Surviving a Merger
Taking control and proving your value
Company mergers are almost always announced
with lots of fanfare, and with optimistic, upbeat statements from
the Chief Executives. "This merger," they usually say,
"is an exciting development that will allow us to create
more value for all our stakeholders." The markets are often
impressed. Staff at the merged organizations, however, may need
A successful merger is like putting high-performance
tires on your car: the combination is greater than the sum of
the parts, and the two organizations can achieve things together
that they couldn't do separately. However, all too often, mergers
are more like what happens when you put diesel fuel in your gasoline
car: you spend all your time trying to fix the problems caused
by forcing together two things that don't really belong with one
As companies seek out more and more efficient operating models,
merging talent and resources becomes attractive. As such, you'll
likely experience a merger at some point in your career. And while
top executives are dealing with the strategic and structural
issues of a merger, what can you do to ensure that you not only
survive the experience, but thrive as a result of the change?
Surviving and Thriving...
When two organizations merge, staff members from the original
companies are typically left wondering who will stay, who will go,
and what will the structure of the new organization be?
The problem is, some of the talent and resources
are often deemed redundant in the new structure. Few positions
are really safe: After all, you only need so many accountants,
administrative support personnel and executives to run a company!
When faced with a merger, your challenge is to figure out your
best means of survival. You can do one of two things. Either you
find a way to stay, or you exit graciously.
The best survival strategy is one that keeps
both options open. That way, as the merger begins to take shape,
you have some control over what happens. Whenever you can exercise
control, you reduce your stress levels. This leaves you with sufficient
emotional resources to manage your situation with confidence.
Your Merger Survival Plan
Confidence is key to your survival when you
are faced with a merger. To build the confidence you need, you'll
need to develop a merger survival plan. Here, we'll show you a
four-pronged approach to mergers. This will help you do what you
need to do to emerge happy and satisfied, once the dust settles
and the winds of change have blown through.
The four-part plan consists of:
- Contingency planning.
- Relationship building.
- Proving your value.
- Change advocacy.
Completing a merger doesn't happen overnight.
All mergers have a transition process, so you should have time
to prepare, and focus your energies so that you have the best
chance of survival.
Remember, a merger is simply a specific
type of change. All of the nuances of adjusting to change
apply in a merger situation as well. If you understand the
process that a person typically goes through when adjusting
to change, you can put your emotions and actions in the
right context. For a detailed discussion of the dynamics of
change, see the Mind Tools article on the Change Curve.
The first step in any survival plan is to have an exit route. You
need this for two reasons. If you are laid off as a consequence of
the merger, you need a plan to secure other employment. If you
survive the merger, only to find out that working for the newly
formed company is not for you, again, you need to find a new job.
- Dig out your resume and start thinking of job and career
options. This may be the perfect opportunity for you to make some
changes that you've wanted to make for a long time.
- Put together a list of networking contacts. Who could you call
to assist you in a job search?
- Start exploring your career options. What other things could you
be doing? Are there opportunities presented by the merger that
weren't available before?
- Complete a Personal SWOT analysis to maximize your success with
a job search. This will help you identify the opportunities you
have, as well as pinpoint areas you need to develop.
- Allow yourself to dream. What do you really want to do with your
life? Using the information you gather about yourself in your SWOT
analysis, develop a career plan to see yourself through this
merger and far beyond.
- Prepare financially. Increase your savings by as much as you
can. Your savings will be your safety net in case you are laid off
and don't find other work immediately, or in case you choose to
take some time off to explore your options.
Unless you get an offer you just can't refuse, don't quit
right away. Often, merger-induced layoffs come with
substantial severance packages and extended benefits. Make
sure you don't short-change yourself by reacting too
The main purpose of the contingency plan is to help you focus on
something positive. Developing the plan helps you regain a sense
of control. Change induces stress. The more ways you can find to
assert control, the better you will be able to manage the emotions
you are feeling during a merger.
- Get involved in activities that give you
confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
- Practice relaxation exercises and techniques
to calm external stress. For details on relaxation, see our Physical
Relaxation Techniques article.
- Talk to friends and family for help and encouragement
when you start to feel overwhelmed.
- Try to avoid making other significant changes
during this transition. One major change at a time is usually
enough for anyone!
