The virtual water cooler: Honing collaboration platforms in M&A

Posted by Danielle Feinblum, Antonia Pearson, TJ Moss, Chelsey Ott on July 31, 2020.Even before our world became more virtual, most organizations could share an example of how a piece of information “went viral” within the company on Slack,Microsoft Teams, Quip or another other collaboration tool. From quick requests for help on a project, to sharing feelings about a recent message from leadership, or evendaycare recommendations, these platforms create a one-stop shop for quick and easy information sharing between employees. Which is why we see more companies takea deliberate approach to using these tools during major changes in the organization, including M&A.Related linksFollow us @DeloitteHCStay connected. Organizations and individual employees can create “channels” for working teams,departments, the entire organization or employee networks to share announcements, ask questions and spotlight success stories for relevant audiences. These platforms enhance, but do not often replace, traditional communication methods like email, offering a rapid, real-time way to engage with employees across the globe.Collaboration Platforms in M&AOrganizations that have been through M&A transactions (or any type of major organization change) know that water cooler gossip is amplified during the period whenmajor decisions are still being determined and shared, and that information spreadsfaster than normal—and this was true even before the advent of collaboration platforms.Now that most Buyers have their own collaboration tools, and Targets likely haveeither their own instance of the same or a separate collaboration tool, it is critical fororganizations to proactively plan for how to manage these forums during a transaction.The ambiguity around how long the virtual/remote work environment will continueas a result of COVID-19, combined with uncertainty around what the workplace willlook like post-COVID, increases the urgency for organizations to proactively plan for howto leverage collaboration tools during an M&A transaction.Organizations should consider the following three lessons learned from recenttransactions as they develop their own plans for utilizing collaboration platforms in M&A.Control the narrativeThe first step is to create a dedicated forum (e.g., Slack channel, Teams site orQuip) for transaction news and updates (NewCo Updates, Better Together,One Team, etc.) and assign dedicated resources to post, monitor, and respondto inquiries. This allows the integration team to reduce the inevitable ‘rumormills’ and keep a pulse on employee sentiment, while giving employees oneplace to look for credible and consistent deal-related updates and news. Whenselecting a person to monitor the forum, look for employees who have a deepunderstanding of both the integration and the broader organization.Additionally, consider employees who can provide a high-touch response,such an HR services or Communications team member. When thinking aboutthe types of messages to communicate, organizations should remain consistentwith how they have traditionally used (or not used) these platforms. Forexample, M&A updates that only apply to select groups may be better suited forcommunication via individual leaders. Likewise, lengthy messages that requirean important action from the employee should be, at minimum, communicatedvia email in addition to a Slack channel Teams site, Quip or another collaboration tool.What can go wrong if NOT controlling the narrative?In a recent acquisition by a large technology organization, the integrationteam did not set up a channel, so an acquired employee took ownership tocreate one. Without monitoring by the integration team, it became a highlyvisible space for acquired employees to vent, heavily fueling the rumor mill.To address issues that surfaced on Slack, several members of the Buyer’sexecutive team had to dedicate many hours to respond. What does controlling the narrative look like in practice? When a Fortune 500 company acquireda startup, the HR integration team established a dedicated integrationchannel/site and heavily monitored it. While there were still a few topicsthat spiraled, the organization was able to quickly defuse the situations byresponding directly on the channel/site or privately discussing the matter withthe vocal employee. In addition, because the integration channel/site was initiatedby HR leadership, it added credibility and a level of employee awareness whenrogue “authorities” responded to cases without the proper background.Empower self-serviceOrganizations must strike a fine balance between controlling all content onan integration forum and allowing employees room to take ownershipand community building. Controlling the narrative is key but chiming inon every discussion only fuels the expectation that employees can get alltheir questions answered immediately in the forum. A benefit of a collaborative platform is that it empowers employees to respond to each other. Knowledgeable employees can chime in with answers, which can create a greater sense of ownership and involvement.It can also help increase the credibility of the information, as answers froma peer oftentimes hold more weight than those coming from a “faceless”integration mailbox (eg. – “Thank you for your inquiry, your question is answeredbelow:”). Now keep in mind, enabling and encouraging “self-service” maylead to the risk of employees providing inaccurate information. This risk canbe mitigated by selecting the right monitor