From the somewhat plausible to the downright outrageous, rumors abound whenever a transaction is announced. While some rumors may be innocuous, unfortunately others may have lasting, damaging effects on your company and employee morale so it’s important to quickly put a stop to them.

Here are three practical steps to kill gossip and reduce confusion.

1. Communicate Early

Of course the best way to stop rumors from spreading is to prevent them in the first place. On day one of the acquisition, publish and distribute your 100-Day Plan, your integration program for the newly merged company, so that employees understand what to expect including changes to benefits, payroll, and operations. No one likes being left in the dark and in an information vacuum people will likely imagine the worst. You don’t have to share every last detail of the deal, but you should let employees how they will be affected by the transaction.

2. Set up an Anonymous Hotline

A toll-free hotline or an online or physical question box, is a great way for employees to anonymously voice their frustrations, concerns, and questions without fear of repercussions. You’ll also be able to answer relevant questions rather than allowing employees to fill in the blanks on their own or through the grapevine.

3. Be Honest

Don’t lie. This simple principle most of us learn as children is vital to establishing and maintaining trust in a company. The truth will come out eventually and the consequences of lying will be worse than if you had told the truth in the first place. Although it might be bad news, it’s best to rip the band aid off quickly. We once had a buyer tell an entire plant they were losing their jobs because the buyer was shutting the factory down as a result of the acquisition. Of course people were upset, but they respect our client’s honesty and had ample time to plan next steps in their career rather than being blindsided.

Change is hard, but by communicating early, addressing questions, and remaining honest, you can prevent rumors from spreading after an acquisition.

For more advice on integration, download our special report “Planning for Integration – Begin at the Beginning.”

The Street interviewed Capstone CEO David Braun for the article “Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Likes Sound of SpinMedia’s Music Brands.”

In the article David Braun analyzes the deal’s strategic rationale and discusses how traditional media businesses can continue to grow amidst a changing environment. As print media declines and digital media consumption rises, traditional publishing and communication companies must find new ways to stay relevant, capture market share and most importantly revenue.

Read the full article on The Street here: Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Likes Sound of SpinMedia’s Music Brands.”

Poor communication can really hamper your integration efforts, especially when you have to break bad news to your employees. When it comes to sharing an unpopular message, some executives try to sugar coat or beat around the bush. In my experience, avoidance tactics are not effective and just make employees angrier once they eventually find out the truth.

Pulling the Band-Aid Off

The best way to break bad news is to pull the Band-Aid off very quickly. Get bad news out early on in the integration process. Many people often assume the worst when they hear their company is being acquired so they might not be as shocked earlier in the process. If you wait until later, you’ll likely face more resistance from employees who are starting to feel comfortable again.

You might feel uncomfortable with the “pulling the Band-Aid off” approach, but it does work. I was once part of an integration program where we were on the floor of a unionized factory the morning after we closed on an acquisition. Unfortunately, the plan was to shut down this particular factory. I remember standing there, waiting for the new owner to give them the bad news and wondering how he would deliver it.

To my surprise, he stood up and said, “I want you to know that we intend to shut down this facility. Most of you are going to lose your jobs in the next six to nine months.”

At first, there was a lot of anger, frustration, and confusion. But as the buyer walked them through how things were going to work and told them about the career placement, counseling, and benefits available to them during the transition, the workers began to calm down. They were still angry, but they respected the fact that they weren’t lied to. They appreciated the early communication, which gave them time to prepare and plan for how the integration would impact them.

Sharing the bad news early also helps you eliminate confusion and prevent the rumor mill from starting. As bad as your news may be, the rumors will be ten times worse.

Advice for Breaking the Bad News

Of course each situation is different, but generally, there are a couple of things you can do to break bad news in the “best way.”

1. Be Certain – First, make sure that you have thought through the decision and are certain you wish to move forward. Once you proceed down a path, it’s very difficult to reverse the ship, so be sure that in the long run this is the best decision for the newly merged company.

2. Write it Down – Once you have arrived at the decision, write it down. This way you can get people comfortable around the message and make sure everyone is saying the same thing. This is especially helpful if people are not particularly passionate or excited about the decision. Effectively you are giving people a script so there will be symmetry in your communication.

There’s really no good way to break bad news, but it’s important to be honest and not to drag it out. The sooner you tell people, the sooner you can move forward toward success.

Photo Credit: John Haslam via Flickr cc

“We have a strong vision and a clear plan for growing the company in the future,” Sarah, the CEO, told me with complete confidence during a recent strategy session.

Her CFO disagreed: “We have no vision.”

Various members of her executive team shared similar sentiments privately with my team and me. Many expressed anxiety; they had no idea where the company was headed.

So what had happened? How could the CEO be 100 percent confident while her team was plagued by doubts?

This scenario where the CEO has one vision in mind while others within the company have another is a classic example of a disconnect between leaders and their teams. The worst part of the misalignment is that the CEO thinks everyone is in agreement.

Differing perspectives about a company’s future can arise because:

  •  The vision has not been communicated clearly – Perhaps it was a simple communication issue. Either Sarah had not fully described her vision or the team was having difficulty understanding what she had told them. This could be solved by restating the vision and answering questions about the company’s future.
  • Disagreement over the vision – On the other hand, maybe Sarah did share her vision, but her executives disagreed with her on the direction of the company. In this case, it would be helpful to have an open dialogue about why people disagree. Perhaps Sarah was a visionary with a great idea that the executives couldn’t quite grasp yet. Or, perhaps she was too wrapped up in her own perspective and was missing warning signs that the executives could clearly see.
  • There is no vision – Sometimes, a CEO does not actually have a clear vision to lead the company forward, even if they think they do. Sarah’s ideas may not be fully developed, or her perspective may be unrealistic given the current market. In this scenario, the first step would be for Sarah to acknowledge the problem and work with her executive team to develop a strong vision for the company.

In this case, Sarah did have a vision but had failed to communicate it clearly to the rest of the team. And, most of the executive and management team was afraid to express their concerns with her. This is understandable. It can be intimidating to disagree with your boss! During the strategy session, we used our role as third-party advisors, and some proprietary tools, to facilitate a dialogue that clarified and deepened everyone’s understanding of the company’s vision.

Having these conversations is necessary for successful strategic growth. You can’t be successful if half of your team is lost or confused. If you find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to foster a dialogue with your team. Try an internal strategy meeting, writing down your vision statement and creating a culture where people can speak openly with you.

Because people can be hesitant to be honest with you, sometimes you might need to use an anonymous survey to get feedback.  Or to break through the communication barrier, you can host a strategy session facilitated by an outside third party, like the one we had with Sarah and her team.

Remember as the CEO or president you’re not single-handedly taking the company into the future. While you might be the leader, it takes a team to help a company grow and execute a strategy. Make sure everyone on your team is following the same path.