I was in my previous job for 8 years. Whenever someone asked me how long I have been in the organization, I found it difficult to answer that question. The reason being, I had landed up in the last organization through two acquisitions in as many years. I was part of a 200 people setup, that was acquired by a 5000 people company, which was in turn acquired by a 100,000 people organisation! Just saying eight years didn’t quite communicate the progressive journey I had been through my 8 years.
Most people I meet with are always intrigued by this story, as few have been through any such involuntary change. And rarely two changes in a short span. Many also wondered how I managed not only to survive such a dramatic change, but had actually managed to rise to the top in each of those organisations. I had not really thought about it, till a colleague of mine thought it would be interesting to talk about this as part of the M&A integration strategy framework he used. Afterall it is the many personal stores that makes the larger story.
When the company you work for gets acquired, the first reaction is of shock and anxiety. Despite being in corporate communications, and having access to such news a few minutes or few hours before the rest of the organization, the sinking feeling hits on learning it. Many questions swirl in the mind: what does this mean for me, what about all the plans that I had made – right from the business plans to my personal vacation plans, what about my job, what will happen to me, what about my team, will I be let go, what will be the culture, who will be my boss…etc etc.
As I began to reflect back to see what helped me get beyond my emotional reactions, navigate through the change and succeed, I came up with the following insights. These of course have been harvested looking back at what I did. I wish someone had shared such a list with me, when I was going through the change.
Paint your own picture of the reality. As the news sinks in, start finding out more about the organization: what they do, what they are known for, what are the reasons for acquisition, how are they organized, who is the leadership, what is the work culture. And begin to understand the new reality. Form your opinions and not get swung by those who are still emotionally reacting. I noticed that the ones who continued to stay in the initial emotional phase, tended to become more resistant to accepting the change and were more cynical in their views. The ones who started acting with objective data moved on and handled the changes better.
Keep the focus on work and maintain the momentum. Ensure the projects that you are working on, are not abandoned just because there is ambiguity. Maintain the focus and the momentum and not throw hands up in the air. The clients –internal or external- should never experience any loss of energy.
Find a person you can trust. Identify someone in the new organization with whom you can share the questions and seek clarity. The key here is not to be inquisitive but ask for genuine help.
Transmit positive message. Your team and the people around you look up to you for direction and guidance. They will watch how you are dealing with change and what you say. It’s important not to be the transmitter of the cynicism but the carrier of the positive message-of the possible opportunities. Be transparent with the team as this is the only way to keep them focused.
Show empathy. One important thing that few realize is that the people on the acquiring side are also human and have the same emotions. Some feel threatened by this change, not knowing what would happen to them. They are grappling with the ambiguity too. So it is important to not come across as a threat but as someone who understands and is willing to work together and make it happen.
Have realistic expectations. You may have been leading the function, or due for a promotion. But in the new scenario you may either be asked to report to someone else or have to wait for that elusive promotion longer. But one has to remember that you are starting afresh, and you have to be build your credibility ground up. So one has to temper down the expectations a bit and adjust to the new paradigm.
Have your personal story. Articulate clearly what is the gift you bring to the table. The onus of having a clear story for yourself and how you present it, is completely on you. There is no organization to back it. Take the new opportunities that come your way and you will be able to turn a “disadvantage” to your advantage. Identify what is important and what is held in high esteem. The key is to live what is possible in the new scenario with your capabilities, rather than harp on what you have been doing so far.
An acquisition situation can provide many new growth opportunities which may not exist in the acquired organisation. It’s true, at times some people face redundancy. While there is some pain, the key to making it in the new situation lies in one’s own hand. It’s a personal choice.