The following is a Communications Plan, about two fictional companies, submitted as course work at Seneca College in the Corporate Communications program.
The acquisition of New Brunswick company Funding Solutions by our Quebec firm TelQue will be an arduous and complex process, but with a solid communications plan that incorporates several different tactics and strategies, internally and externally, the transition can be made smoother and conflict can be mitigated.
At TelQue, we are a medium-sized telemarketing firm whose entire client base is made up of 25 hospitals in Quebec. Our firm is the primary conduit with which hospitals raise funds by making telephone calls to local residents. Funding Solutions specializes in the same area as TelQue and is approximately half the size of our firm. TelQue’s intent is to buy Funding Solutions and blend the two operations into a single telemarketing firm known as TelLaurentide.
Other than specializing in the same market, the two companies appear to be very different, as our corporate culture at TelQue is regarded as being very successful due to its familial atmosphere, ease with which employees socialize after work and use of discretionary effort. In an industry prone to high turnover rates, TelQue is an exception, as most of our 70 employees have been with the company for over five years. Unfortunately, Funding Solutions has not had the same success, with high turnover rates at all levels of the company. In particular, the company has had a lot of difficulty keeping supervisors while the frontline employees are very unhappy.
We at TelQue have to find a way to ingratiate ourselves to the people at Funding Solutions, and show them how we do things at TelQue in as honest, respectful, and forthcoming a way as possible. We want them to share our successful corporate culture, but we want to try very hard to avoid having their employees feel like they are being pushed into it. Such is our dilemma. To avoid as much conflict as we can, we will be implementing multi-tiered tactics and strategies, involving four phases: Internal Review, Environmental Scanning, Internal Performance Analysis, and Contingency Planning. In conjunction with these four phases, we will be using other tactics such as R.A.C.E. (Research, Analysis, Communication, Evaluation), S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Sensitive), and P.E.S.T. (Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological). Combining all of these tactics, and more, will allow us to achieve a detailed understanding of our situation – where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go. At that point, we will be able to say that we’ve avoided as much conflict as possible and that the corporate culture of newly formed TelLaurentide will have a much better chance at being successful.
Mergers & Acquisitions
Before we even begin phase one (Internal Review), we should understand a few things about M & A’s (mergers & acquisitions). For decades, major corporations have followed the “bigger is better” mantra when attempting to grow, even though history has shown that the majority of M & A’s fail to achieve their financial goals or increase shareholder wealth. In fact, as many as half the firms demerge, fully or partially, within five years of merging.
A Forbes 500 survey of Chief Financial Officers suggests that M & A’s fail because of people-related issues, such as incongruent corporate cultures, an inability to manage the acquired company’s employees, and clashing management styles and egos.
Both poor communication techniques and cultural integration activities play a big role in the failure of M & A’s, as does the overvaluing of the company’s perceived assets and synergies when they merge. Obviously for our situation with TelQue and Funding Solutions, these are problems that we hope to avoid. As corporate communicators, we can’t really affect the estimates or purchase price, but we do have the power to influence the M & A strategic planning process by indentifying and addressing our key audiences and creating the proper communication tools to meet those needs.
This situation is not a merger of equals. TelQue is the clear acquirer of Funding Solutions, and as such, it would be beneficial for us to take the lead in all communications, both internally and externally, and to be up front when managing the deal. If we are wise, we will acknowledge the unique qualities of Funding Solutions and show respect to their management team and workforce. With this in mind, we can get started on Phase 1 of the plan.
Phase 1: Internal Review
In this first phase of the communications plan, we must systematically determine what we want to achieve as a merged organization. We must involve as many people as possible during this step, from both TelQue and Funding Solutions. After this thorough step, we will be more able to discern a vision and mission statement for the company. The vision statement refers to the big picture of the company, and should encompass the broad ideals the company hopes to live by. Once we’ve merged the two companies, our vision will be, “Hard work and real connections with each other and our customers will result in a rewarding atmosphere, socially and financially, for everyone here. We are a family, and every single person that works for TelLaurentide should feel empowered to make things happen. Knowing this, we will stick together, one-for-all and all-for-one, and our organization will prosper.” Our mission statement is more specific and builds on our broad ideals.
