Have you ever been in a situation where it is obvious from the way management is behaving that something is going on, but where no-one will explain? If so, how did you react?

Suppose you were selling a division of a business, what would you tell the division staff about what is happening, and when?

Management’s instinct always seems to be to say nothing until they can be told everything – which might not be until the deal has already been signed. It is hard to argue against the objection that the deal is market-sensitive information, and that telling them anything would risk breaking Stock Exchange rules. But does that argument really hold water?

In asset sale projects I have run, it has always been essential to include in the project team – and therefore to inform – some people from the division concerned:
• They have to supply much of the due diligence information;
• The bidders want to meet the managers;
• And they want to walk round the assets they are buying.
Of course many people not directly involved notice the unusual visitors, the unusual questions, the unusual gathering of documents. They probably hear of a ‘Project X’. They are not stupid. They realise that something is going on.

So what happens? The rumour mill goes into overdrive. Speculation in the corridors mounts (and is usually much more threatening than the true story would be). Productivity probably falls – the last thing the company wants just now. The potential for (accidentally) unhelpful comments being made to bidders or to media fishing calls grows – and of course you can’t control what you have not told people.

Isn’t it better to treat staff as grownups? Tell them honestly what you can tell them, and they will understand that there are things you can’t. Tell them the confidentiality rules you need them to follow, and why. Listen to their concerns, and tell them more as and when you can. It may seem like the riskier route, but when I have been open, I have always found that people respect the confidence and cooperate willingly. Not only that, but as a result of feeling better about the relationship with you, they often volunteer useful comments or help.

Treating people as grownups means trusting them. If you don’t treat them as grownups, why would you be surprised if they don’t behave that way?

Your transition is most likely to be smooth if you keep everyone on board during the process. If you would like to talk about how to do that, contact david@otteryconsulting.co.uk.