Let’s face it, no one wants to be left out of the loop when a big decision – like a merger – impacts them. While you sort out your plans and research and collaborate, don’t skip the step to plan and deliver the right information at the right time… even if its limited information. During the past two years, we’ve all seen mergers range from flawless to failed. At its core, the result is almost always about communications.
In 2010, I wrote an article that made its way into the NAR Merger toolkit (page 30). Ten years later, all six points highlighted in that article are still relevant.
For every successful merger, there are key considerations that the merger team put at the forefront, and communications they put into place.
Welcome to “Never Hide a Merger”…the rest of the story. Successful mergers take time, and intentional focus on these three considerations around what the merger will do to help your stakeholders vote a resounding YES to support the change you want to make.
- As you sit at YOUR board table, it’s natural to assume what your members are thinking. To the contrary. Do not try to think for them. WHY? Because your view of the world is very different from theirs. You know more and understand more about the organization than 90% of your members. Your rationale is not like theirs. You have to explain it to them. And it begins with thinking like them, in their terms, so that they see the value in this kind of change. And to go beyond thinking like them, ask them. It’s an art to decide the right time to survey your members, but this is an important part of early buy in and gauging the temperature of the idea.
We find that failed mergers happen from a lack of clarity on the inside about how the merger will benefit the member. Uncertainty leads to member frustration and will most certainly hamper the buy-in that you need for the merger to be successful. (And that rationale just isn’t something you get to dictate.)
- Be very clear about the “So What” on all sides of the merger. It could be your biggest success factor. If you intend to make positive change in your market, or for the industry or for the association’s bottom line, make sure your merger team is clear about what that means to the member at large. In other words, what does the merger mean to their bottom line?
Here are three ways to prepare to answer the “So What” early on.
- Define your BIG GOAL for the merger – how will the industry be better?
- Think about various member groups that you’ll be selling this idea to.
- Figure out WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM from their point of view. In their words.
These three steps will give you a solid starting point for your communications strategy about the merger. If you are not clear how the merger will benefit specific important member groups, you’ll miss the chance to unite around the big goal above.
- Make sure the WHYs align. Align what you see as the biggest benefit with how their business or career will be better.
If you’re in the board room, the conversations about mergers often revolve around strengthening your influence in your geography or financial stability. But your members don’t think that way. Influence at the national or state level is not on a local practitioner’s radar. Economies of scale (for your associations) is not a benefit for the member. (Let’s face it, members will likely have the same financial obligation after the merger.) After agreeing on your reasons for the associations to merge, shift your thinking to tangible solutions for them. Uncovering this rationale requires a different mindset, that over time translates into a strong business case to relay to your members.
This helps you imagine your north star for persuading and convincing members that the merger will be a better place for them because of a compelling problem they face today.
A united value proposition for your two (or more) organizations is a north star for your stakeholders. Instead of announcing you are merging, you’ll be able to demonstrate how the merger will help reinforce more of what they, the member, needs most.
The ability to craft that story, rehearse the story and deliver the story is not the icing on the cake. That story IS the cake, so make sure you have a message that hits home to your various member audiences.
For every ‘bad’ merger, there is communications that didn’t happen. And for every successful one, a celebration of checking off the steps that build a community of supporters – through your communications. Finally, there is a chance that communicating directly with your members might help you decide to change your course.
Whichever is your circumstance, I urge you to do your homework ahead of time.
Wishing you the promise of a bright new year, filled with promise and confidence that you can (and you must) link your biggest strengths with what your members need most.