Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chaos and Opportunity

I’m not sure what’s got me thinking so much about the employee impacts of M&A lately – maybe it’s all the stories I hear whenever I get together with my former colleagues who are still at Cingular. As I’ve posted before, a merger is a tough thing to go through, particularly if a lot of the work you do is forward-looking. Of course, the flip side is that – as with any corporate situation involving wholesale change – there are often new opportunities amidst the chaos.

While senior people are likeliest to move on to other companies, and junior people may not feel they have access to these opportunities, those in the middle should be looking for every way to use the merger as an avenue to a bigger role. Regardless of level, being proactive is critical. It’s fine to grieve for your old company and the way things were, but don’t give in to the endless grousing that many in the acquired company give in to. Check out the terrain of the new company and start talking to people – positively – about what you can contribute. You’ll quickly find out whether there are golden opportunities or you should run fleeing for the door. Either way, you’re far better off than if you sat back morosely and waited for a pink slip.

Here’s a method I learned quite some ago from an employee of mine: I’d taken over her 10-person group, and she knew I would need to lay off half the group, including her. Instead of sulking or delaying, she came right out with it, acknowledging the reality and offering suggestions for the new staffing plan. She also asked that we pick a date for her to be laid off. Because she did this in our first or second meeting, she was able to get a date nearly four months out – which was probably 3 months more notice than she would have had if she had simply ignored the issue and waited for me to finalize a staffing plan and lay her off. This gave her plenty of time to ramp her job search up and find something new by the time her layoff date arrived. In fact, with luxury of extra time, she was able to find another job in the company, saving me the severance expense!

From almost any manager’s perspective, an employee this proactive is an enormous relief. As a manager, you never know how a termination discussion is going to turn out, or what kind of performance you’re going to get leading up to the termination. Instead, you’ve got an employee offering their professional best in return for some certainty on when they’ll be let go. It doesn’t involve more cost to the company, because you’re not delaying a layoff date – you’re simply providing more notice. It’s a brilliant solution for all involved.

Even if it’s not certain that your position will be eliminated, it’s still a great idea to be proactive with your new managers. If you really want out, it will maximize your chances of getting out on your timetable. If you want to stay, it’s a great way to display your professionalism and interest in staying with the new company. I’ve done this both times my company was acquired – once when I wanted to stay, and once when I wanted to leave – and it worked beautifully both times.

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