In order to construct great vision and mission statements, we need to do a great deal of research and analysis (the R & A of the RACE formula). We need to learn about each other’s corporate cultures in order to mesh them successfully, and we need to investigate beyond what is already known. For instance, we will utilize a great deal of primary research – interviews and surveys in order to learn more. We obviously have a better grasp of how TelQue operates, having been with the company for over ten years, so at first we will concentrate on finding out how the corporate culture worked, and didn’t work, at Funding Solutions. We will then compare and analyze our findings with our own cultural audits from TelQue.
We will first conduct a broad and anonymous survey of all current Funding Solutions employees in hopes of receiving an honest portrayal of the company. We will ask, “how do you perceive your managers and executives?”, “how do you perceive your front line employees?”, “do you consider this a job only and ‘check out’ as soon as your shift is done?”, “do you enjoy working at Funding Solutions?”, “do you wish there were more social opportunities?”, “do you feel appreciated as an employee?”, “what would you change about your job?”, “what would you like to see changed in the office atmosphere?”. These questions seek to uncover the problems Funding Solutions had so we can begin to work on making things better.
We will also conduct interviews during the research process. We plan to interview current managers, executives and front line employees to understand how they see the company. The interview process can be extremely helpful to us as it will give us very specific information and offer us unique and tangible insight and feel into the heartbeat of the company. We will also interview past employees, and in fact, we have already been able to do so with a few employees who have left the company and moved on to other firms. We were able to meet with a former top line manager who now works for a similar company in Nova Scotia, and a couple of front line employees who have moved on to other telemarketing jobs in New Brunswick. Their insights were illuminating.
The former manager at Funding Solutions had worked there for a year, and during his time with the company, saw a very top-down organizational structure with big egos at the top. He said the executives wanted work to be done in a strict, linear, and isolated way with little to no employee participation, wanted the managers to be very rigid when issuing breaks and time off, and generally held the notion that pinching pennies was the most prudent way to run the business. The manager said that he tried to convey to the executives that the business would run more smoothly if there were less of a “task-master” approach to employee relations, and that easing up on the enforcement of (seemingly arbitrary) rules and less tunnel vision in that regard would actually increase efficiency and productivity in the end. The executives refused to consider what the manager was saying, and made it known to him that ‘they didn’t get to be executives by being stupid’ and ‘they knew how to run the business.’ This lack of co-operation, stemming from the upper levels of the organization, was a big reason why the manager left. He also hated the fact that he could see how depressed his employees were at the directives being given from the top, and was endlessly frustrated that he didn’t have the power to change anything. The manager left the company, and though he gave his due notice and communicated his plan to leave politely, he felt that even on his way out, the executives found a way to make their relationship with him tense and uncomfortable — they made it known that he should not expect any form of a reference from the company. To him, that represented the company in a nutshell. He has since gone on to be a top level manager at another telemarketing firm in Nova Scotia, where he feels appreciated, is able to affect change where he sees fit, and most importantly, sees a healthy and vibrant staff working with him. He has worked at the new company for over two years now and says it barely feels like work.
We also spoke with two former front line employees of Funding Solutions, who have since moved on to other similar companies in New Brunswick. The man and woman both echoed the sentiments of the former manager about the toxic atmosphere that seemed to corrode the very fabric of the company. The woman told us, “It didn’t seem like they encouraged common sense and individual autonomy at Funding Solutions. In a company where customer service and the building of genuine care with real people was the central tenet of our job, the executives seemed unable or unwilling to share the same courtesy with their employees. Why would you want to work for a company that treats you like a robot or a number? Especially when they expect you to deal with the more vulnerable members of our society, the sick and the elderly, with such grace and care – it made no sense.” This was especially illuminating to us, and is something we will not stand for at the newly formed TelLaurentide. The upper level executives and managers will be given the chance to welcome a new way of thinking and dealing with their employees, or else we’ll have no choice but to let them go. From day one, our front line employees and managers will understand that we are different – we listen, we care, their opinions are fundamental, their actions will sustain us.
In addition to the primary research (interviews and surveys), we will utilize some secondary sources to give us a deeper, more nuanced perspective. We will examine journals that deal with strategic mergers where one corporate culture is successful and the other is not. We will look at essays and critiques on how merged companies succeed and fail at integrating their employees and mitigating conflict. Secondary research is helpful, but can’t be used on its own to give us measurable results. When we combine secondary techniques with primary tactics, we can get a very clear picture of where we are internally.
