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 more convincing.
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 another.
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 quickly.
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 other factors.
- 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 potential.
- 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 anyone's confidence.
- 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 on Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Change for an in-depth discussion of the things to watch out for, and to see how to overcome these barriers.
- 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 direction. – 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 heading.
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