By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
Most employees fear the changes wrought by acquisition.
I have never been “acquired,” but I have been on the other side—about a dozen times, buying small and medium-sized companies and integrating them into a larger operation.
The almost universal response to an acquisition announcement is trepidation and panic. Staff, especially front-line staff, expect the worst. Even those who dislike their present company or owner protest loudly at the prospect of a new employer. Increased pay, expanded benefits, and promises of job security do little to quell their swelling apprehension. Theirs is a fear of the unknown.
If you work for a company that is being acquired, the possible strategies and resulting outcomes are limited and predictable. The buyer could be looking for a working, functional facility, but not the staff. Conversely, the focus could be on the customers, but not the staff or facility. In these cases, the facts are soon readily apparent and your future employment status is known, albeit not desirable.
However, in most cases, the purchaser wants the entire operation: the staff, the facility, and the customers. Happily, jobs are secure and the future is promising. Yes, changes will occur, but astute employees will anticipate and welcome these as requisite adjustments for a better future. It is those who oppose or reject the new owner’s directives who run a legitimate risk of unemployment.
If you work for a subsidiary or division and your parent company is acquired, the possible outcomes are more complex. The intent could be to let the new acquisition continue to operate as is, in a hands-off, independent manner.
However, some of the other prospects are not so encouraging. There could likely be a desire to cut costs, which unfortunately means that some positions or even departments could be eliminated. Sometimes, the goal is to sell off parts of the company to other buyers. (Analysts anticipated that News Corporation would sell off many of Dow Jones’s small regional papers.) At the most extreme, the entire company can be dismantled and sold piecemeal—then employees need to endure a second acquisition.
For those who acquire companies, never forget the human element. You are dealing with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Honestly communicate as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Backup your positive pronouncements with tangible supporting action. And if the news is bad, treat people with dignity and respect, doing all you can to facilitate their movement into a new job or career.
For those who are being acquired, remember that though you cannot control much of what happens to you, you can control your response to it. Be realistic and update your resume so it is ready if needed, but don’t prematurely jump ship. Instead, choose to have a positive attitude about the situation, support the new management, and prove yourself to be a valuable asset. You could end up pleasantly surprised by the result.