Seventeen years ago, I found out the company I worked for would be going through the biggest merger in history. Now after learning many lessons from that experience and going through even more subsequent organizational changes, I have a few tips for those impacted by two companies coming together to form a new entity. Mergers are milestone career events. Some people will be paralyzed with fear while others will begin jockeying for position, however, everyone will go through their own personal transition. The culture of the new organization will take years to form but initially you have to find your way through the confusion that settles over both organizations immediately after a merger announcement. Here are a few tips for navigating through the fog:
1. Try to understand the case for change.
Most people look at a merger from the perspective of how it will impact them but, if you can, try to identify the benefits of the change from a neutral perspective. This will position you well when talking to leaders involved in the transition because they will see you as objective; someone who can be a positive and rational influence during the transition. There will be enough people panicking so you will stand out and you will be calmer if you can understand the business case for the change.
2. Don’t be the source of gossip and rumors.
There will inevitably be speculation and discussion regarding the implications of the merger on people and work activities. However, it does no good to worry about things you can’t control. There is usually a transition team put in place to manage decisions that have to be made regarding staffing, restructuring, systems, legal entities, etc. If you want to be a part of the change team or the new organization, it doesn’t bode well if you are identified as the source of spreading rumours. If you have questions, ask your manager not your neighbour. If you’re asked questions, state that you don’t know unless you’ve been given clear instructions on what to share.
3. Read or reread “Who Moved My Cheese”
This is a quick and easy read that illustrates how people react differently to change. The book only takes about 30-45 minutes to read but it can be a game changer for those who have never considered the emotional side of change. Whenever organizations go through major change, they tend to underestimate the impact of the personal transitions that also have to take place. You don’t want be the one left behind because you insist on holding on to the way things are. If you have already read it, the refresher will help you help others understand the very natural emotions they are dealing with. You can share it with other colleagues and become a leader in the transition.
4. Let your needs and aspirations be known.
There are good and not so good managers, but none are mind readers. When decisions need to be made quickly they might not be able to seek your input so they will make assumptions based on the latest information available. The only way to ensure that they know what you want is to let your preferences be known. You can bring it up casually in conversation that you are planning to retire soon and may not be around when the merger is finalized or that you’re open to relocate to new locations that are available as a result of the merger in a formal one-on-one with your manager. Don’t limit your communications to your immediate manager though because you don’t know who will be involved in the transition team. You can mention over lunch that it’s important to stay in your current position until your child graduates, or volunteer to work on the transition team so that people know you want to work in the new organization.
5. Align yourself with the new vision.
There will be key phrases in the change communications that become a mantra for where the organization is going. Listen to the vision statements and use key phrases from organizational communications to show that you support the vision. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how you fit into the new organization, identify how your work or your skills will help fulfil the new vision. Picture yourself in the new company and what type of role would best suit you. Describe that position to your managers and other leaders within the context of the new organization.
6. Evaluate your supporters and see who is aligning and who is resistant to changes happening.
New alliances will be formed with the new organization. To the extent you can, observe who is excited about the change and embracing the new language and priorities of the combined organization. Identify if you have good relationships with emerging leaders and if you don’t look for opportunities to build them. Align yourself with those who are aligning with the new organization’s vision and purpose. Engage them in conversation about the positive aspects of the merger and make sure they are aware of your skills and capabilities.
7. Manage your personal brand.
You want your reputation internally and externally to be consistent when it comes to what you bring to the table. To manage your personal brand, its important to understand what your reputation is within your current organization and whether it needs to be adjusted. Start with an honest assessment of your skills and competencies then summarize your strengths. You can use recent performance feedback or ask a mentor for help describing yourself and your role in a brief statement. Practice describing what you do and your key areas of expertise with family and friends. Make a conscious effort to drive the narrative about you by putting the words in the mouths of company leaders. Tell them what you want them to know about you whenever you have a chance.
At the end of the day, my advice is to hope for the best but plan for the worst. When a merger happens there will certainly be redundant positions. The tips above will help but they cannot guarantee that you will get the job you want. You should refresh your resume and update your LinkedIn profile. Its important to know your marketability at all times so you should always have a resume ready. Keeping your eyes open for opportunities will put you in the best position to make a call on what job is right for you in the end. So read the job postings and listen to the head-hunters even if you want to stay. Its always better to have options to choose from than to be caught unprepared to get back into the market. If you survive the merger, it will still take years for the dust to settle. The new organization will not be either of the heritage organizations but you can be a part of bringing about a positive new culture that embraces change.