Saying “Nothing” versus Saying Nothing

Question: What should you say when there is nothing new or substantive to report?

Answer: Something.

Professional integration managers know that frequent, open communication is one of the cornerstones of a successful acquisition.  But they sometimes get paralyzed in those inevitable periods when the process is moving along according to plan but without crossing any new milestones.

The Merger Verger was talking recently with the CFO of a regional chain of apparel stores that found himself in just such a position.  He wanted his team to be communicating with key stakeholders (especially employees in this instance) but he didn’t see anything really pressing to tell them.  Things were proceding more or less as hoped, with nothing particularly positive or negative to report.

I asked my contact whether he was pleased with the way the integration was going. “Yes,” said he.  I then asked him whether the fact that the integration was proceeding as hoped might be of interest – reassuring, motivating, etc. – to his employees. “Yes,” again.

So that is the news.

It is essential for executives to remember that the turbulence of an acquisition reverberates through lower levels of the employee infrastructure over and over and over.  People do not stop talking with each other.  And if they have no new information about which to talk they will frequently assume the worst.  Saying nothing just because there is no landmark event to report on opens the door to uncertainty and misinformation.

One of the most positively-charged pieces of “non-news” that you can communicate to stakeholders is that the integration process is on track and that you are making steady (if uneventful) progress towards the objectives of your acquisition.

All major projects cycle through periods of high-profile events and followed by others of steady but unremarkable progress.  People get that.  But don’t underestimate the   reassuring value of a simple “we’re moving along just fine” update every now and then.  It can be powerfully good news.

Question: What other forms of “non-news” have you found useful to communicate to stakeholders?  How does this type of information differ from group to group?

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