In the history of each company we will find moments which we may call hard times. Such as organizational changes (a manufactory changing from a two-shift system to a three-shift one) or launching a new product (the production line needs to be adjusted, new distribution system is required, etc.)
Sometimes communications tasks may be like threading on thin ice. One perfect example is the merger of two or more companies – the undertaking is difficult not only legally and organizationally, but also in the area of communications – the employees of all the entities involved need to be conducted through that process.
“Watch out, there’s a storm coming”
Katarzyna Mroczkowska, responsible for PR and internal communications in BNP Paribas Bank Polska, has been through several mergers: “This is the time when everybody works at a great rate and the atmosphere is tense, but it’s also an interesting and a demanding challenge. The merger becomes the key project, but it’s not the only one – we continue to carry out other communication tasks, supporting everyday business goals.
So what is the task of a content marketing agency? First, we need to… stay calm. And do our job.
When cooperating with a custom agency during a merger process, the customer first of all wants to have someone who won’t hesitate to say: “No, let’s do this differently”. According to Katarzyna, an agency’s valuable contribution is its experience in cooperating with other companies going through similar changes, and the knowledge of effective practices. This knowledge enables us to choose the best solutions and avoid mistakes.
– We make sure the company sounds trustworthy and we point out when communication is too general or certain dilemmas are dissembled. You also need to be prepared for a larger number of corrections than usually…– admits Ewelina Jamka, managing editor, Aude.
For everyone, efficient communication within the company is the priority. The employees should be informed about the key integration stages, what they are expected to do, what their everyday work should look like and – in a more general sense – how this will influence the company. Despite numerous tasks, there is no place for chaos. – In the very beginning we set the communication principles, then the tools and the content. In the case of BGŻ BNP Paribas, the entire communication was based on four integration process values: lucidity, responsibility, fairness and dialog – Katarzyna says.
Communication tools are not “a notice-board”. On the one hand, they allow for arranging information and passing it on to employees, on the other, they enable employees to express their opinion and can find a way out for the increased semantic noise or the emerging uncertainties.
– A merger of two separate organizations means there are no common communication tools in the beginning, each company has their own, e.g. Intranets, custom magazines, etc. The merger of BNP Paribas Bank Polska and Bank BGŻ started with implementing a common i-Connect platform – a modern social networking tool allowing for two-way communication. On the one hand, it enables employees to share their opinions, knowledge and experience, on the other – it can spread important information regarding the integration process, not only in the written form, but also in the form of videos, live announcements, etc. The platform allows for creating public communities (open for all employees), as well as closed ones – available only for e.g. a group working on a given project – says Katarzyna.
Another step was the digital magazine “Plus”, which in many places redirected to the new platform and allowed for combining content – the connection between i-Connect and the magazine was an efficient solution: promoting the new platform and teaching how to use it.
What, when and how?
Digital magazine “Plus” prepared by Aude has been from the start a communication tool connecting the two companies. “When developing the outline, we were thinking about the specificity of subjects of each of the bank. “Plus” includes the most important matters for each of the bank, and at the same time informed about the integration process,” Katarzyna says. She also emphasizes that when developing a magazine like that, it is important that all the people responsible for communication in each company work together, and it’s not only about reaching to the employees. One entity does not need to know about the hot spots and the atmosphere in the other company.
It is particularly important to make sure what we say is coherent with the merger strategy and its current stage. To put it short, you need to be careful about how and what you say. Every word that reaches the employees is of great importance, as it can be interpreted in a hundred ways, not necessarily as the person who said it would like it to be. Katarzyna Mroczkowska emphasizes it is important to take care not only of “what” we say but also “when”. – You need to think twice whether a given piece of information is ready to be made public. Even if the head of the department believes it is, it’s always good to make sure that, for instance, the HR and the person responsible for negotiating with trade unions feels the same way.
And the third question – how?
It is difficult to make the magazine positive and presenting interesting issues, as integration is by itself a difficult subject. The culture clash and changes in the organization structure is something employees do not like, to say the least. Which is why we try to present difficult matters in a neutral way, objectively, or even in a positive way – by finding the good points of the change. “Avoiding certain issues is not a good idea, the information will be heard on the grapevine anyway, but in an altered form. We can avoid this by providing facts, positive sides, and inform about the stage we are at and when we’ll be able to say more,” Katarzyna points out.
As always, it is important that the publication is about people, showing employees on various levels and how they collaborate, to make it visually attractive and accompanied by pictures of the people described.
The only constant thing is a change
The character of the magazine is adjusted in line with the consecutive stages of the merger: first, it presents each of the companies, then builds cooperation and a uniform culture, simultaneously informing about each stage of the merger process.
– In the first issue, we presented, for instance, the banks’ CEOs, discussed important events, such as a combined meeting of the banks’ managers, or advised on familiarizing the change from the psychological point of view. Each issue included a comment from people managing the merger: what stage we are at, what is ahead of us. Such a change takes time and does not happen over night. Different matters need to be presented at different stages, and both the internal magazine and the i-Connect platform has been evolving and their character is changing. This is particularly well visible in the legal merger and the constitution of one combined organization – Katarzyna adds.
Statistics have shown i-Connect to be a success, but that required time and a well prepared campaign that is distributed over time. Cyclic research on the opinion of employees about the integration process have shown a gradual growth in their satisfaction with the level of provided information, at the same time allowing us to streamline the communication activities, e.g. a printed version of the “Plus” magazine was added to complement the digital version, including a brief of the most important information.
We shouldn’t forget, however, that especially during a change an employee will trust most his or her boss. Which is why the role of direct communication between managers and their subordinates is so important and can not be replaced with anything else. We can prepare the managers for this by providing adequate materials and encouraging them to take part in regular meetings.