Throughout the Microsoft-Yahoo merger dance, it’s been fascinating to try and detect how these companies were managing their internal communication strategy. There have been tantalizing hints provided through leaked memos and insider comments.
Yahoo appears to be doing things right – at least judging from this initial memo to employees (assuming it’s legitimate.) That means treating your employees like a critical audience on par with potential partners and sharholders and making sure they are informed and supportive of your position. Given the sorry track record of mergers and acquisitions – many of which are derailed due to cultural factors and lack of employee support – this would seem like a prerequisite. The messages of Yahoo’s leadership team – pushing alternatives to Microsoft, appealing to cultural pride and suggesting Yahoo still has a promising outlook and sound strategy – are likely to be resonant among its employees. Despite Yahoo’s well documented troubles with Wall Street, it appears Yahoo employees appreciate their working environment and want to safeguard their culture.
Microsoft, on the other hand, may be fighting an uphill battle trying to convince its own workforce that the deal is worth fighting for. According to several reports, including this one and a recent expose in the Wall Street Journal (can’t read this one unless you have a subscription) there is strong opposition within Microsoft and employees are unhappy internal updates have dried up since the initial announcement. It’s difficult to tell whether this will be a critical factor in Ballmer’s decision making, but it should be.
Whether or not these insider accounts are accurate I don’t know. But the lesson here is that companies would be wise to treat their employees as a critical audience before, during and after any merger process. Is pre-merger employee anxiety to be expected? Do companies sometimes have to make tough decisions that entail difficult change in order to sustain their growth? Is dramatic change always a difficult sell? Yes, yes and yes. But executives shouldn’t ignore the comments and questions of their employees, who are often well positioned to understand the potential gains and pitfalls of any merger or acquisition. After all, they are the ones who have to make it happen.