ECCO Part I: During an M&A, say something, anything


I just spent three wonderful weeks in Europe. The impetus was the ECCO Global Communications Network bi-annual conference (IMPACT is a member of this independent network – we have sister agencies in over 40 countries). 

As always, great speakers and some valuable time to talk about what’s keep agency owners across the globe awake at night (unlike Australia, finding staff is still the number one issue). 

A presentation on Building Engagement and Culture during Divestment highlighted the need to say something, anything to staff during a merger or acquisition. I’d extend that advice to a crisis as well. If you don’t say anything, people will fill in the gaps and misinformation reigns! 

Dora Mercuri, Global Human Resources Director for Avient spoke to the group about how chemical manufacturing business DSM separated from its protective materials business (including Dyneema brand). If you don’t know about the World’s Strongest Fibre – check it out here. 

Not surprising, employee engagement scores dropped after the divestment announcement was made as DSM did not communicate how the acquisition would affect staff. As a previous beloved and generous employer, anxiety set in – would they still have a job? 

One year out, a leadership team was established for transition. Their objectives: 

  • Increase engagement

  • Nurture wellbeing


  • Retain critical talent


  • Increase work effectiveness (growth would be expected of the new entity). 

Using the phases of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, the new Avient leadership team was able to identify where to focus their efforts. The Change Curve is used to understand the different stages people and organisations as they go through it. By predicting the likely responses to transformation, you can provide support to help people as they transition through it. 

There are four key stages people tend to go through as they experience change: 

  • People’s first responses are often shock and denial, so it’s vital to keep them fully informed about what’s going on.


  • Anger and fear often come next. At this stage, emotions are to be handled with sensitivity and care.


  • People gradually accept their new situation, but they’ll still need time to get used to it.


  • Finally, when your people are fully committed to the changes, help them to celebrate their success. 

While communications/listening underscored Avient’s strategy (town halls, walking the floor, pulse surveys) the senior leadership team moved to normalise divestments by having guest speakers from other companies who have been through similar experiences.  

They equipped their people with the tools to manage health and wellbeing and used the momentum to build desired culture. They also used the transition to strengthen learning of the leadership team. 

Two months after signing of deal, engagement bounced back (up 3 per cent on scores prior to the announcement). Key takeouts from Dora: 

  1. Build a compelling story (purpose, identity, culture)


  2. Use as a catalyst to learn, practice skills/build capability


  3. Build optimism for the future


  4. Make the people the priority. 

I would also add, be transparent. If the information is commercial-in-confidence then say so, but educate your people on why and give them some timings around when you can talk more openly about the changes. Building trust is key. 

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