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Why a People-First Company Culture is Critical for Merger and Acquisitions Success

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A M&A is a lot like a marriage, bringing together different people and values. Listen to the latest Culture, Comms & Cocktails with Jaycee Breese of Evergy.


“Our job as internal communicators is to take a shared vision and bring these groups together, these workforces together, and give them our vision and share the thoughts of the company and how we need to represent ourselves as one whole.”  – Jaycee Breese, internal communications manager at Evergy

With mergers and acquisitions, it’s difficult to maintain a “people-first” culture. It’s a lot like a marriage, with people from different backgrounds and values coming together. Today, I’m speaking with Jaycee Breese, internal communications manager at Evergy.

We’ll talk about the challenges with their merger of two legacy utility companies, how they are using internal communications to align the generational divides in their workforce, and how they hired a full-time videographer to help share employee stories across the organization. And of course, we’ll learn about Jaycee’s favorite cocktail and why it’s so special.

Also, join me and 400+ senior communicators and business leaders in New York City, April 24, at FutureComms 2019. It’s the leading internal communications conference. Listen to the podcast to get your Culture, Comms, & Cocktails discount code. Tickets are going fast, so definitely register today!

So settle in, drink in the internal communications knowledge—some shaken, stirred, and maybe even some with a twist— and enjoy the top-shelf wisdom.

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)


Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #7 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Culture, Comms & Cocktails is internal comm served straight up. Settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred, maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top-shelf guests I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus, and on this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails we have Jaycee Breese, internal communications manager at Evergy. Jaycee, welcome to the podcast.

Jaycee Breese: Thanks for having me, Chuck. Let’s get the party started.

Chuck Gose: Absolutely. It’s a treat having you on here, so let’s get this party started. Evergy is a new company name, but it’s actually made up from a merger of two legacy companies, which we’ll talk about, you know, another podcast, but what are some of the words you’d use to describe the culture at Evergy?

Jaycee Breese: I would say the biggest thing that I would use to describe the culture at Evergy is people first. That’s a big value for us, a mantra if you will, but we’re all about what is going to be the best for our employees, our investors, and our customers. A very adaptable group of employees, and just very unified.

Chuck Gose: What’re some things you’ve seen that… you said, you know, people first. That was the first one that came out. What are some things you’ve seen the company do to live out that value as part of your culture, to put people first?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah. A lot of decisions are still being made. You know, we merged last June, and it doesn’t just end. It’s a lot like a marriage. We like to explain it that way, a lot like a marriage of two neighboring utilities, and sometimes you just don’t think of everything before you get married. A lot of decisions being made, yeah, a lot of systems being combined, and a lot of the decisions are driven by thinking about people first. Not the easiest way, not the fastest way, but what is best for our people and for our neighbors. I would say a lot of the decisions … and we hear our CEO, Terry Bassham, say those words a lot, people first.

Chuck Gose: Prior to Evergy being formed, you were with Westar, which was part of the merger, and the companies merged and that’s a whole different type of transaction, but how have the cultures merged between the two companies?


Jaycee Breese: I would say it is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Like I mentioned, we describe it like a marriage, so a lot of culture things are different but we have a lot in common too. It’s not exactly like starting a new job, but we have many new faces that we’re learning, and we’re building a lot of relationships with new people.

Jaycee Breese: The cultures have definitely merged in the sense that KCP&L was a very urban neighborhood area, a very urban culture, and Westar has a lot of the smaller-town Kansas, so just bringing those two viewpoints together has been really cool and really innovative, to see how we do things differently but still have some very similar experiences. Very similar culture, but definitely some things that we can keep working on.

Chuck Gose: I think that’s interesting when you talk about this merger being kind of a bit of a marriage. I can see you guys having conversations like is it Christmas presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, whose house do we go to for Thanksgiving, having those kinds of conversations when it comes to a merger. It’s interesting you talk about sort of that urban versus rural type environment. Have there been any challenges related to that merger, or have people generally kind of been open to seeing how those two cultures have mixed?

