[Podcast] How to Communicate with Employees During Mergers and Acquisitions

 In Comms Heroes, Podcast

Culture, Comms & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up. In this episode, we have Lindsay Williams, not only a friend of mine, but also, more importantly, the Director of Digital Communications at AccentCare.

In the past six years, AccentCare has doubled in size organically, and through a lot of acquisitions, going from about 12,000 employees to 25,000 employees. Listen to why Lindsay’s first duty is to understand the new audience, and what a good communications blend that drives business results and motivates employees looks like.

“As communicators, it’s our role to work with all the different stakeholders to take the information that new employees need, simplify it, and give them snack-able pieces of information that are not only gonna help them be successful [with AccentCare], but that are also going to help them understand the culture.”

-Lindsay Williams, Director of Digital Communications at AccentCare

So, settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guests I have lined up for you.

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

 

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #8 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Lindsay, welcome to the podcast.

Lindsay Williams: Thanks so much, Chuck. I’m so excited, I could potentially be at a loss for words, but we know that’s not ever gonna happen.

Chuck Gose: I was just gonna say, that’s probably the first time, if that is true. That’s the first time that would have happened. So let’s grab a seat here-

Lindsay Williams: You wouldn’t be that lucky.

Chuck Gose: … at the Culture, Comms & Cocktails and let’s get started. I want to make a bridge from the previous episode, and on that we talked about a recent merger that Jaycee Breese and Evergy went through. But at AccentCare, because M and A is a big topic, at AccentCare, you guys seem to be in acquisition mode quite a bit which is a little different from mergers. What do you see is the communicator’s role during this time of acquisition?

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely, Chuck. In the past six years since our CEO has been with AccentCare, we’ve doubled in size itself organically, but a lot through acquisition, so we’ve gone from about 12,000 employees to 25,000 employees. And whenever we look at an acquisition, as communicators, we don’t wanna look at what’s the message as our first duty. Our first duty is to look at who the audience is and understand them. That’s number one in my role for communications.

And so whenever we look at the audience of employees who have recently been acquired, for us, it’s clinicians, it’s administrators, it’s operators, it’s professionals who have potentially had their entire career with the same home health company that we just acquired. And so for them, they’ve just received news that they’ve been acquired, and they go from working for a company that they love, and they know everything about. They have a deeply seated culture, to being acquired by AccentCare who they’ve potentially never heard of.

And so as the communicator, we have to understand the uncertainty and the unease and the change that they’re having to process in their mind, and once we understand that, we can then start looking at the message, and we have to know that everything is gonna be overwhelming if it’s all at once. And so, as communicators, it’s our role to work with all the different stakeholders to take the information that these new employees need, simplify it, and give them snack-able pieces of information that are not only gonna help them be successful with AccentCare, but that are also going to help them understand the culture.

And so, that’s where we really get to hone in on our skills as communicators, is understanding the people first. And here at AccentCare, one of the most recent acquisitions we had is Steward Home Care and Hospice up in the northeast. And recently, we had three of their executive locators who were over their location, so they were leaders, right? And their organization, and they were here in Dallas for training. And I had the opportunity to meet with them and introduce them to the way we communicate here at AccentCare, which is relatively new, that we’ve introduced and it’s a mobile app for employee communication.

It’s called AccentCare Today, it’s for the ACT app and I’m just letting you know, this is AccentCare Today. And if you’re in AccentCare Today, we’re going to help prepare you for tomorrow. And we had an opportunity to get these leaders on the app, and we have a channel that’s just for those Steward employees that’s filled with pictures of the roadshows that our employees had done up in Steward, in Boston. But also has the operational and clinical information they need to be successful now that they’re with AccentCare.

And so we got the leaders on the app, and one of them grabbed her phone, and she’s a native Bostonian and she had it and she goes, “I just love y’all.” And it was really cool to see that we were able to understand what they’ve been going through, and with that information and the connection it had, because we had a Bostonian saying “Y’all,” by the end of it. And it was really, really cool to have that and see that come to life once we took the time to understand what it was they needed and who they are as people.

Chuck Gose: I’m glad you clarified that, because I was gonna ask, did the Bostonian actually use the word, “Y’all,” and-

Lindsay Williams: She did.

Chuck Gose: … they did, which shows the excitement. [crosstalk] Secretly, everybody wants to be a little bit southern or Texan.

Lindsay Williams: I mean, I’m partial, but I think that is 100% the truth.

Chuck Gose: And thinking back to some of the recent acquisitions, even the one that you just described, has this been a boon to the culture at AccentCare, or has it been a bit of a strain? Because I know it is stressful on both sides, both the acquiree and the acquirer, how has this impacted the culture there at the company?

Lindsay Williams: You know, that’s a great question and I don’t want to dismiss the fact that yes, there’s a strain, but that’s where, as communicators we have to step in and say, “Okay, let’s help ease that.” And so ultimately, it’s been a boon for us in a couple of different ways with each company that we’ve acquired, they all have a very unique, strong culture which is wonderful. And so, we’re able to take the pieces of their culture that make them who they are and make them a strong company and really, the reason we acquired them is because they’re a strong company and we want to add that to what we already have.

