Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Merger or Take Over

...or put another way, 'How to Survive and Prosper when your Working World is turned upside down'.

I suppose it's possible that some readers of this blog will have had a happy, or at least not unpleasant, experiences whilst working in IT and their company is the subject of a takeover or merger.

I have to say that in my career this hasn't been the case, nor do I know anyone who who hasn't found the experience troubling or stressful. At the root of the problem is a simple fact: your working situation can be changing radically, and you usually have little or no power to influence things.

Survivors Guide

1. Survivors Know Who is Actually Calling the Shots.

In a take-over (your employer is sold to another company) it's obvious - the managers from the purchasing company have control. Mergers are more tricky. Even when mergers are said to be 'of equals' in my experience there is usually one of the pair that is simply absorbing the other. Try to find out which is swallowing the other. You can assess this usually by looking at the Directors and senior managers, - who is keeping their jobs (implies the one doing the swallowing) and who is taking the 'new and exciting roles' (implies the one being swallowed). Other clues might be the change of office (my place or yours) and whose brand survives.

2. Survivors are Cheerful and Stupid.

In a situation where you are maybe feeling stressed or nervous about the future, it's easy to fall into the trap of getting cross easily, viewing the other company as enemies, and being over-sensitive. Being Cheerful and Stupid means simply never assuming the worse, being slow to see insults, and avoiding alienating your new or existing co-workers. Even if your new colleagues do something you don't like, or you feel that undermines your position, ignore it.

True story: Many years ago, the company I worked for was taken over by a large multinational, at a time when I was running the product development team. A guy showed up one day, and without introducing himself to me asked our receptionist for my and my team's CVs. My reaction was to very nearly punch this guy's lights out. This made me feel a little better but served no useful purpose at all. Cheerful and Stupid would have been a better approach: 'certainly Mr Secret Squirrel - here you go!'.

3. Survivors Know that it is Every Man (or Woman!) For Themselves.

It's a bit unseemly, but a merger or takeover can be like a big scramble for the life boats on a sinking ship. Your best policy is to look after yourself - don't expect your boss to do that for you, regardless of how well you know them.

4. Survivors Make Friends.

It's easy for an 'us and them' mentality to develop, and it can be hard to even be civil at times. This attitude though doesn't do you or the company any good so try to make friends, particularly with 'the other side'. Try to connect with their social networks - for example, if they have a sporting team try to join it, if if there is some other social grouping try to become a part of it. If they plan LAN Computer games after work ask if you can be part of it - but remember, be Cheerful and Stupid if they say no.

5. Survivors Don't Take any Holidays for the First Six Months.

I have no hard statistical evidence for this, but a lot of people seem to be fired or made redundant after returning from holiday - it just seems easier to do when you are not around. As the period after a merger is a scramble, it doesn't make any sense for you to not be around as things start to settle down.

6. Survivors Know How Expensive They Are.

It isn't just a merger of cultures and people you get. Sometimes when companies merge or are subject to takeover you get a merger of approaches to salary and remuneration. Try to find out where you stand. If you are paid substantially more than a similar worker in the company that has taken you over, it might be that you'll be shown the door regardless of what you do. In this case, you might be able to negotiate a better severance package - but regardless, it's information you need to know.

A good source of information might be by looking at any recent recruitment advertisements the other company has placed over the last six months. Another tell tale sign is the number of empty vacancies that the other company has - a high number is sometimes indicative of lower than average salaries.

7. Survivors Constrain Their Personal Expenditure.

Part of the deal with mergers is the stress they cause. My view is that most of this comes from people being subjected to sometimes quite radical change in their jobs, and having absolutely no way to influence or control that change. Another source of stress is the more prosaic 'how will I pay my bills if I loose my job?'. A way you can reduce this stress is simply taking an axe to your outgoings (not literally). If you've recently bought a new car, see if you can get rid of it without taking too large a hit, if you were taking a holiday see if you can cancel and get most of all of your money back (see also point 5).

Reducing your expenditure will make you feel less dependent on your monthly pay check. This will reduce your stress level, and allow you to more easily make friends and be Cheerful and Stupid.

8. Survivors Engage With Customers.

Without customers, most businesses will shrivel up pretty quickly. Being engaged directly with customers, and having a direct and valued relationship with customers, immediately elevates your standing within any company. It doesn't make you indispensable, but it does give you something extra.

If a customer is particularly pleased with something you've done, don't be afraid to solicit the customer sending an email of praise about you to your boss.

9. Survivors Have Their CV Up To Date.

Everyone needs a fall back position, so now is as good a time as any to bring your CV up to date.

In doing so, avoid developing a negative attitude to your employer. See points 2 and 4.

10. Survivors Sell their Office Supplies on Ebay wink

Aside from providing Scott Adam's Dilbert with hundreds of strips, you may find that everyone is too busy focusing on CVs, making friends and watching their backs to notice that the premium envelops keep disappearing (warning: this may not be legal in all jurisdictions).

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