Surviving a Reorganization, Merger, or Acquisition

Several lifetimes ago, I worked in a small firm that had just announced a merger with another company. I was very nervous about my future with the new entity. Would I still have promotional opportunities? Would I even have a job? One of my co-workers, seeing my nervousness, attempted to reassure me. “Don’t worry, Carol,” she said. “It’s only the big guys who leave during a merger. All the little people, like you and me, we’ll still be here when the dust settles.” Those words came back to me as I was surfing the Web this week and happened across the company’s Web site. The “little people” are all gone. The big fish from both companies are, for the most part, still with the company.

If you participate in the American work force at all, you will probably be in a company that undergoes a merger, acquisition or reorganization several times (or more) during your career. How you cope with such a momentous change can determine whether you benefit from the upheaval or wind up being consumed by it. Here are some tips to help:

1. Try to understand the reasons behind the changes. To you, it may seem like your employer is suddenly insane, but there is usually a method behind the madness, although it’s often difficult to see. Such changes usually come about because the board of directors, the shareholders and/or the company’s CEO believes the company needs to deal with fundamental, serious problems. This is often predicted by poor financial performance, but not always. Other reasons include the fear of being too small, too big, too diversified or too reliant on a single product or industry. Not having a strong presence on the Web, growing to quickly or too slowly – even having a negative or outdated image – can spur top executives into action. Find out the reasons behind the mayhem, and see if there is some way to further your own career by offering ideas that fall in line with the company’s new goals.

2. Expect sudden, drastic moves. That wonderful executive loved by your whole department is unceremoniously fired. That evil colleague you can’t stand gets promoted to vice president. The shy assistant who (you thought) couldn’t manage her way out of a paper bag winds up running your department. Your division gets reorganized and your whole career path is eliminated in one afternoon. Sudden, drastic changes that no one could have predicted six or 12 months ago will be the norm. With all of the changes that occur, at least one or two will impact you professionally and emotionally. Be sure you have a support system in place to help you grieve for the loss of beloved co-workers, admired mentors and a workplace that changed when you didn’t want it to.

3. Ask questions. Get as much information as you can as frequently as you can. As an employee, you have a right to know what is happening where you work. (That may not be a legal right, but it is certainly a moral one.) Ask questions of your boss and at least two other senior people. Ask for information from them as often as you can without being labeled a pain in the neck. Why two other people besides your boss? See #2 above? Your boss could be out of the loop if they are on their way out the door. Why ask questions? Information. You should try to find out how changes are being implemented with an eye towards how they will impact you, your department and the company as a whole. Why so frequently? Each occurrence – whether a merger, acquisition, or reorganization – is a unique experience. It has never been done before. This means at least some of the implementation is being done on something of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants level. And that means some decisions will have to be re-thought, changed or re-worked.

4. Assess carefully whether you want to stay.
� How is the company culture changing? If you decided to work for the company partly due to its laid-back atmosphere and the merger is changing it into a very buttoned-down culture, is it worthwhile hanging around? Be sure your assessment includes everything that is important to you, not just bottom-line issues.
âÂ?¢ What assurances do you have in writing regarding your position? Re-read your employment contract – what does it say? The fewer assurances made, the more likely your job is in jeopardy. Don’t believe verbal reassurances, regardless of who makes them. If your boss has promised a promotion or change in duties in the new company, what concrete steps are being taken to put that into place? Ask for a specific plan of action and be sure it gets implemented.
âÂ?¢ During any drastic change such as this, extended hours are likely, because everyone has their own job to do while also providing support to the change process. Hiring freezes are also common, which means two or three new positions’ worth of work may be dumped on you until the upheaval is finished. Your employer may verbally encourage you, promise you things “after this is over”, etc., when all they really intend to do is keep you around while the workload is so demanding. If your future is in doubt, do you really want to risk burnout, just to be laid off six months later?
� Review help wanted ads and respond to a few that look really good. Go for one or two interviews. Even if you decide to stay with your current employer, interviewing may help you make that decision by giving you a glimpse into other possibilities. It might also prepare you for unanticipated changes within your company that find you laid off or wanting to leave right away.
� If you find another job and give notice, refuse any and all discussions about counter-offers. (This is true whenever you resign, not just under these circumstances.) If your soon-to-be former employer really thought you were that good, they would have offered you the promotion/raise you wanted before you gave notice.

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