After we’ve completed our initial research, we must analyze our business, our customers, our markets, our competition, and where we’re headed. Our business will stay the same – serving customers close to specific hospitals (formerly just in Quebec, now in New Brunswick as well). Our market coverage is now different; we will expand on this point in the next phase.
We must also understand that the E (Evaluation) process of the R.A.C.E. formula will be conducted at every step of the way – not just the end – allowing us to alter the course if necessary and measure our progress. With this in mind, we can move to phase two of our plan.
Phase 2: Environmental Scanning
In this phase, we study and make assumptions about our external environments in order to achieve our collective mission. We will look at the external factors, political, economic, sociological, and technological (P.E.S.T.), that have and will have an impact on the company. We must keep in mind the values we project as a culture, and understand that these values give rise to situational norms that we can measure by tangible and observable behaviours.
For instance, at TelQue, we place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of camaraderie among our workers, as we believe it’s good for our staff on a personal level, and that in the long run, it will contribute heavily to our sustainability as an organization. This works for us because we’ve nurtured the deal and have seen it grow in an organic way, but we have to understand that it may not work as easily when we transition into New Brunswick.
Are there political forces at work that may impede our progress? Yes, there are. The New Brunswick government has made it clear that they are wary of us, a Quebec company, taking over a home-grown company, and wonder what that will do to the jobs of its citizens. This governmental “concern” may impede our ability to get a deal done quickly. What we have to do is meet with them and show them how we operate and what our corporate culture is like. If we invite representatives from the New Brunswick government to our facilities in Quebec, to meet with our staff, as guided by our communications team, we have no doubt they will come to respect our values and how we intend to make a positive impact on the fledgling Funding Solutions, which, in turn, will increase employee morale and, most importantly for them, the number of jobs.
Economically, there will be challenges. At present, the Quebec economy is doing much better than New Brunswick’s, and that has caused the employees to internalize and lend credence to rumours about losing their jobs to the “big, rich, bully” from Quebec. We have to demonstrate that our financial status will help, allowing us to effectively promote our positive, engaging corporate culture, rather than hinder. We will not force new, alien computer systems upon them, but instead, we plan on using our financial capital to increase the social health and capital of the company. A huge ‘Day One’ extravaganza, utilizing regional assets, such as local farmers’ foods, recreational facilities, organized by our executives and managers, who will be on the front lines meeting and getting to know our new employees and local community, will ideally ingratiate us there. We would like to start a weekly softball game during the summer months and a weekly bowling event during the winter to increase after work socializing and to put money back into the local economy. Implementing social activities that serve to connect and help other local businesses is the most prudent course of action to build morale and worker efficiency/satisfaction.
The language barrier will be a concern as we merge. At TelQue, we are a predominantly French-speaking company with bilingual capabilities. At Funding Solutions, they primarily speak English, and though they know French, it is a different dialect than the one we speak in Quebec. We must quell the language barriers by having our best and most knowledgeable linguists go to New Brunswick and communicate our plans with them and have them voice any communication-related concerns with us. To begin with, all of our communications, whether by e-mail, newsletter or intranet, will be issued in both English and French, and we will have a member of our communications team move to New Brunswick to work full time at their facility. We understand that language is a very sensitive issue for some, and we will do everything possible to help mitigate potential problems.
Lastly, in terms of the P.E.S.T. analysis, comes the technological aspect. Luckily for us, Funding Solutions uses the exact same computer database, so the transition will be a smooth one. Some machines will need to be updated eventually, but that process is not a priority. The workers at the New Brunswick facility will be able to continue to use their systems normally.
After doing a P.E.S.T. analysis, there are several issues that we will encounter, but with plans in place for each one, we will be ready move forward efficiently and effectively.
Phase 3: Internal Performance Analysis
This phase involves combining the first two phases, internal review and environmental scanning, and conducting an internal audit. This audit is conducted by using the S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. The intention of this audit is to examine our organization’s growth, cash flow, quality, staffing, technology, service performance, profit, operations and return on investment (ROI). This audit will provide data for gap analysis, and will tell us how realistic and workable our strategic business model is.
