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How to ensure a successful harmonisation process during times of change

Caroline Russell - profile image
By Caroline Russell
Account Director

Harmonisation starts when a business is acquired, or two organisations merge. It’s an opportunity to inspire employees, excite them about the future, establish a new brand and a new ‘reason for being’ and create new systems and processes that make the harmonised businesses more robust, efficient, and successful. However, it can also be a time of enormous change, destabilisation and confusion for employees. The need for clarity, transparency, positive and inspiring internal communications is essential to gaining the buy-in and support of everyone within the businesses.

It is an all-encompassing process that touches every part of both businesses. Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) have such an enormous impact practically, logistically and mentally on everyone working within the organisations that ensuring effective communication around what’s happening before, during and after-harmonisation significantly contributes to a successful outcome.

What is “harmonisation”?

A complex and sensitive aspect of change management, a merger or acquisition process demands a smooth transition across every element of both businesses.  Harmonisation refers to this seamless act of fusing the following different company systems and procedures:

  • Culture and values
  • Brand Alignment
  • Production or services
  • Structural and logistical processes
  • Employee incentivisation, benefits, training and pay policies
  • Employee structure and lines of management
  • Internal and external communications
  • Sales and marketing

As the organisational transformation of a merger & acquisition touches all elements of both businesses, careful and considerate handling of the harmonisation process is vital.  This ensures a successful outcome for the new blended business. 

Communication is key

M&As have a significant impact on the working lives of all employees. Everything is changing, and people might feel threatened or anxious about outcomes.

Companies must constantly communicate effectively and transparently prior to, during and after any merger to establish context, manage expectations, and gently and sensitively introduce the new systems and processes. 

What is the impact when there isn’t effective communication during harmonisation?

Although every business we have worked with understands the importance of managing change effectively, we often find that the emotional impact of an M&A is a secondary consideration to core HR processes.  

The most challenging aspect of harmonisation is ensuring effective, detailed, considered and sensitive messaging and communication on every level.

If companies don’t over-communicate throughout this process, employees seek out any information to fill the void, often resulting in misinformation and disengagement. 

Communicating effectively throughout harmonisation is the only way to avoid the immediate risk of losing valuable team members destabilised by the process and the longer-term risk of widespread disengagement. It’s easy for a workforce to become disenfranchised without an effective internal communications strategy.  

Five steps to ensure effective harmonisation

1. Communicate a transparent, bigger picture

Most M&As take place to ensure a positive outcome for both businesses.  This is often lost on employees who are at the coal face of role titles changing, benefit systems evolving and team structures shifting.

Putting the M&A in context and communicating an inspiring and transparent vision for the future is vital. Accept and be honest about the scale of changes occurring, but always communicate the bigger picture perspective and reasons for the changes.   

2. Personalise your communications

All employees will have concerns about different aspects of the changes taking place.

Take time to segment your audience so communications can be targeted to the right audiences in the right way. 

Make sure employees are given the most relevant information for them. 

3. Consider your communication format

The format of your communication has to be engaging and inspiring too: video content, downloadable PDFs, notice board posters, personal emails from line managers, group presentations, information packs to take home, worksheets on the trays in a canteen… 

Companies must be creative and considerate about what channels work best for each different employee audience.

Messages must be consistent, but how the messages are delivered and the channels used must be targeted and appropriate to the target group or individual.

4. Listen 

Ensure feedback channels for employees are two-way, open and transparent.

And we’re not the only ones who advocate this approach. Indeed, in a blog written by Jana Mercereau of REBA (The Rewards & Benefits Association), on top of a tailored approach, there should also be a channel for feedback and dialogue, so employees can have conversations, ask questions and feel involved and be part of the journey.  Feedback channels can include live Q&A sessions for employees to ask questions directly to leaders, as well as regular meetings between leaders and employee representatives. Enabling employees to be an intrinsic part of the transformational change will empower and motivate them.

5. Measure, evaluate and evolve

Take time to evaluate the feedback, gauge the reaction, evolve your internal communications strategy accordingly, follow up and continue.

In summary… respect, understand and inspire.

M&As can fail without effective harmonisation, and internal communication plays a vital role in the process.  Significant organisational restructuring can greatly impact the mental and physical welfare of individual employees.  Respecting, understanding, and addressing this is the starting point to successful harmonisation during times of change. 

Looking for communication support with your harmonisation project? That’s what we’re here for.

Get in touch and let's have a conversation.

Caroline Russell - profile image
By Caroline Russell
Account Director