What If Your Company Sells Out?
“The only constant is change.”
—Heraclitus in Plato
Does This Sound Familiar?
You wake up one day to unhappy rumors that the place where you work may be sold. The talk at your workplace erupts in everything from “I hope I don’t lose my job” to “We’re going to be shut down.” Some employees even have the fantasy that nothing will change and that things will always be the same no matter who owns the company. Others say that it may be time to explore their options. “Should I leave, or should I stay?” “Is it time to put a resume together, and start to circulate it to other companies?” Still others say, “Don’t be concerned; just do your job and things will all work out,” and then pray silently that they will.
I find it to be an ironic phenomenon that, in most workplaces, employees spend much of the time complaining about ownership and management and the way things are done. Yet, when a sale is rumored, they get really upset. I never hear anyone say, “It’s about time something like this happened; now we will finally have things done differently around here.”
In 2016, as of July, there were 12,818 merger and acquisition deals in the United States that affected more than 700,000 employees.
In today’s world of business, changes are happening all the time. Business consolidations, mergers, sales, and bankruptcies are more the norm than are businesses that don’t undergo any type of ownership change. Every business seems to be impacted by change in its ownership, customer base, or suppliers. If a company that is your customer consolidates, it will have a direct effect on the level of business you do with that customer. If a supplier disappears it may dramatically alter your costs or how your product or service is produced. Either way it will have an impact on the level of business or the way you conduct your business at the workplace.
Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us will be faced with the possibility, if not the reality, of being directly affected by some major change. When that happens you must not put blinders on and just continue to rely on the truism that the “sun will rise and the sun will set.” Yes, it does, and no matter what, it will. However, to be so fatalistic takes everything out of your control and into someone (or everyone) else’s. Some of those will be very capable hands, even more than yours, to help better the situation for you. But unfortunately, some hands may not be as capable as yours, or may not have even the slightest consideration for you or your future. In actuality, we all play a small part in a failure, merger, or acquisition ecosystem. That ecosystem is dynamic and will constantly change from many forces.
Enough being philosophical; let’s get down to the business at hand.
Three Types of Reactions
Everyone not connected to your workplace will fall into three categories. The Naysayers will tell you of many horrible experiences related to corporate acquisitions and mergers. They will tell you of plant closings, layoffs, and lifestyle changes that have to be made because of such activities. Unfortunately, these people are in the majority. They all have had experiences related to the fallout of a business acquisition or merger done for efficiency.
Let’s face it, most merger and acquisition activity of this type is meant to create efficiencies. Efficiency is a polite way to say that expenses of operating a business activity will be reduced so that the company’s survival, growth, and profits are enhanced. In today’s volatile society, it is of the utmost importance for a business to never lose focus on its survival and growth. Unfortunately, implementation of these efficiencies usually cost some people their jobs or, at the very least, their ability to continue to do the same job (with the same productivity) exactly the way they did it yesterday.
Even if a business ownership structure stays the same, this notion that your job should not change at all is probably false logic. So the naysayers will be the majority of those with whom you converse about possible changes. Even if the Naysayers never had a bad personal experience with this sort of thing, they certainly will reference someone who did. They will tell you about Uncle Bob, or Cousin Jim, or their friend who was led down the proverbial “primrose path.”
The second group that you will run into are the Patronizers. They are the ones who will say, “Don’t do anything foolish. Things will all work out.” Or, “You are a very important person in your organization, so you don’t have to worry.” This group could contain your mother, your father, or even your spouse. I find these people to be genuinely well-intended, but quite frankly, they don’t give me a lot of comfort. They are, however, for the most part being supportive. They are, at best, only looking at you as a microcosm and not really connected to the rest of the process. Or worse than that, they are secretly hoping for your sake that they are correct, and you will be unaffected by the changes about to take place.
The third group, Objective People is, in my opinion, your second best asset. (Your best asset is your own objective insight into not only yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, but the situation at hand.) This group of Objective People will provide some clarity for you. They are the ones who advise you to be watchful for signs that can provide insight into what lies ahead. They are typically the ones who will ask if you have thought about your options. They are the ones who will tell you to take it a day at a time. And they will be the ones who will ask if you have thought about your own wishes and desires as well as your own strengths and weaknesses.
