WORKSHOP: Personal trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

Q: We are being taken over in a merger. We have a successful staff magazine, but the new boss is ending it. What can we do about it?

A: A bad decision and one you should challenge. The importance of effective communications during mergers cannot be overstated. There is now a lot of research about what makes mergers successful - or not.

In the commercial sector, there is a high failure rate for mergers. What is often overlooked is that the direct costs of merging are often matched by very significant hidden costs in reduced staff effectiveness, which lowers morale and productivity because of the atmosphere of uncertainty.

This has led many people to conclude that poor results from mergers can be traced to the neglect of human resource issues. In any merger you need to take account of the differences in organisational culture. How organisations communicate will relate to that culture. Imposing different communication systems can impact on morale and, quite often, time is spent concentrating on legal forms and system changes, and assigning staff attitudes or views to a secondary status - a big mistake!

In Aveco's recently published Managing mergers - a guide, which drew on examples of mergers in the third sector, it states: "the key to success will lie in securing the continued commitment of key staff and stakeholders".

That means that the softer skills, which lie in effective communications, inspiration and motivation, must come to the fore. As always it is leadership not management that is key.

So it does seem strange that the magazine is being suspended. Good communications are characterised by providing staff with the information they want, in the form that they prefer and doing so promptly. In other words, making full use of all forms of communications - staff, team meetings and supervision, emails and internal newsletters. The trick is to use all available methods of communication tailored to your audience's needs, not yours.

A well-produced internal newsletter can be a great asset - it is just one of the many tools a good employer will use to ensure effective communications.

At a time of uncertainty this is even more important.

Whoever has made this decision may not understand the potential damage, which is something you should try to rectify. Phone the new boss and ask to discuss it (if this is too scary, send an email). Do others feel the same? If they do then the new boss needs to hear it. They will want the merger to succeed, so help them by telling them your views.

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