When employees pick up the scent that they might be acquired and merged, a cloud of ambiguity descends over the organization.  This produces a sense of uncertainty that fuzzes up priorities, interferes with decision making, and breeds inertia.

How can you counter this business slowdown?

You’ll find good advice from Chip and Dan Heath in their new book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.   

The authors explain how important it is to provide crystal-clear direction for your people.  They write, “Ambiguity is the enemy.  Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors…. When you want someone to behave in a new way, explain the ‘new way’ clearly.  Don’t assume the new moves are obvious.”

It’s not good enough to ask your team to “adapt to change” or “support the merger.”  Say specifically what you want them to do.  Make it simple and avoid generalities.  Don’t be vague . . . don’t leave it open to interpretation.  Direct people—show them exactly where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue. 

Script the specific behaviors—the critical moves—that you’d want to see in a tough moment.  Spell this out for people, or else, as Chip and Dan write, “Inertia and decision paralysis will conspire to keep people doing things the old way.”  It might look like employee resistance, but maybe it’s really a lack of clarity.