Brain Trust: Advice From Retired CU Leaders

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series drawing from questions posed by credit union executives to members of Credit Union Retired Executives (CURE), a resource for free, confidential management advice and direction. The answers are supplied by former credit union leaders.

Q: I am a marketing director looking for recommendations about what communication is necessary during a merger.

A: Communication is vital during all phases of any organizational change, but more so in today's atmosphere of uncertainty. Not knowing, not being aware of what is happening and what is coming creates doubt and more anxiety than necessary-and can create a situation that may lead to failure.

The method of communication-whether via e-mail, web, meetings, or conference calls-is not important. What is important is regular, timely communication to all parties via all methods throughout the process. There's a good reason for everyone to know. Employees need to know for their own sake but also to help others understand what's happening. Members need to know so that they understand that the merger is a positive change, one that will benefit them. They also need to be reassured that their money is safe. The board needs to fully understand the merger so that they can present the case for it clearly and concisely, in a way that is easy for everyone to understand.

There are two pitfalls in any communication effort: (1) saying too little, (2) saying too much.

Saying too little incurs the greatest risk. Too little information can lead to rumors, which can be dangerous and misleading on many levels, from creating uncertainty-equally damaging among employees and members alike-to spreading misinformation and diverting attention away from the main goal. The end result could potentially be derailing the merger.

Saying too much can prove confusing to everyone, and you as one of the organization's leaders could be bogged down in explanations that involve too much detail, resulting in even more confusion - which also undermines the effort and could ultimately derail it.

Communication must also happen often enough to make the stakeholders feel secure in the knowledge that they are an important part of the process, that they can count on you to keep them informed, and that "the faucet is open," so to speak.

In sum, make sure you communicate regularly and in a timely manner-and keep it short, honest, to the point, and easy to understand.

CURE is a network connecting current CU professionals with retired credit union executives. For info: www.curetiredexecs.com.