Some time ago, Microsoft announced that it would acquire the professional networking site, LinkedIn, for US$ 196 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at US$ 26.2 billion. In an e-mail to LinkedIn employees, LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, explained why he decided to sell the company to Microsoft. Weiner mentions Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s leadership as a driving factor: “The Microsoft that has evolved under Satya’s leadership is a more agile, innovative, open and purpose-driven company,” Weiner wrote. “It was the latter point that first had me thinking we could make this work, but it was his thoughts on how we’d do it that got me truly excited about the prospect.” After explaining in his e-mail the operating model proposed by Nadella and the obvious synergies that could be achieved between Microsoft and LinkedIn, Weiner significantly then went on to address the emotions that would inevitably surface amongst the 10 000 LinkedIn employees before, during and after such an upheaval. All leaders can learn from the following important communication factors in his e-mail (his words in italics):

  1. He contextualised the imminent change – he placed the acquisition in the context of LinkedIn’s ongoing growth journey (“Today’s announcement, that LinkedIn will be combining forces with Microsoft, marks the next step in our journey together, the next stepping stone toward realizing our mission and vision”). Employees need to understand the logic behind the change and sense the “golden thread” of growth running through the change rationale.
  2. He reaffirmed the vision and mission – a picture of a desired future state brings clarity to the change process (“Our mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful, and our vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”).
  3. He displayed confidence in the new direction – Weiner mentioned his excitement at the new prospects and possibilities of synergies created with Microsoft.
  4. He acknowledged the presence of emotion and honoured it(“No matter what you’re feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions”). Weiner mentioned that the Executive Team had likewise been processing this emotion for months.
  5. He reassured the organisation on the things that are not going to change – their positions, their managers, his role and the organisational culture and values (“Given our ability to operate independently, little is expected to change: You’ll have the same title, the same manager, and the same role you currently have – business as usual”). Reassurance of that which is remaining the same provides stability during times of change.
  6. He offered organisational assistance for those who would be fundamentally impacted by the change – people want to know how the company is going to help them through difficulties (“For those members of the team whose jobs are entirely focused on maintaining LinkedIn’s status as a publicly traded company, we’ll be helping you find your next play”). People’s hands need to be held when their roles don’t exist any longer.
  7. He expressed hope for the future(“… with two words that have become LinkedIn’s unofficial mantra: “Next play.” In other words, don’t dwell on the past, lingering for too long on a lesson learned, or the celebration of a special accomplishment, but rather focus on the task at hand. It’s a mantra that’s served us well. So, here’s to the next stepping stone: Next play”). Employees need hope. They need to know that there are infinite numbers of possibilities for them beyond the change.

Leaders need to reassure their organisations when going through change. Empathy needs to be expressed. Precise and transparent communication should be utilised – a communication that never hides bad news. It is best in the form of a dialogue that eliminates as much uncertainty as possible.

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