And so, with each one, we’ve gotten a little bit stronger and it’s been really cool to see how AccentCare has built and evolved based on the companies they’ve acquired. For instance, Texas Home Health was one of our acquisitions a few years back. AccentCare as a whole has just celebrated its 20 year anniversary. But because of our acquisition with Texas Home Health, we have more than 50 years of experience, and that’s a powerful thing to be able to bring to the table in home health.

We had another acquisition in Mississippi with Sta-Home Home Health & Hospice, and they had a very strong culture of transparency with their communication. They used a lot of video and technology in the way that they communicated with their employees. So we’ve been able to take pages from their playbook and reuse them at AccentCare to make us stronger and build our culture, and it’s been a really cool evolution to see what each company we acquire brings to the table to make us a whole.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, I remember when I was on site there with you and the team, and people kept referring to the Sip. And it did take a minute to figure out that was the employees from Mississippi.

Lindsay Williams: And you know, the Sip has really taken on a life of its own on our mobile app, and it’s incredible to see how they’ve shaped other regions with the things that they’re doing, because they’re so comfortable communicating. They’re getting our other regions comfortable with it by seeing, “Oh, that’s what Mississippi is doing, we’re comfortable doing that in Texas, now.” So it’s really great to see how their culture continues to shape AccentCare as a whole.

Chuck Gose: And that’s great that they then can also lead in their own ways. And speaking of leading, this is your second go round with SocialChorus, and launching a new internal comms platform. You did it at a previous employer, now with AccentCare. What did you learn the first time, that you then added to your next experience? This most recent experience with AccentCare. What lesson did you learn that you didn’t have to re-learn the second time around?

Lindsay Williams: Great question. There are a lot of lessons learned. But one of the biggest things that I learned, and I think it’ll come out to be two lessons learned, is first, nothing is impossible. My previous employer, we launched our app in 28 days. We had an incredible partnership with SocialChorus, and because it was such an accelerated timeline to launch, we didn’t do a pilot, and that scared some people, but we had to be okay with it. We had to trust our employees. That’s one thing that we really learned, that I learned there, was to trust employees and let it take on a life of its own.

If you don’t trust your employees, how are you ever going to have a strong and deep connection with them?

The other thing is, we didn’t know what to expect, and whenever we trust our employees, we end up being blown away by much they ended up really surprising us by taking on a life of their own, within the app, and really building culture even further. At AccentCare, one of the things I was most excited about is that we didn’t have an accelerated timeline to launch our app. We had the time to do a pilot, really narrow it down. Be strategic about the way that we put it out there and give our executive directors at the local level the ability to communicate through the app, using the backend of the system.

But, that takes time. And that pilot was really taking time to shape up, and people just kept coming to me and saying, “Is ACT ready yet? Is it ready? Can we use it for this?” And everybody had a use case. And I felt that fuel and the hunger and everybody was excited. And I said, “You know what? I didn’t do a pilot at DentalOne, it’s not impossible and I don’t wanna let perfection with the pilot get in the way of connection.”

And so having that experience previously, bringing to AccentCare, I was able to say, “Forget it. We don’t need to have it perfect with the pilot.” Let’s put it out there, let’s connect, and then we’ll perfect. And it’s been so incredible to see how striking while the iron is hot, people already understood what the use cases were. Why was I trying to make it perfect and really get it local? We can get that local after we have it out there. So it’s been really incredible to see the connection that’s come together, and we’re still testing it on the backend. But because the technology is so agile, we’ve been able to really meet the needs of the organization on a whole new level.

Chuck Gose: That’s such a great point you bring up about perfection. Because that is something that, I don’t wanna label all communicators struggle with it, but there is expectation of things being perfect. So, I think that is a wonderful lesson to communicators out there. Because there’s always that fear of hitting sand. There’s always that fear of-

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely.

Chuck Gose: … something not being quite right. But that’s where a lot of the things we talk about with people is where B+ is better than A+. That B+ means usually getting out there, it’s letting people experience and it’s getting the feedback. And you could argue, is it ever perfect? Probably not. Maybe should it ever be perfect? Probably not. But that’s honestly, Lindsay, that is a great lesson for communicators out there is it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely. I’m guilty as charged. I think that we can edit to the point of it just being too sterile. And really, if you get it perfect, is it going to be relatable? Probably not. And so if you just let it ride, you allow people to be themselves, and I think that that’s what’s the most important thing ever when it comes to communicating. Because everything we do as communicators is so public and so visible, we just get caught up with it being perfect, and instead, let’s just step back and let our employees take charge. Because what they’re putting out their is their quick little snack-able bit of “Here’s what’s happening now,” cool. Let’s be more like them, rather than trying to provide.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, that one piece of advice I like to share with communicators. Sometimes you just have to get the hell out of the way.

