Don’t forget any of the target audiences. – To ensure employee commitment in the future, communicating with them clearly and respectfully is essential. Employees shouldn’t learn about a change in ownership via third parties (for example by reading about it in the newspaper), but should instead hear it directly from the owner. This is especially important if the business has recently endured a period of uncertainty. Also important: Getting employee representatives on board and keeping the management – department managers, floor managers and team leaders – up to date, so they can serve as change ambassadors. For external communication purposes, it is vital to address business partners such as customers and clients, suppliers, service providers, banks, landlords as well as specialist, business and local media individually. The same is true for other stakeholders (such as mayors, local and state governments, promoters and advocates of local business, chambers of trade and commerce, and other local businesses) as well as industry associations.
Consider the timing. – Finding the right point in time to communicate is crucial: If stakeholders know about a planned sale too early, they might develop doubts. Therefore, sellers should consider the timing carefully and also make provisions for the fact that a deal could potentially still fail before signing or closing. An approach which has repeatedly proven itself is to personally inform all employees on signing day or the day after at the latest. This is also the earliest point in time when the media should be involved. Any consultants who are involved in the process have to be obliged to wait for a later date to initiate their own communication measures.
Get everything ready for Day X. – A Q&A catalogue for the transfer period, which has been designed together with the buyer, should serve as the basis on which all communication channels and measures are employed: Why is the sale happening and who is the buyer? Is the business sold to a competitor or an investor? Will the previous owner remain with the company, for example as a member of the advisory board or a minority shareholder? Is the sale happening as a result of a crisis? In general, any critical questions should be anticipated beforehand and – if possible – answered with the help of an experienced communication consultant.
Focus on the future. – A strategic follow-up communication helps all target audiences to understand owner or shareholder changes and to remove doubts. It can also potentially create an optimistic climate and generate momentum: Explain the reasons for your decisions, advocate for trust in the new owner, and create a clear vision for the company future. Anticipate potential questions in regard to timing, the company’s current situation and that of its client relations, its positioning in the future, job security and the status of other branches. You should also use this opportunity to express gratitude to the employees and try to communicate clearly and authentically instead of formalistically and dispassionately. In the end, the means and style of communication have to fit the company culture and the value of symbolic actions and gestures should not be underestimated.
Clearly assign roles and responsibilities. – Also valid for the new owner: Through personal conversations, staff meetings, intranet messages or a special edition of the employee magazine, a wide range of communication options is available. In that regard, one aspect is crucial, and that is to actually be available for conversation with the employees. An interview with a local newspaper or specialist publication to illustrate the medium-term strategy for the recently acquired company can also be a good idea, because the transfer of the company to a new owner and therefore the start of a new chapter in the company’s history also means that it must be clarified who speaks for the company and its strategy now. Consequently, the previous owner should avoid any public statement about the company from that point forward: Even if it may be hard to accept at first, someone else is now in charge.