Effective Internal Comms During Mergers & Acquisitions


Meike Pfefferkuchen

Mergers, acquisitions, and communications integration – Oh my!

It’s no secret that launching and integrating a new communications platform can have its challenges, and when coupled with mergers and acquisitions, the road can be a little bumpy.

Listen to Borg Warner’s account of how it has embedded the platform across a decentralised organisation during a time of change, how this faciliated engagement and bridged gaps, and the lessons learnt.

Video Transcript

– Awesome. Thank you. So thank you again for joining or being here today with me on my presentation and communication experts, I don’t need to tell you or you probably know, that is not a secret that integrating and launching a new communication platform can have its challenges. But in our case, it was coupled with a merger and acquisition, so I guess you can imagine that the road was a little bit bumpy. So today I wanted to share our acquisition story and how we were able to deploy the Firstup platform within BorgWarner. But before I do that, let me introduce myself. So my name is Meike Pfefferkuchen. I’m working for BorgWarner and I’m the global internal communication manager. The headquarter of BorgWarner is in the US and I’m based in Germany. I have more than 14 years of experience in marketing, HR and internal communications, so I would say I have a good background and I’m able to view the employee experience from different perspectives, making sure that what the employee needs and is looking for is at the center of our solution. I joined BorgWarner as part of the Delphi acquisition in 2020 and here you see some pictures of me in action. We had another spin, so I’m coming from a spinoff from Delphi Technologies, then we were acquired by BorgWarner and now, if you’ve followed the news or heard about it, BorgWarner is automotive industry. There is another spin ahead of us. So we have quite of a journey there. And then my family, we have a cat and a dog and a little one, so there you go. So let’s have a look at the agenda. I will start with an introduction of BorgWarner, so you find out what BorgWarner is actually doing. Then we look at the state of the communication by the time Delphi Technologies was acquired. Then I go into the program rollout and then I close with some lessons learned and I hope these are three lessons you can maybe take with you. So let’s dive into the intro. So for more than a century, BorgWarner is designing and manufacturing systems and solutions that define the way we move. So in best case, you have a piece of BorgWarner in your car and you never see it, because everything’s working fine. And today, we are accelerating the world’s transition to e-mobility to help create a cleaner and safer world for all of us. How can we electrify vehicles faster? How can we optimize the range and cost and how can we improve bridging technologies to zero emission technology or even help alternative solutions have a breakthrough? So we have the most talented people around the world working on a day-to-day basis with our customers answering these questions. With our global footprint, we bring the technology to market at the right value at the right time and regardless of where you are or our customers are located in the world. Our product portfolio covers solutions for electric and combustion engines, vehicles and also commercial vehicles. And as I said, we are working with all of the world’s vehicle manufacturers together around the world and then also supporting them, currently. You saw the news probably, maybe you were a tad affected, helping them to their transition to e-mobility. So that’s a quick intro of our company, but there is one thing that sets us apart a little and that is our operating model and I need to walk you through that one, so you know where we’re coming from. So most of our automakers, and maybe same applies for your company you’re working on, embrace a centralized organization model. So it’s kind of top down, everything central. That wasn’t the case at BorgWarner. BorgWarner has what they call their LAGS model, which is local accountability and global strength. So the translation there is decisions are made at the plant level, so bottom up. They are at the decision, they are at the steering wheel and then the global function, the global strength is that overarching counsel and guidance function. What I and everyone at Delphi Technologies that joined in 2020 via the acquisition was used to was that centralized module. So centralized decision making, centralized execution and centralized accountabilities. And the LAGS module, the whole concept was totally new to us. It is a key enabler for BorgWarner’s profitable growth and it’s also foundation in our culture. So it was great, but if you come from a centralized module, that made it really difficult. So we were trying to launch a corporate initiative and then coming into that LAGS environment where decisions are made at the plant level, that made the whole rollout little bit bumpier even. So now you know our lovely operating model. So let’s look at the state of the communication in October 2020 when Delphi joined BorgWarner. So when we joined the company, the known communications tool were email, SharePoint, Yammer and a few local solutions. There wasn’t a common global source for news and information for both salary and hourly teams. So of course, we have people in the offices and we have people on the manufacturing floor, which we call hourly employees. Most of them don’t have an email address, so we don’t have any way to reach them. And the former Delphi team that joined didn’t have access to much needed communication platforms or information, because of the time that is taking to integrate new team members to the company. In our case, they acquired 20,000 employees. So you can imagine how much time that is taking to align IT systems. And again, it’s not a secret