Lindsay Williams: Right.

Chuck Gose: Let the organization do what it wants to do, and that leads to my next question, because one thing that I think communicators should struggle with, is balancing what employees want, and what the business needs. And ideally, you would think in corporate culture that those things are the same, and often times they are not. So, what do you think, or what’s the best way to create content or balance content that can satisfy both? What, because the employees are in a platform and they see things they want, that’s a win. If the business had needs, things they have to tell the employees, that’s a win. What’s the type of content you’ve seen that really works inside those platform?

Lindsay Williams: That’s a great question, and this one that I could go back and forth on, and I really want to give you two answers. What employees want are to feel connected, and what the business wants is for employees to know of course, the correct processing and procedures. What are deadlines for annual enrollment? Things like that. But what I’ve found is, the perfect blend, and again, it’s never perfect because you have to shake it up every now and then, is getting employees involved with what you’re communicating.

So, employees want to be motivated, and they want to be rewarded, and the business wants to help drive certain behaviors. So the perfect blend of content comes whenever you’re able to do maybe a competition or a leaderboard around an operation process, and get the employees involved with that. And then, if you can throw a video in the mix to motivate, you have a really nice solid blend of a culture, and a connection with operation processes being driven by that communication.

Chuck Gose: Well, Lindsay, again, I appreciate your advice. And my takeaway, you and I have had many conversations, is this idea around perfection. It has my head spinning around ways that we can maybe get communicators not to focus so long, or being hung up on being perfect and teaching them that things are good enough. But, so, the podcast is called Culture, Comms & Cocktails, we’ve talked a little bit about culture and comms.

Chuck Gose: We left the really fun part at the end. Before we get to cocktails though, I do have a very personal question for you, Lindsay. Being in Dallas-

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely.

Chuck Gose: Being in Dallas, I know you’ve attended some Mavericks games in your lifetime, when Dirks-

Lindsay Williams: Just a few.

Chuck Gose: … retirement speech, did you cry?

Lindsay Williams: 100%, as did every man in that stadium. It was powerful, I had chills, and I thought back through every single game I’ve ever been to. The 2011 championship, it was one of the most powerful moments in sport.

Chuck Gose: I was thinking about it-

Lindsay Williams: And I cried like a baby.

Chuck Gose: … as it happens. We think about athletes as athletes, we don’t think about them as employees. But when you-

Lindsay Williams: Right.

Chuck Gose: … think about Dirk Nowitski and obviously, he’s spent his entire career there. What an amazing, obviously player and athlete, he is. So you talk about him as a contributor. But also as an ambassador for the organization and the city. It was also cool to then see, I guess you’d say, competitive businesses, other teams out there, embrace what he gave. And that was just so cool, and with you being a local person, I was just curious what your takeaway was on that.

Lindsay Williams: No, it was absolutely incredible, and it is true. You think about his loyalty to Dallas and the team, but then you think about how loyal the team has been to him. And what Mark Cuban has poured into him as an employee. So, the feat of the Dallas Mavericks, and it’s really incredible to see what has come out of that, and his career is something that here in Dallas, people are still talking about it. He was at the Stars game the other night, the first playoff being that we were at, Dirk was there.

So he’s slowly making his rounds to every sporting event here in Dallas, now that he has a little bit of time off, and his legacy continues to live on, it’s really, really incredible.

Chuck Gose: Well thanks for indulging me on that, because it was something I was curious about.

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely.

Chuck Gose: To close on the cocktail, we’ve had some really great cocktail recommendations here on the podcast, so I’m curious, Lindsay Williams, what is your favorite cocktail?

Lindsay Williams: All right, my favorite cocktail does not currently have a name. But it is one called the Bartender’s Choice, and of course, I’m bringing it home to Texas, Fredericksburg, Texas, that is. There is a distillery called Elk Distillery and Winery, and the Elk Store in downtown Fredericksburg. And they combine two of my three favorites, which are gin and red wine. And I know you’re a gin fan as well, so I have a bottle I’m saving for you.

But the cocktail is a gin martini, two ounces of gin, an ounce of lime juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup, shaken. And then you take a spoon, turn it upside down, and do a red wine floater on top.

Chuck Gose: I’m hooked, I’m in.

Lindsay Williams: It’s phenomenal.

Chuck Gose: Now, is this a spring drink, is it a summer drink? Is it just a, just an all seasons because it’s a delicious beverage?

Lindsay Williams: You could definitely do it all seasons. I would say it’s a transitional beverage going from red wine comfort of the cold winter into the spring, summer cocktail.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, I count that an all seasons. That is awesome. And for people who don’t know where Fredericksburg is, give us some Texas geography context here.

Lindsay Williams: It is about an hour and a half, about an hour, hour and a half outside of Boston.

Chuck Gose: Okay. Amazing recommendation, Lindsay. Also, thank you again for your insight, your knowledge, your sharing and obviously being a great representative of the internal comms industry.

Lindsay Williams: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Chuck. This was a blast.

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