Jaycee Breese: I think generally people have been very open. Again, that people-first mentality of, well, let’s see how you did it, let’s see how we did it, and how can we merge it and make the best. How can we build that best energy company?

I’d say for example, our tree-trimming program is very different between the two companies because they had more of that urban environment where people … a lot more trees closer to the homes and that people care about those trees. You know, their grandkids are climbing on them or things like that, and in the Westar rural territory it was just a little different, and how do we both take into account the customer’s perspective on both of those things but still make our process consistent across the company, since we are one company now?

Chuck Gose: In my role, so I get to work with a lot of different communicators in a lot of different industries. I’ve always thought that internal comm in utilities is tricky, or at least it seems a lot trickier than some other industries. For those that aren’t familiar with the communications role in the utility space, what makes it so complex, or is it that complex when you’re in it every day like you are?

Jaycee Breese: I would say it is and it isn’t. I’m sure many industries could say the same thing, that there are always some things that make their jobs tricky, but to begin with, yes. Yes, we have a very distributed workforce. We have linemen out in the field turning people’s power back on and making repairs. We have accountants in the office. We have engineers both inside and outside moving along, and they all like to be communicated to differently. They like to be communicated to differently, and they have different work schedules. They have different thoughts about what they want to hear about, and so that is very tricky, for one.

Two, a big part of our workforce is retiring. We’re in that Baby Boom stage, and as new employees are coming in, they want to be communicated to differently than some of our more tenured employees. Trying to find that balance of what can we do that helps us answer that question and answer that thought for both, and Current, which is our employee app with SocialChorus, has been that answer. We still have the newsletter. We have this app that people can download. It’s just having those different channels and different ways to communicate with.

Then third, I’d just say we are a regulated utility, so some things we need to make sure we communicate with our regulators first, before we communicate with employees, are very much in line with that. Keeping that balance, and making sure that we’re doing what we need to from a legal perspective, is obviously very important as well. Our job as internal communicators is to take a shared vision and bring these groups together, these workforces together, and give them our vision and share the thoughts of the company and how we need to represent ourselves as one whole.

Chuck Gose: A few minutes ago in your answer, you mentioned the name of your internal comms platform, which is Current, which I think is a great name. Obviously playing off the utility side, but also a nice use of wording when people know they’re getting the most up-to-date information. Talk about the content that you’ve seen that has resonated with most of your employees. You describe a very diverse employee base, but are there types of content you see that you know, “Our employees are absolutely just going to love this”?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah. Our employees love to hear about other employees. It can be work-related, it can be personal. That content does very, very well, and drives people to Current to look at the app, and that’s what we need. Drive them there, learn how we are the same in so many ways, us two neighboring utilities. Learn about each other and build those relationships, but we see the content about our employees do so, so well.

I’d say the second piece … and I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it … but videos. We have a videographer on staff, very thankful for him. His name is Rod Brown. He does a video series called “Rollin’ With Rod,” and he goes out to different locations and gets tips on stories, maybe an employee-focused story, maybe it’s a new project that’s starting. He is very transparent and just relates to folks very, very well, and gets out there and learns that story and we tell it in a video format, and that’s been doing very, very well.

Chuck Gose: How do you balance? You mentioned people love to hear the work stories but also the personal stories about employees. Have you figured out a balance on that, or is it truly that you just want to get a great story?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah. It’s never one for one. We usually have more of that need-to-know story base. You know, the IT changes, and the “Don’t forget to enroll in benefits,” but definitely mix in at least one of those people stories within that, so that we grab their attention and they open that newsletter, or they open that push notification and go look at the rest of our content. We definitely have to have something along those lines or we lose their attention.