that a poor communication is a pitfall in any merger and acquisition and that that communication is crucial for the new team members to be integrated quickly, find their role, find their place in the company. And then I forgot an animation. So we didn’t have access. That’s why, coming from the background, Delphi Technologies was using Firstup already. So we were a customer and we had an app that was called DLine and we were already had experience with it. We launched it 2017, so three years already, kind of experience with a platform. So then we saw the gap and we reached out to the team at BorgWarner and trying to present what DLine can do and how great it is and then at that global strength level, so the corporate function, internal communications is within that global strength, they knew that there was a communication issue. So they knew that there was a gap. So they approved our program or the rollout and that was a really great win for our communication team, because we were new to the organization as a function and also as the people. So we were part of the Delphi team, they acquired us and we were able to get the three new ladies on board in an internal communications function that was also new to the organization. And then with the approval, we quickly moved into the preparation of the rollout and we were really positive. I mean, we had three years experience. What should happen? I mean, we knew the tool, we know how it’s working. Done deal, easy, we roll it out and we were able to communicate to all our employees. Easy. That’s what we thought. So we started to meet with our project team of Firstup and kicked off the project plan, but then quickly, we noticed that these key connection within the info in organization was missing and instead of just deploying a new corporate tool and everyone nodding and following us along the deployment path, we quickly noticed that the key connection within the organization was missing. So we needed to support all the business units and the function to help us sell the tool further down into the organization where the decisions are made. So to bridge that gap, we started to identify communications expert in the different business units and connected, convinced them. And the issue we were facing is not all of them had a communications background, none of them was a full-time communicator. So we really had to do some selling and digging of the platform. We convinced them, we moved into the training phase, we set up the program or moved further in the project plan and then we encountered additional challenges. Finding and engaging the right IT partners. As I mentioned, there were 20,000 new employees coming in and you can imagine the IT team struggling with helping them getting email addresses, making sure they are integrated in the system and then here comes the three ladies from internal communications, need whitelisting, needs an email inbox, saying that we were not a priority is an understatement. So that was our first challenge. The second challenge was the works council. And we had a lovely discussion yesterday at the dinner. Again, we thought we were using the program already, so we had a signed off agreement with the works council. So it was like, “Well, one works council approved. What should be the big deal?” There was a deal. So we had to go into additional works council discussion, which was fine, but we weren’t expecting that when we, let’s get in the Firstup platform, it would be fine. Second thing or third thing is the securing the legal approvals. So the DPA, the data privacy agreement. Same thing, we had an agreement signed, we we’re all, say, from a Delphi perspective and then we thought from our centralized thinking that existing agreements could be grant furthered in from Delphi to BorgWarner. You can guess what had happened, nope. And then the last one goes in that similar direction. Enrolling contingent or contractor workers. So from a centralized setup where we came from, our contractor or contingent workers had similar setup in Workday and also the same processes and procedures they followed globally. With our LAGS model, that wasn’t the case. So each site, each location, each country is doing their own regulations with contingent or contractors workers. So here, there was room for another discussion. All the different items you see here, we had to face with all the different stakeholders that were brought in. Their opinions, their processes and more were very, very time consuming and it felt like we were spinning the wheel on selling the tool over and over again to the new team members that were introduced to the project. However, we didn’t lose hope and we didn’t lose our optimism and we were even able to establish superpowers. So at one point of the project rollout, the team was calling me Miss Workaround, because I know that wasn’t possible wasn’t something I wanted to accept with all the work, the effort the discussions we already put into the rollout of the program. So I know it was worth it. At the end, we were able to launch our new global internal communications platform, we call it Pulse, at BorgWarner and we launched it in July 2021. So six months, eight months after the acquisition. And it was a great success. We grew on a monthly basis, we are still growing, so that’s great. But to be honest, it took us almost a year to reach that full acceptance within the organization. By now, the Pulse platform is part of our culture with the executive leadership team and also with our employees. So in addition to the success we are seeing with our Pulse platform, the talent acquisition team joined us. So they were able to deploy also or launch two additional programs. One is for pre-hires as an onboarding module and the second one is an acquisition platform called One BorgWarner. And with that One BorgWarner platform, we are able to provide the new employees, the new team members on day one of the closing of the acquisition relevant information about our company, about our beliefs, messages and video messages from the leadership team and also an outlook of what are the tools that are coming. We have a special learning platform that will be available once they are integrated. So you can have also get a little sneak peek of what is coming. So with that tool, we are closing that gap from people joining a new company and being lost in space with, “I’m part of that company now, but what is it about?” So that was a great step here. So we were able to close the the gap and new team members are integrated from day one now. Today, we have 76% of our salaried employees, as I said, salaried employees are the ones with an email, registered to the platform. 