Monday, August 17, 2015

Your company has been acquired, what should you do !

If this is the first time you are involved in one, it is a feeling of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt); what will happen next ? Will the acquirer dictate their will or take rational or unilateral decisions ? Culturally we are so different; how will we work together ? There are so many parallel roles between the two companies, what will happen to the combined team ? What will be the future of my team ? What will happen to me ? They talked about synergies ! If you have been in an acquisition before, you think you know what will happen.

If you are an acquiring company, the feeling is similar to having won a war even if you were not on the field playing an active role and came to know of the event from an internal announcement or the newspapers; by association you believe that you now have the ability to change the destiny of the acquired group. You have already started thinking about the extended team, the tasks that lie ahead in integrating their systems. As the dominant partner you want to get them to your level, irrespective of comparative benefits.

But there is a lot more at stake in the first case as it deals with FUD; for many it is like appearing for a new job interview, a job that you desperately want because it is yours to begin with. You also want to ensure that your team also gets their jobs and don’t become a casualty to synergies between the two enterprises where overlapping roles see one go; it’s rarely the person from the acquirer impacted. The uncertainty is directly proportional to your place in the hierarchy; higher you are, it’s more likely that you will be collateral damage. Consider:

A.     The CIO was a leader in his own right having grown through the ranks over the years; his projects were well regarded and awarded by the industry, one becoming a case study in a premier B-school. He met the CEO and CIO of the big brother, sharing information and providing a view of their journey and success, though on a smaller scale. His confidence and positive approach ensured that he had a role in the new entity even before the integration process actually began. He became a critical part of the integration team. His team was not that fortunate, most did not make the grade.

B.     In another case, from the outside the deal did not appear to make any sense; the companies were fierce competitors in a crowded but growing market. Barring a few differences and branding, they operated in exactly the same space; acquisition added to scale but did not complement each other. When the integration started, both teams knew that the commonness will be a bane for many; but then the technologies even though being the same delivered very different results to the respective companies. The debate continued almost forever and as a result many left for greener pastures.

C.     Just before the announcement became public, the CIO had quit leaving a leadership vacuum at the targeted company. The acquirer known for ruthlessness and sharp business acumen created – what else – FUD within the team. The deal ran into roadblocks dragging for a long time and market rumor continued to fuel doubts on future strategy. When it did get started, heads rolled quickly, especially cruel from the top downwards. Remnants of IT leadership was not seen competent enough to manage the combined entity; they hired from outside !

Is there a magic formula that can help you survive or become the leader for the combined entity ? Or should you start actively seeking opportunities outside immediately after the announcement ? In most cases the tilt of balance is based on criticality of the role in the merged organization; if your exit were to create significant business disruption, then you will be retained for sure. If you are a high professional and add value to the enterprise, stay if the terms are good for you; it would not be difficult for you to find alternatives.

In the rest of the cases and I am not counting the politically savvy who survive in all kinds of situations, put your best foot forward and be prepared for the worst. Have an open conversation with your new manager to understand the new role being offered; warning: it may not be as juicy as your earlier one. If you decide to part ways, whatever happens, don’t burn bridges; it will come back and bite you sooner or later. Help your team as a friend and coach, give them the advice and solace required in difficult times, keep them cohesive.

Finally if you are the decision maker, be candid and kind, it’s a small world after all. 

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