On the day it was announced that The PNC Financial Services Group Inc. would purchase National City Bank, S. Kay Geiger immediately rallied her employees new and old around the fact that the company would be stronger moving forward. Her message was this: Here were two of the oldest businesses in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region, and combined, they would be a superior entity than they were as independent parts. That same message went out to customers and to the community, and throughout the merger, that message never faltered.
Any acquisition and merger brings questions of uncertainty for employees and customers. But your job as the leader is to provide honest communication and keep them focused on the bigger picture one unified company.
As regional president, Geiger saw success by using continuous communication and a strategy of teamwork.
“It’s collaboration,” she says. “It’s two companies’ minds coming together, two companies’ commitments coming together, two companies’ customers coming together, two companies’ employees coming together. Each one of those individually becomes a very specific way in which you can deliver the message, but in no case were the messages in any of those places different.”
Here is how Geiger integrated two banks and 1,600 employees with a universal message.Create a strong team
To guide your organization through a process as large as merging two companies, you need to lead with your best.
Often in mergers, the acquiring company keeps a stranglehold on the leadership team. But Geiger felt that if she were going to unite the banks, she would need to combine management from PNC and National City.
“It makes a true blended company, as opposed to what sometimes you’ll see in a merger is one organization has a larger number of leaders from their respective company,” she says. “... If we looked at the blending of our attributes, the blending of our successes, then that would allow us to work on preparing relentlessly for our conversion that occurred over the next year.”
On day one of the merger, Geiger started by making it clear to those who ran the 17 different lines of business that forming the leadership, as well as the transition to one company, would be a collaborative process all the way through. Once it was clear that everyone’s assistance was needed, she began evaluating in teams who would best fit each position.
If you’re going to ask for a collaborative effort, you must follow through on that request.
To show that this was not about PNC but about the two banks coming together, Geiger sat down with the leaders of each line of business, such as the heads of corporate banking and wealth management, and together they openly discussed what they thought would be the best going forward for that sector in the market.
When you have multiple effective, qualified leaders, it’s not all based on experience. You need to take into account each person’s background, skill set and personal interest and match those with the parts of the business that need to be led. That’s where true dialogue helps in the process.
In PNC’s case, developing the team through a collaborative, conversational effort allowed for stronger results because people were placed in what Geiger calls their strength zone, not their comfort zone. For example, through discussion, it became clear that one of the senior leaders running the retail bank would be better suited to head the business bank.
“That created a much more powerful and even a much better business going forward because we took the strengths of their past, put them into the new future, and they could capitalize on what they had done before the two came together,” Geiger says.
While developing your leadership team, there are certain characteristics you want members to possess, especially if you’re about to embark on something as detailed as a merger.
“The best people are people that listen, are people that learn, and then they lead,” Geiger says. “Listening and learning is so important, because the toughest part is we’re all accountable and we can’t really ask people to do anything that we’re not willing to do ourselves. You have to have people that are clearly defined as relationship builders. … They have to really be very good communicators, and they have to develop skills to allow people to want to work with them as opposed to for them.”
It worked out that PNC’s new leadership is made up equally from PNC and National City employees. To also ensure collaborative planning and to truly view the big picture, Geiger made sure that her direct team included the leaders of all 17 lines of business. With a large undertaking, such as a merger, you can’t afford to miss any details or leave any segment of your business out of the conversation.
“We specifically put the multiple lines of business together,” Geiger says. “It’s not a function of how big. It’s not a function of how profitable. It’s a function of having a collaborative effort that can look at all aspects of our business.”
Once your team is in place, you need to unite them under a common goal to ensure continual collaboration. The end objective of a merger is generally straightforward. Still, you have role changes, new people working together and some uncertainty about what lies ahead. You won’t be able to successfully lead the rest of your employees through the process unless management is unified. And the only way to ensure unification all the way to the end is through communication.
“You have to be an honest and frequent communicator,” Geiger says. “It takes ultimately very, very open and very regular communication, even if the information is not always positive. Communication is the key whether the information is good or bad. By having that openness, it allows you to manage the situation rather than the situation manage you.”
Really, what it comes down to is making sure everyone is on the same page. Throughout the process, Geiger met with her team weekly to discuss and make decisions about the merger agenda.