27 of our hourly base is there and 80% of our registered users are coming back on a regular basis. So that is great, especially as an optional tool to join. So for us, we didn’t force the employees to join the Pulse platform. We always make sure that crucial information is also accessible outside of Pulse, so team members don’t need to be a member or haven’t signed up or have to sign up to get the information. Looking back at our journey, I’m really proud of the achievements the team has done, even though it was bumpy and frustrating at times and while we never envisioned it to be a straight line from start to finish, the road we traveled with the detours and the dips actually made it for more interesting journey and also helped us to be where we are today at BorgWarner. So that is a little bit the success story, but if you ask me now, are we there yet? Good job, go back, good deal here. I said no. So we’re still looking into single sign-on. So currently, we are still detached from our IT systems. We can talk offline, but, that’s different conversation. So that’s something we are working on. Our contingent workers are not on the platform yet and we have the new studio launch ahead of us. Kim, he knows what we have here and I don’t know if you switched to New Studio, it’s a big one. So still some challenges. And if you ask me now if I would do something different if we start again tomorrow, the answer is yes. So first of all, I wouldn’t assume that we can launch via the fast track, even that we had the experience with a platform and the knowledge, I wouldn’t think that we can start via the fast track. I know the knowledge helped and we can ask the technical team, it was sometimes helpful, but it was also sometimes challenging with having already the background of the platform. Secondly, what’s really important and I guess everyone is here to do that today, is build relations. So for us, it was really difficult, new to the organization as the people and the function to find the right people to engage with and also secondly, be seen as a trusted source. Trust is building up over time. Now, here comes three new ladies, want to deploy a new tool. So that’s the second thing. I mean, today, after three years of the acquisition, I would say I have a good base from a network perspective, still growing and adding to it. I mean, networking is never done, but the beauty is if you have a good network, you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know who to ask. So that is the second thing and the last thing is I would definitely switch to showing, not to telling. So what was really crucial for us was that the people didn’t understand what we were talking about. Have they heard how great DLine was or is? Maybe, but they couldn’t understand what we were talking about. When it comes to showing, not telling, it’s really how you make the people feel and it’s not about what I say. So that was really one key thing I would definitely do differently if we start again today. So to summarize it. The first thing or these are the three things I wanted to give you today is start the project from a blank page. As I said, if you are doing an acquisition, if you are acquiring a company and you already have the Firstup platform, but even if you are working on projects or new project that you already did, start from a blank page. And then the second one, leverage your knowledge and experience, but be open to detours. So use your network, all the new, to build the relationships that are needed to make the technology successful. Because without the people, the technology is, at best, an option and at worst, useless. And then finally, show the people the power of the tool. Show them the possibilities through as many meetings as you can get invited to. Make it a real-life demonstration. I mean, we’re doing Teams meetings, I’m connecting my phone, I’m joining Teams meeting via my phone, I’m sharing my screen of my phone to show them how easy it is to upload a picture. And you can do that demo, you can do the live demonstration, drive home the benefits and also ignite the aha moment, because then, the chances are higher that you get an additional promoter or you also convince people that maybe that tool is actually what they need and looking for. And then finally, ditch the PowerPoint. I mean David or Dave did a great job this morning without any slides. That was my presentation. I just wanted to thank you for your attention, of course, but I wanted to give a quick shout out to my friend and colleague, Kim, that supported me, because again, that wouldn’t have been possible on my own, with the setup of the platform. She motivated me and gave me a new perspective when I was frustrated. And our manager, Kristen. She was awesome in trusting us fully, figuring out all the work around and having our back and then the additional communicators that we jumped onto the project plan or jumped into the project that were able or willing to learn a new tool, add an additional task and then not to forget the Firstup team. So thanks for the support there. I know you were learning BorgWarner right with us and it wasn’t always easy. Thank you again for your attention and I take additional questions.

