Mergers are historically difficult processes because of the negative association with loss. The loss of an entity, the loss of friends, co-workers and even more importantly, the loss of jobs can cast a negative shadow on what is often a necessary and beneficial act. The merger between American Airlines and US Airways didn't escape this association; but what was important for its eventual success was the firm belief built by American Airlines' leaders around the value of the merger to employees of both companies and to other critical stakeholders as well.

Define the Narrative

The first step in creating belief among stakeholders was for the leadership to craft a definitive narrative. To receive stakeholders' approval, the narrative had to address the difficult financial situation and therefore the inevitability of the merger while simultaneously promoting the value of the merger to stakeholders. Our value proposition became a stakeholder benefit story - this merger had to happen because it was beneficial to employees, shareholders and the organizations involved. This narrative created a clear path for us to engage stakeholders and ultimately gain allies, as we were offering a valuable exchange and not a loss.

Create Advocates 

For mergers to be successful, stakeholders need to not only know the narrative, but they must also believe it. We reached out to influencers who already had credibility with these groups and could therefore get our message across. First, we built belief among these influencers by equipping them with all the necessary information around the value of the merger. Then, we leveraged the influencers' belief to drive our story as they provided the information to their audience, our stakeholders. We also made ourselves available to influencers as we knew that those who saw us as accessible would be more willing to act on our behalf. This reaffirmed for us that relationships are especially valuable when communicating through change.

We also immediately recognized the value of employees and therefore aimed to create an internal culture of change that would help to guide external change and external reactions; the belief that the merger was the most beneficial approach for all stakeholders had to be pervasive across the entire enterprise. Leaders and employees had to have the same voice on the issue. This unity would create a greater chance of amplification and action. To this end, we constantly engaged employees by reaching out to unions and indicating that we wanted to know what their needs were. Our conversations were then directed at explaining how the merger addressed those needs.

Support Advocates in Action

Once the belief was built among employees, they were willing to act on behalf of the organization. Employees became pivotal, vocal advocates for the merger. They brought the message to their own communities and established themselves as influencers who were ultimately so committed to the merger that they were able to create new advocates through their support. In the end, it was clear that employees were the best representation to external stakeholders as they became willing and authentic champions of the cause, dispelling the negative perceptions and propelling us to a successful merger. Through thoughtful, honest and inclusive engagement with stakeholders, we were able to clear the runway for a merger that has made us a stronger company with a better chance to compete.