Surviving at work has a lot to do with the strength of your
relationships with your teammates. This is never so important as
when you are suddenly faced with many new teammates who you need
to figure out.
- Take initiative to get to know the new people. Suggest group
lunches and get-to-know-you sessions.
- Avoid the tendency to develop an "us
and them" mentality.
- Remain open to new ways of working. There will be some
differences in the way work gets done. Collaborate as much as
possible to create new systems that work for everyone.
- Check the consequences of your actions or decisions on your
co-workers and make this a priority. This shows everyone that you
are as concerned with the well-being of the team as you are with
- Practice tact and diplomacy at all times. Be extra careful of
what you say and to whom. If you need to vent, use your family (or
the Mind Tools community) as an audience.
- Be encouraging and supportive of co-workers whose positions are
made redundant. You might need this kind of consideration in the
future and you always want to preserve relationships and build
your network of contacts.
The relationships you build with the new people
in this newly merged company are significant to your survival.
Demonstrate your ability to get along with all types of people
in all types of situations. This will give you a distinct advantage
over people who let their differences and personal grievances
get in the way of their work.
Proving Your Value
Ultimately, much of the decision on whether
you stay or go comes down to how much value you can provide to
the newly formed company (although some is down to plain luck.)
If there are too many shipping clerks, who gets let go? It might
be the clerk who can't seem to get along with any of the new people,
or the clerk who contributes the least, or has the poorest attitude.
This is why relationship building is so important, and why maintaining
a good attitude is also important.
- Maintain a list of your accomplishments.
Keeping a "success log" or some other system to track
your work achievements and successes is a good idea. Note in
your log when you add a new skill or receive recognition for
your work. This will help you prove the transferability of your
skills to the new organization.
- Volunteer to take on merger-specific projects.
If you can get directly involved with the integration process,
you will probably be in contact with people who are in a position
to determine whether you stay or go.
- Practice your problem solving skills. Figure
out what problems you can solve for the newly merged company
and then get out there and solve them. This will immensely increase
your profile and prove your worth.
- Stay visible. Don't retreat to your office
and assume that your work will speak for you. You've got to
proactively show the "powers that be" that you are
an indispensable part of the team.
- Continue to churn out quality work. Performance
is always the bottom line. Even the nicest guys get the axe
if their work doesn't measure up to expectations.
Throughout the merger process, your attitude toward the change
will speak volumes about your suitability for, and relevance to,
the new organization. If you resist change, you only succeed in
showing people how ill prepared you are to handle the dynamics of
modern work life. Become an advocate of change and inspire others
to follow, and you'll be seen for your leadership ability and
- Always be positive. See the opportunity in the change rather
than the threats.
- Leave the past in the past. The sooner you accept that this is a
new company, with new rules and a new culture, the better you will
be able to adapt and help your teammates do the same.
- Don't speak negatively about the merger to anyone. (Venting on
family is ok; however, make sure what you say will stay within
those walls!) Don't leak information about the merger or betray
- Give up your turf. Work with your new colleagues to find the
best way to complete your tasks. Recognize that their way of doing
things is no more wrong than yours is right. Use best practices to
create a new way that is better than before.
- Find ways to lead the change. Don't participate in activities
that undermine the merger, like taking sides or airing your
grievances in public.
- Be aware of aspects of corporate cultural
(yours, theirs, or the new company's) that form barriers to
change. Are rewards improperly administered? Is communication
hindering the change process? Are strict policies and procedures
limiting the ability to solve problems creatively? See our article
Cultural Barriers to Change for an in-depth discussion of
the things to watch out for, and to see how to overcome these
- Practice resilience. In the midst of change, your ability to
remain creative and energized speaks volumes about your attitude
and competence. Others will model your resilience, and you'll be
recognized as a leader and a valued team member.
There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right
– Winston Churchill
During a merger, you have the ability to decide the direction your
career will take. When you decide to take control and not allow
change to dictate what happens, the whole transition process is
put into the right perspective.
What you do before, during, and after the merger determines how
you emerge and how satisfied you are with the results. Prepare a
contingency plan and take positive steps to improve the value and
impact you have on the newly formed company. Your positive
attitude and energy will get noticed and you'll be able to manage
your stress levels. As a result, you'll shine and make decisions
for your career with a clear head and good sense of where you are
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