We’re Being Sold!
If you have been in the workforce from the 1990s on, you may well have heard this statement in your own workplace. And if you have not yet heard it, chances are you will. Why is this situation the reality in business today? Competition in all business sectors is stronger than ever before. Consumers are more well-informed than ever before. The small mom and pop businesses you may have grown up with are increasingly unusual in today’s marketplace. All of these facts add up to turmoil and change in the business world, to include more sales and mergers of businesses than ever before.
What does the sale of the business you work for mean to you? It can mean any number of things. Some businesses are sold to financial buyers who plan to capitalize on the businesses’ strengths and re-sell the business, either intact or in parts. Some businesses are sold to strategic buyers who need the new business to complete their portfolio of services and products available to customers.
Again, what does this mean to you? If a business buys your employer to round out their portfolio of services or strengths, it is likely your business will survive pretty much intact. Your organization will fit like a puzzle piece into the larger picture of the total business profile of the purchasing company. In this case, you may well not see a great deal of disruption in your business life. But this is not always the case.
In many purchases, the acquiring business has staff who duplicate staff in the acquired company. This is pretty nerve-wracking to the staff of the acquired company! In some cases, the purchasing company may elect to simply keep their own people and release those in the acquired company whose skill sets are redundant. But in many cases, acquiring companies take a hard look at their own people as well as those of the business they are acquiring. Those left standing are the people who populate the new, merged company. This can be a challenge for everyone.
Two large competitors merge. They used to be market-place competitors, but are now sort of uncomfortable bed-fellows. One company name survives, and the other disappears. The acquiring company keeps some sectors, some departments of the acquired company virtually intact. Let’s call the buyer “Company A” and the bought company “Company B.” I was hired by the newly created Company A. During my orientation, I signed paperwork with Company A on the letterhead. And I signed paperwork with Company B on the letterhead. At one point, I timidly raised my hand and asked the obvious question. Who do I work for? The people doing the orientation explained that the two companies had just merged, and that the newly formed company was using documents and processes from both original companies!
Well, my new employer was Company A. The department I worked for was populated largely by people who came from Company B. I did not have the baggage that my co-workers had, since I had just joined the newly merged company. But the baggage certainly impacted me. My department had responsibility for providing vital services to employees of the merged company. Since we were dealing with two quite different systems, we had to ask employees who came to us for assistance which company their employment originated with.
Those who originally worked for Company A were convinced that this questioning had to do with the level of service our department would provide! These were well-educated, professional people. Yet they believed that they would be treated poorly by our department since our department was populated by people who were formerly competitors. This is just a sample of the often irrational thought processes which abound during and around divestiture or sale processes.
So how do you, the employee, deal with sale or divestiture of your employer? The answer is pretty straight-forward. Educate yourself. You have some decisions to make, and you need some credible information to make those decisions. First, find out if your company is being courted by financial or strategic buyers. Secondly, determine what portable skills you possess. In many cases, your company may freeze the ability of employees to apply for jobs in divisions which are not being divested. Their thinking is that they want the division to be sold intact, with human capital as well as physical capital available for transfer. Difficult to accept, right? You are frozen in place!
Well, think about what advantages this could afford to you. Are you the only person who knows what you know about a particular aspect of your business? If so, this may be an opportunity for you to leverage your knowledge and experience. While you are prohibited from bidding on internal job opportunities, you could certainly jump ship altogether and go elsewhere. Savvy companies know how important it is to keep a winning team together. They are actually likely to incent key players to stay in place until the sale is complete.
Secondly, make sure you let your current employer know what your thoughts are. You may be willing to move anywhere, or you may be tied to your current community by family obligations. Make sure your company profile is current, and that your resume is up to date. The acquiring company has a real interest in keeping productive employees. It’s your job to make sure you are regarded as this kind of asset.
Finally, let’s think about the realities of this situation. You may well be identified as redundant by the new company. Their direction may not mesh with what you have to offer. You may elect not to move. Do not take this personally! Don’t slow yourself down by indulging in non-productive reactions and behaviors. If it’s clear to you that this new company configuration may well not include you, be proactive in seeking your options. Take advantage of outplacement services. Talk to everyone available. Do your homework. And move on. This merger or acquisition had nothing to do with you. Be sure you react that way.