Finding Your Support Group
Objective People is the group to listen to when confronted with a possible change at your workplace. It is good to hear the Patronizers and be encouraged by the sometimes true, sometimes false, sense of self-confidence their compliments about your personal abilities provide. It is also good, quite frankly, to hear the “gloom and doom” Naysayers for they will help you understand that you must pay attention to the circumstances surrounding the situation. But always make sure that you listen to the Objective People.
You will find people in all three categories who are your friends who want you to succeed, or at least wish you well. You will also find those who are your “enemies” who would rather see you fail, or at least not get ahead. That’s just human nature, folks. And keep in mind it is sometimes difficult to figure out who is who.
Among the Naysayers, your friends will be the ones who tell you the negative experiences that either they, or someone that they know, have had. They can advise you of the telltale signs that they saw and how to know if you are in trouble. By pointing out the pitfalls, they can probably give you some suggestions on how to react and what to watch out for. Your enemies in the Naysayer group will try to get you to panic, thereby clouding the logical thinking that you need to deal with the situation at hand.
Among the Patronizers, your friends will be the ones who tell you how important you are and that the company cannot do without you. They truly see your value and genuinely hope that you will make out okay. It will be hard to distinguish friends from enemies in this category because both will tell you exactly the same thing, but for different purposes. If you detect a degree of sarcasm from people complimenting you or providing assurances, the , those people are probably your enemies.
In the third group, Objective People, your friends will be most insightful. You will almost find yourself anticipating what they are telling you. You will be surprised at just how much insight they have about your workplace. If you find that they are coming up with a lot of real different thoughts from what you would have expected, and if those thoughts tend to be a bit bizarre, they are probably not acting in your best interest–and, under the circumstances, are probably not really your friends.
Your Emotional Reactions
Now that we have identified some of the interactions that you will have with others at this early stage in the process (just the rumor mill saying that your company is possibly going to be sold), let’s take a look at your emotional state. At first, as with all new, surprising information that we humans process, you are in shock or disbelief. Even if you openly acknowledge that you can see the possibility that this is really going to happen, you secretly hope that it may not. You will hear this vocalized at the water cooler by employees saying, “This couldn’t happen. What do you think?” Or, “There is no way that this company would be sold, or at least not today, or for now.” Every comment made at this stage has some question or some qualifying phrase attached to it. When you start hearing this from your supervisors or upper management, it is time to develop some initial game plan in your head for the possibility. Try to sort out what your course of action should be should this rumor turn out to be true. I say this because it is typically the higher-ups who will want to believe that this could never happen in their company. Once they start qualifying themselves, or questioning, they are at least a little open minded to the possibility of it happening.
The second emotional state that you will encounter varies. Some will be be accepting of the situation. A third group will say, “I knew this was going to happen all along.” At this juncture it is best that you associate more with the first two groups and quickly disassociate yourself from the third. You still should listen what they have to say, but try not to get caught up in all the negativity of this group. They will only make this whole process a more painful experience for you.
The people who are in shock are not a dumb group. They just didn’t think that this could happen. Things change and life is not always believable, but the important thing for this group is the next step. Do they ever get it? Or do they simply remain in a state of shock, doing nothing to help themselves or those around them. If they move out of their state of shock, they can be very helpful to you. The second group who can accept the possibility will be those who demonstrate a little forward thinking and will be the most helpful support group for you. Their mental attitude may not necessarily be positive, but it will be insightful. You must also further dissect this group twice more: those who are capable versus those who are not; and those who are your friends, versus not.
Your Support Group
When you associate with a forward-thinking group, you must determine which people are very capable. These capable people should reflect their own abilities to handle their specific duties. They will also vary in their capability in mastering their own personal life situations, their likelihood in having a say in what goes on at the workplace, and their ability to influence others around them.
You can be the judge as to whether you should associate with your enemies or your friends. Remember that, when confronted with difficult situations, such as a company ownership change, people may change sides and become your enemies by circumstance, or by role. So, in the final analysis, when faced with this situation, you will want to associate with friends who can accept new possibilities and have the capability to influence either the workplace situation or other people. Your enemies, no matter how capable they are, or no matter how high up the ladder they are, are just not going to have your interests at heart.
Now that you have found your support group, how do you find out what is really going on? What are the signs and how do you stay in tune with the rumor mill without being used as part of it?
Change occurs when there is a confluence of both changing values and economic necessity, not before.”
—John Naisbitt, Megatrends
Think about your options if the company you work for could be sold or merged. How would you react? Who would be your support group?