“The art of changing a group from what it is into what it ought to be is really about having people understand where they’re at and how to visualize and prepare relentlessly on where they want to be knowing that, that all obviously continues to change,” Geiger says. “The secret is you have to communicate together what the success is going to look like, but then in order to achieve it, you have to have an everyday agenda in working toward that.”Communicate to employees
Hearing the word merger can be terrifying for employees.
Employees from both PNC and National City were nervous about what the future held, so Geiger tried to ease concern by immediately communicating the information she knew and painting the bigger picture for the staff.
“If you’re going to be in the banking business, this is the best place to be,” was the message Geiger tried to convey.
By rallying employees from the start around the goal of building a blended, much stronger company, it generated camaraderie.
It may be obvious, but you have to be as open and honest as possible with your communication. To get her message out, Geiger relied on town-hall meetings, regular e-mai ls and communication with leaders who were then directed to cascade the information through the organization. It was a collaborative effort that presented one message from multiple avenues.
“There is merit in having, from time to time, everybody together, if you can do that,” Geiger says. “We do that through town-hall meetings. We bring people together and express exactly where we are and where we intend to go, so there’s no guessing.”
It’s important that communication doesn’t end after the first announcement. You won’t be able to answer every question immediately, which will cause some uncertainty to linger with your employees.
“There’s a tendency when there’s large mergers that there’s activity early on about the task at hand, and that’s very important,” Geiger says. “But really that’s just a foundation to prepare what the organization has to look toward in continuing to recreate themselves.”
Crucial elements throughout the process are scheduling regular communication and updating employees with information as soon as it is available. Your employees not only need clear direction throughout the process to concentrate on the task at hand but to convey the proper message to your customers.
For example, PNC announced that those working in the PNC and National City branches would not find themselves unemployed.
“To have good customers, you have to have great employees,” Geiger says. “And to have great employees, you have to give them confidence.”Connect with customers
Your customers, just like your employees, have questions and concerns. Just as with your employees, you need to assure them that you’re able to serve their needs as the company moves forward. And just as with your employees, that revolves around solid communication.
“You have to feel like your customer is your most important friend, your customer is your most important asset,” Geiger says. “So we believe that regular, often and friendly communication is key.”
Because PNC is in a heavily regulated industry, there were mandatory pieces of information that had to be communicated at certain times. But you don’t want your message to feel forced. You want to deliberately reach your customers through multiple types of communication phone calls, e-mails, visits and each time you want it to feel like you’re talking directly to them.
“We had hundreds of thousands of customers who we touched during this merger, and we tried to make it as personal as possible,” Geiger says. “To make sure that they were informed so that they felt they were in control themselves, as customers, of any changes that would occur.”
Making that personal connection and sharing up-to-date information is directly linked to your staff conveying a united message and true concern for the customers’ well-being.
“Any organization collectively and wherever you are in the organization, whether you’re the president or a business banker or you’re the first person you see when you walk into a branch they need to see that you care,” Geiger says. “They need to know that you’re listening and that you care about what they have to say about their experience. They have expectations that they’re going to be serviced well. They have expectations that you’re going to be there for them. (It’s) the ability to give them the confidence that that is what you stand for.”
While the message is being communicated throughout the organization, you need to make sure that the customer is actually hearing the right message.
“Just like the avenues of communication are diverse, the avenues to know if we’re making the mark, those are diverse,” Geiger says.
PNC looks at multiple sources of data, including third-party customer surveys, monthly Gallup polls and information provided by leaders of each line of business on where their division stands.
By reviewing feedback on whether your communication has effectively cascaded through the organization, you get a better grasp on whether your message needs to be modified and what questions you need to better answer as you continue to move forward.
“That’s usually the biggest challenge of organizations coming together of whatever context they came together,” Geiger says. “Is it going to be the same going forward for me as a customer, me as an employee, that it was in the past? And the fact of the matter is that it never is. But you hope that you take what it was and give yourself an opportunity, when you have such dramatic change at your doorstep, that you look out far enough and you prepare to make yourself better.”
How to reach: The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., (888) 762- 2265 or http://www.pnc.com/