TelQue has grown steadily. Over the past ten years, we have seen our staff grow from 25 people to 70. Most of the 70 have been with us for more than five years. This is a strength, and we plan on building on this as we become TelLaurentide. TelQue’s cash flow has remained strong as well, doubling from four to eight million dollars in the past seven years. We are proud to employ high-quality staff, and it shows in our customer satisfaction ratings (we use surveys). We have also conducted bi-annual interviews with top line management at the hospitals we work with, and their responses have been extremely positive for quite some time. Our technology was updated two years ago, and remains viable, but as technology moves forward at its ever-quick pace, we must keep our systems updated, and probably within the next two years, we will need an extensive upgrade of our systems to remain prosperous. If we don’t upgrade, it will become a weakness and could pose a threat to our long-term viability. Our return on investment has been great at TelQue, and the surplus of cash at our disposal has allowed us to strategically merge with another company in order to broaden our scope and scale.
A primary threat to our company is the proliferation of similar telemarketing companies in the past three years that are offering our clients, in some cases, better deals. This is a threat, but because of our tremendous record of customer satisfaction, ease and comfort in dealing with outisde stakeholders, and great corporate culture that all of our clients (hospitals) have stayed with us for over four years. Other than this burgeoning competition, our business has run smoothly the past few years, though that in itself could pose a threat. What will happen if something big goes awry? We have to be ready at all times with contingency plans, and our communications team has been working diligently on this, especially with the merger on the horizon.
Once we have completed the audit, we will be able to formulate objectives, goals, tactics, and strategies. Our goals will describe our desired results. It is vital that our goals are understood by all members of our organization, and are more effective if made simple and achievable.
Our objectives must be S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time sensitive). Objective 1: Increase revenue in the New Brunswick location by 20% within one year. Objective 2: Increase revenue in our Quebec location by 10% within one year. Objective 3: Increase social activity in our New Brunswick branch by 50% within six months so as to change and improve the corporate culture there. Objective 4: Increase internal employee engagement through daily e-mails, weekly intranet notices, bi-weekly newsletters, and the opportunity to meet and converse with top line managers once a month in a town-hall, two-way symmetrical-style process.
Our objectives involve particular tactics that lead to our strategy. Our strategy defines a general direction, our priorities, and provides a value proposition unique to our company. It is important for us to consider what our strategy will involve, but also what it won’t. For instance, we know that the corporate culture of Funding Solutions was sloppy and toxic, but we don’t want to alienate our new co-workers by dismissing any values and culture that were built in spite of the executives. Whatever positives that were built should be highlighted and carefully bridged with our corporate culture. We also want to be careful not to make the strategic vision too convoluted, as it can tune people out, and if it’s overly long, by the time we’re done explaining and implementing it, time will have invariably necessitated a new strategy. Proper training in strategic planning is of the utmost importance, and if done correctly, will be invaluable to our organization.
Phase 4: Contingency Planning
This phase of the strategic plan accounts for how we as an organization will deal with the unexpected and still achieve our goals. We have to be prepared that along the way, certain things won’t go exactly as we thought they would.
Our contingency plan must contain: a) an identification of the most important internal and external threats to our organization, especially those other than the most likely to occur; b) the development of “trigger points” to spur action steps for each contingency (for instance, if the language issue becomes a problem, we will have a conference call between the facilities in Quebec and New Brunswick in order to effectively, and in an engaged manner, find solutions); and c) an agreement on which action steps we will implement for each trigger point. If there arises a situation for which we do not have a contingency plan, we will involve our communications team, our managers, our executives and our front line employees. Workers at any level should feel free to voice their opinions, and contribute to solutions, if they so desire.
As organizational communicators, we must contribute significantly and measurably to the strategy of our organization so that it may accomplish the goals, objectives and mission it has set forth. This involves a detailed plan, such as the one we’ve compiled for the merger of TelQue and Funding Solutions. Sometimes though, it also involves trusting your instincts, and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Moving forward with our plan to merge, we must remember to keep all levels of our employees involved and engaged. Once we set that foundation, it gives us a much greater chance of being successful, with our clients, the hospitals, and the people they serve. The R.A.C.E. formula is of the utmost importance to us, and it is prudent for us to make sure we utilize it every step of the way. If we do the proper research, and take care to analyze the findings and communicate them to our employees, we will remain ahead of our rivals during this highly competitive time. Lastly, we must not forget the evaluation process, which, when done most successfully, happens at each and every step of the plan.