A big thing for us too is just keeping our articles short, and using what my boss likes to call weekend words. Tell a story using that people focus, people-first focus, but tell it like you would tell your grandmother, so that way people understand what you’re trying to say and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Chuck Gose: I love the “weekend words” advice. I think for some leaders, that can be kind of tough to do. Has that resonated when you’ve gotten leadership involved in the videos, to get them to use more of those weekend words than say the typical corporate-speak when it comes to the content you’re sharing?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah, we have. There’s been a lot of buy-in. Sometimes it’s hard. You know, you’re writing a story with an engineer, and he lives and breathes the transmission lines every day. Helping them kind of pull back and, “Well, explain it to me this way.” It’s a lot of questions and poking to get the right content out of that, but people really seem to resonate with it, and it does really well.

Chuck Gose: Behind all this great content, great stories, the announcements, things like that, is all this data that you guys are capturing, so has anything surprised you when you look at the story that the data tells you about how Current is doing?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah, I’m a bit of a data nerd, so I really enjoy looking at that and trying to see what kind of stories it tells. I would say something that was surprising to us was publishing the content in the morning does better. I think that SocialChorus has published something very similar to that and told that story, but myself, I seem to kind of peter out towards the end of the day and try to catch up on some of that reading material towards the end of the day, but it looks like most of our employees like to see the new content first thing in the morning when they get to their desks, so that was very, very surprising to me.

Another thing I would say was surprising is just that we have a really great retention rate. Employees are coming back and looking for new information on a regular basis. We thought we would have to be pretty tied to a newsletter that gets pushed to inboxes, but we have a decent amount of employees that are going and looking for it on their own.

Chuck Gose: You mentioned about the morning viewership, I guess, of Current. Is that something that you guys purposely and intentionally schedule content throughout the week to show up, you know, to be in there, so people are opening it up at, I don’t know, five a.m., six a.m., eight a.m., to make sure that that fresh content is in there then?

Jaycee Breese: Yeah, that’s something we’re working on. We thought … you know, and that’s what the data is so great for, is we thought it would be better in the afternoon. For the first couple of years, that’s when we were publishing our content. Now that we’ve seen that shift, we’re working toward that more morning, that seven to eight a.m. slot of sending those push notifications, so employees catch it as they’re getting to their desks.

It’s also very important, that six to seven a.m. area as well because I remind them their shifts are earlier then, when we get into the desk work. They start a little earlier, especially in the summer when it gets warmer out, so that they can get some of their work done when it’s nice outside, so really trying to make that shift to that direction.

Chuck Gose: Well, the name of the podcast is Culture, Comms & Cocktails, and we talked about some of the culture there at Evergy as well as the communications. Now we get to the fun part around the cocktails, so I’m curious, Jaycee, what is your favorite cocktail?

Jaycee Breese: Oh, great question. Well, we’ve been talking about how Westar Energy and KCP&L just went through a merger and now we’re Evergy, and that’s a lot like a marriage. Well, in the same area there, I’m getting married in two weeks, and we are on the beach in Jamaica, and we got to pick a themed drink. My fiance and I love a nice cold mojito, so we picked the drink called Mint To Be.

Chuck Gose: Oh, another nice play on words. Well done.

Jaycee Breese: Yeah, yep. I would say my favorite will be a nice cold mojito from now on. It’ll be some good memories there.

Chuck Gose: Well, that’s a great recommendation, and first off, congratulations on that here in a few weeks. Very exciting.

Jaycee Breese: Thank you.

Chuck Gose: Thanks again for being on Culture, Comms & Cocktails. Again, it’s such a benefit obviously to the general comms community but to anyone listening to hear how successful you guys have been integrating those two cultures, merging them together. I love the marriage analogy. Nice circle loop we did there, talking through all that.

Also, learning about your employees through content I think is something that a lot of communicators in the past have struggled. Like you said, we sort of had to make gut calls based on what we think. Now we know what employees are doing, what their actions, what their behaviors are, and then we know that we’re maximizing our time and creativity by getting it to employees exactly when they want it and need it.

Jaycee Breese: Exactly. Yep, that’s our job. How do we do that, bring that shared vision.


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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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