The Gatehouse Blog

Communicating acquisitions the ARM way

ARM’s Sasha Watson and Ravinder Johal have led internal communications for a number of global business acquisitions and supported one significant deal which saw ARM itself be acquired by Japan’s SoftBank Group. Here, they share their secrets for successful acquisition communications.

Awarded Britain’s most admired company, 2016, ARM is one of those companies that most people have never heard of. The fact is that ARM® technology is at the heart of the computing and connectivity revolution that is transforming the way people live and businesses operate. From the unmissable to the invisible; their advanced, energy-efficient processor designs are enabling the intelligence in 90 billion silicon chips and securely powering products from the sensor to the smartphone to the supercomputer.

To help enable more of this success, M&A has become a key part of ARM’s ambitious growth strategy. Over the last five years alone, ARM has acquired around a dozen businesses across many global locations. So it has had to develop a real expertise in communicating these deals to both existing and newly acquired employees.

“It is understandable when companies are undertaking high-profile, expensive and complex activities like M&A that senior executives push internal communications down the list, or simply consider that an email will suffice. We work hard with our leadership teams to remind them that often, without the people, without taking them on an authentic journey, an acquisition can go very wrong. Maybe not on Day One, but over time you lose people because you never had them in the first place”, says Sasha.

“ARM’s technology touches the lives of more than 70% of the world’s population and this is enabled by our amazing people! So our M&A activity looks for extraordinary talented people, who can help enable ARM to shape a smarter, more secure and connected world. This puts the people and culture aspects of the acquisition centre stage and means the role of internal communications – before, during and after the deal – are so important!”, says Ravinder.

Our people are our most important asset, and so internal communications, and ensuring that they are completely connected, play a large role in our M&A process. At ARM, we have an inclusive and open workplace; we encourage our people to live our core beliefs and to be their brilliant selves and share their ideas – supporting their growth and celebrating their unique contributions. Fortunately, from our experience, people from acquired companies usually tend to be very positive about working with us!

ARM has a dedicated M&A team made up of professionals from many ARM groups which manage the process from beginning to end. We work very closely with them and at deal time pretty much join them to meticulously plan, welcome new people on board and set about quickly to help them connect their current world to their new reality at ARM. We want people to be really clear on what we’re trying to achieve and why we make the decisions we make, so that they understand the important role they play within ARM. This applies to people within organisations we’re acquiring, as well as those within ARM – we want them to know how they help us to deliver our strategy, and have pride in that knowledge. But we also work hard to give them information they really want as quickly as possible. You will often find us with a whiteboard with what feels like a thousand post-it notes answering the question “what does this mean for me?”

Although our approach is unique to every acquisition, it usually follows three stages.

Planning

In this first phase, we need to understand the acquired company as quickly as possible. There’s a tremendous amount of information to research, collect and digest to ensure we get an accurate picture of who they are, what they do and how they communicate. With only one opportunity to make the best first impression, this research phase is critical. From considerations such as language, location, culture, organisational strategy and structure, through to how and what they communicate as a business and how their communications function runs (if they have one) – all are key components that inform the acquisition communications plan.

 

“The research phase is critical to understanding the company we’re acquiring and its people as quickly as possible. It is the difference between generic M&A comms and authentic, impactful communications.”

We also need to understand the background to the deal – why we are acquiring the company, how it will support ARM’s strategy and the benefits across the board. Working closely with external communications, we develop a set of core messages to help ensure consistent communications. Whether somebody picks up a newspaper, hears it on the news or reads the announcement internally – it all needs to align.

Due to the sensitive nature of many M&As, there is usually only a small set of people involved at this stage (in comparison to more traditional change programmes), so stakeholder management becomes even more vital, and is another key consideration during this first phase. This is also where the messaging piece is crucial, because leaders are too busy to review multiple documents.

Day one

One of the challenges around the go-live is that things can change right up until ‘Day One’, so you need to be ready to change plans up until the very last minute and be the voice of reason when multiple demands present themselves.

It’s also critical to be absolutely aligned with our external communications. News should be issued simultaneously.

