Deciding when the time has come to inform your people about your plans often means walking a fine line.
The right point in time varies case by case and is determined by things like the size of your company, relationship and trust between management and employees, and style of communication. The more your people feel as though they are members of a big family, the earlier they should be made part of the process. The likelihood for the transaction actually to be finalized is another key factor. So are the magnitude of changes that are likely to occur for your people, the competitive environment and others.
It is your responsibility to design the information strategy best suited for your particular situation. The following guidelines may help:
(a) Keep the project confidential until you are perfectly sure there is a market for your company and a high probability that your financial and qualitative objectives will be met. Premature announcement will lead to drop in motivation, lower productivity and potential loss of key people. Employees can cope with everything but uncertainty. Professional M&A advisors will handle your project in a way that highest possible confidentiality is achieved during this initial phase.
(b) Plan the information process thoroughly and do it in a staged way. First talk to your key managers who have not been involved in the initial phase. Share the responsibility for a smooth implementation of the defined information process with them.
(c) Put incentives in place for your key employees to ensure the selling and the integration processes happen without major disturbances.
(d) Thoroughly phrase the explanation for the reasons you decided to sell. Keep in mind the wishes and needs of your employees when describing the process planned as well as the likely implications. Review and rehearse contents and delivery of your messages with your close colleagues before communicating to the organization.
(e) For timing, use this rule of thumb: Make the announcement when the first (acceptable) offer is on the table and not later than due diligence starts.
A version of this article originally appeared in Soft•letter and Software Success.