– [Man In Suit] Yes.

– [Audience Member] A very quick question. I know that she said that you excluded contingent.

– There were two. So the first one is from a legal situation. With us being a global company, the legal situation is different in the country. So it’s that one-by-one instance now, because legally, they are handled differently. So in Germany they’re handled, they are treated differently than in Spain, for example. And then the second is from a setup. Currently, the Workday is our data source behind the platform and not all sites are loading their contingent workers to Workday. So it would be the easiest to say, “Okay, we get an agreed process,” and the contingent workers are all loaded to Workday, we are then able to include them. But since that is not the case, that is the second bottleneck we are currently facing is that some sites load, them some sites don’t. So that is the tricky piece. We don’t have a single source of truth to load the contingent workers. Yeah, for sure, yes. That is my goal, because as we see them, they’re part of the organization, they are an employee, even if they come from another company, they are part of the team. So we definitely wanna share with them the information, grant them access, yes.

– [Female Audience] This isn’t so much about the platform and I’m really interested in this whole change for employees going from centralized to a non-centralized organization and I’d be interested to understand how that played into your communications program and whether you did some specific, targeted communication campaigns to your former group colleagues around how to navigate in this different structure.

– Yes, so from a system perspective, we had DLine at the time and we kept it going. So we were doing in parallel. So we were setting up the new program, Pulse, but for our former colleagues, we used D-Line to still share the information and we did a sun-setting campaign. So we informed them, “Hey, we will close that tool, we will move to a global one.” So we took them by the hand, did the step by step. We did actually do a soft launch with the Delphi team, also from a technical perspective to test everything if it’s all going fine. So we opened up the Pulse platform a little bit earlier for them and then they got a special invitation to join. So that was one thing. And then we partner, of course, with our learning team. There were online classes with our LAGS module and then we were making sure that people are signing to the classes or talking about the classes, so they can get a sneak preview and learn about it. But in theory, you learn it when you do it. It comes by practicing.

– [Female Audience 2] You’ve mentioned that your talent team is onboarding new hires and they have access to it already prior to joining. Share more about that?

– Yes. It’s not the Pulse program, we have a separate program. And so if you are signing up to join BorgWarner, sometimes, depending on where you are, you could sign a contract today and start in three months or even six months. So what you do when you sign a contract, you will get an invitation to the onboarding platform. So you can sign up if you want to and then you get additional information the closer you get to your starting date, so you are not signing and then six months from now, you show up.

– [Female Audience 2] Also using Firstup for this?

– Yes.

– The same platforms, just a different degrees to their access to it?

– Yes, exactly, so it’s like really a separate program. They’re not interfering, but the good thing is, if they are joining, they already download the app. So we already have them on the app and then they already are familiar with the tool. And in best case, they have to re-register again once they become 100% BorgWarner employee. So when they start date, but they have the app already and then they at least saw, I mean, if you went to the app, it looks the same. It’s just the different content. Do we have?

– Yes, one more question. Of course.

– [Female Audience 3] So of course, when two organizations merge, you have to have a unified culture, unified DNA and is it working. How did you use the app or the system to introduce the new culture to the new employees?

– Yeah, that’s a good one. The good thing is, at BorgWarner, we have now beliefs and at Delphi, by the time, we have our pillars of excellence, which were, in theory, similar. So that wasn’t that big of a transition, but we definitely have trainings on that as well. We communicate about the trainings, but we also made, they have behaviors to it and we have the leadership talking about it, so kind of that leading with role models. So we have our CHRO is doing a piece and then we have different people of our strategy board, so the leadership team being a spokesperson of one of these beliefs, so from our culture perspective.

– [Female Audience 3] Like sponsors for each?

– Yeah, yeah.

– Great content, thanks for sharing everything.

– Welcome, thanks for joining.

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Meike Pfefferkuchen
Borg Warner
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