Day One is really about making people feel as special and welcome as possible. We give them an opportunity to network and give away ARM ‘goodie bags’. One of the key pieces of material included in the welcome bag is a “Welcome to ARM” booklet. Though this may seem a very traditional communication tactic, it’s important when people begin to reflect on the practicalities – “When will I know my new benefits package?”, “When will I know my salary?”, “I’m travelling next week, so how do I get my train tickets? How do I get my expenses?” Making sure that FAQs are covered as soon as possible, as well as our company’s history, why we’ve acquired them and what we’re about, provides people with the basic information they need at this early, and often uncertain, stage.

Follow-up

Day One is just Day One. The follow up is absolutely so, so, so important and where the real work begins.

At this stage, it’s crucial for key ARM people to spend time with the acquired company and be physically on site as much as possible. Being on the ground allows us to react quickly to initial feedback, and adapt our approach to make sure new employees feel fully supported and engaged each step of the way. That said, we don’t want to get in the way of their work or make their environment feel completely overrun with new people. There is a balance.

“Post Day One communications never really end, and there is no such thing as business as usual because being acquired or merging with another company is extremely unusual! It’s now about keeping very close to the acquired organisation to make sure that  the communications plan and activity, and engagement with all people, is happening”, says Sasha.

The measurement piece is also fundamental during follow-up. Along with providing on the ground support and creating a culture where they feel part of ARM, any concerns, queries and legacy issues that surface need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Initially, a lot of feedback comes through informal conversations and through HR and operational processes – this captures how people are feeling about the communications, what they think of the journey so far and how it can be improved. Along with a pulse survey three months or so after Day One, this feedback informs the ongoing communications plan.

“It’s quite interesting with acquisitions, because usually you would develop your communications plan from Day One onwards. With acquisitions, the communications plan is based on the feedback we receive post Day One and usually a month or two afterward – so the plan itself is flexible and constantly evolving. Once the news of the announcement has settled, we use the feedback and the pulse survey to inform a robust communications plan. This also allows us to test and socialise the plan with people across both businesses to ensure it will work”, says Ravinder. “This part of the process is all about real time information and responsiveness. It’s about listening and gathering insights, and then responding accordingly. You’ve got to remember that we have acquired the company for their talent and capability – therefore, our people are the most important focus!”

Our advice

When it comes to acquisitions, the key thing is you’ve got to do the research and listen. Find out as much about the company and the people, and make sure messages are consistent both internally and externally. From a tactical point of view, it’s about being highly organised, reacting to change quickly, working with ambiguity, and understanding something completely different and new to you – and turning that into a communications plan, into messaging, into presentations and into speaking to people. What makes this less generic is listening, observing and ensuring that the communications are personal and accessible.

As the person leading internal comms for an acquisition, you also need to ensure you’re pulling all relevant information together so people don’t feel bombarded with communications. Do this by staying close to your network and the people involved, from IT to HR to Operations – people don’t need to see 10 emails on their HR policy, their travel policy, etc. when one will suffice.

Lastly, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the people being acquired: “If it were me and I were getting this communication or if I were going through this process, how would I want to be treated and communicated with?” Remember the flip chart with 1,000 post-it notes, what does this mean for me? This is important because so much of what we do is common sense; it is just bringing that common sense to the fore when things are extremely busy.

 

BIOGRAPHY – Ravinder Johal

Ravinder Johal is an experienced internal communicator who is passionate about delivering the right message, at the right time, in the right way, with the maximum impact! With over twenty years’ financial services experience, she has enjoyed a successful career with progressive growth in responsibility and challenge and is now a Senior Internal Communications Manager supporting the Senior Director of Internal Communications and Corporate Volunteering at ARM.

 

 

 

BIOGRAPHY – Sasha Watson


Sasha is an extremely passionate communications professional who has spent her entire 21 year career in communications roles, at agencies and in-house. She chanced upon internal communications when it was in its infancy and found it to be the perfect blend of her first love, PR, and a professional interest, HR. Her role at ARM now spans the entire internal communications remit for the company including M&A as well as corporate volunteering. These days she never goes anywhere without post-it notes!