 

“For some people an acquisition can be a scary change," he added. "It’s telling people ‘your role has not fundamentally changed’ and explaining why you’ve made the change.

"You can’t over-communicate in these sorts of situations. If anything you’ll always under-communicate. It’s trying to see it from the perspective of someone who’s on the frontline who doesn’t really understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Addaction’s approach to communicating with staff during its acquisition of mental health, drug, alcohol and family services charity KCA (completed this January) has been to communicate face-to-face with staff via country-wide roadshows. This has been complemented with videos of senior leaders explaining the situation, and FAQs posted online.

“If you’re only communicating online there’s a chance people might misinterpret what you’re saying. If you’re going out face-to-face you can explain better exactly what you mean,” said Pink.

On the subject of making redundancies, Pink added: “We’ve made no redundancies yet, and want to avoid that wherever possible. But if we did end up doing that we’d do it in accordance with our values and be very clear on the reasons and rationale.”

Pink added that HR has a critical role to play in M&A activity in setting out timeframes for deciding upon new organisational structures.

“There’s always a tendency for everything to be done yesterday, and part of HR’s role is to say ‘no that’s not going to happen in that timeframe'," he said. "Because all that happens when you make a swift decision is you then retrofit things later.”

“Sometimes you can go through the process so quickly that the executive team hasn’t brought anyone with them,” he added.