and equipping employees withsupplemental resources (e.g., FAQs) and “business as usual” support channels(e.g., IT ticketing site). What can go wrong when NOT empowering through self-service?A recent acquisition involved one firm with a culture of self-service acquiring another with a high-touch culture. The integration team launched a micrositeto house all integration-related information, where employees couldalso log tickets to ask questions and receive answers within 1 business day.Employees continued to log tickets for each and every question, rather thansearching the site for information or looking through prior communicationsfor answers. One can see how this drastically increased the workload forthe team monitoring the microsite and resulted in a negative employeeexperience when questions weren’t answered immediately or to the employees’ satisfaction.What does empowering self-service look like in practice?In this same acquisition, a Slack channel dedicated to the integration began topick up speed. Employees soon started to answer one another’s questionsand proactively offer information. Leading up to Day 1, the HR integrationteam compiled a checklist of critical tasks for employees to complete. Theintegration team launched the checklist on the microsite, but before they sentout a newsletter letting people know about the checklist, several employeesposted a link to it in the Slack channel, offering it up as a useful resource.Over time, employees started to ask questions in the Slack channel beforeasking them in the microsite. The Slack channel ultimately became a “Tier 0”support center, saving valuable time and resources for the HR integration team. Keep it lightTraditional communications such as emails can often come across asformal or impersonal if the sender does not carefully consider the toneof the message. While emails can certainly be lighthearted, the casualnature of collaboration platforms tends to enable a more “human” tonethat resonates with employees. A popular function is the use of GIFsand emojis. While these can lighten the mood, it’s important to make surethe levity of the response matches the seriousness of the topic at hand.While emojis can work for most some employee questions, personal andsensitive issues demand a more formal approach. What can go wrong when NOT keeping it light?When a large company acquired a smaller start-up, the buyer leverageda Slack channel to provide integration updates. The buyer tended to makelengthy, formal posts. The acquired employee population expressedthat the posts felt “very corporate” and “impersonal.” The disconnectheightened the notion of “us vs. them,” which was detrimental to the effortsof becoming one company. What does keeping it light look like in practice?In a recent acquisition, it became apparent by numerous Slack poststhat the acquired employee population was struggling with a transition fromG-Suite to Office 365 as their email client. The integration’s ChangeManagement team quickly reacted and scheduled a training session. Tonotify employees, they posted the following message to the integrationSlack channel:“Making the switch from G-Suite [google emoji] to Outlook[outlook emoji] can feel like a whole new world [world emoji],but we’re here to lend a hand [high five]. Join us for anOutlook Tips & Tricks session this Friday! [link to meeting]” While the post didn’t eliminate the employees struggle, it addressed theconcern with empathy and employees felt heard. Numerous employees reacted to thepost with an applause, a thumbs up, and a wide range of positive reactions on Slack.Collaboration tools are embedded into the fibers of a company’s culture. They becomea platform for working together, and building community. When embarking on adeal, companies should think strategically about ways to leverage collaborationplatforms to improve, and not detract from, the employee experience. EmployeeExperience/Change Management and/or Communications workstreams shouldown the collaboration forum, electing key HR and/or Communications personnel tomonitor the channel and avoid letting the narrative spiral out of control. However, it isimportant not to dominate the conversation. Leaving room for employees to answer questions can help reduce strain on the integration team and encourage a culture of self-service. Finally, remember to keep it light! There are real people behind every integration, and collaboration platforms are the perfect channel to express that fact. Following these three tips can enable productive usage of collaboration platforms to help ensure a more positive employeeexperience across every deal. Authors:Danielle Feinblumis a principal in the M&A practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, whereshe leads clients in the design and delivery of their people strategy during enterprisewidechanges.Antonia Pearsonis a senior consultant in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s M&A practice,where she helps global organizations define and execute integration strategies.TJ Mossis a senior consultant in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s M&A practice, focused on M&A day 1 activities, with extensive experience in rewards planning and optimization.Chelsey Ott is a senior consultant in Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practicefocusing on M&A Day 1 activities, including Organization Design and integration planning.
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Date/time: 1st August 2020, 03:03


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