MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Surviving M&A

As at Cadbury, M&A deals probably mean job losses. How can you avoid the cut?

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

It looks as if 2010 will see a number of large, and small, mergers and acquisitions; perhaps not at pre-recession levels, but certainly more than in 2008 and 2009. The well-publicised takeover of Cadbury by Kraft may just be the beginning. In all these deals, one certainty exists: people will lose their jobs. This could mean up to one-third of the combined staff from both companies, although typically the figure is closer to 10%.

So what can employees do to make sure they avoid the inevitable cull? MT asked Professor Scott Moeller of Cass Business School in London, and the author of a book on the subject, for his top tips.

1. Find ways to add value
Now's the time to put pressure on clients to do some further business with you. Your new bosses will be less likely to make you redundant if you might take business with you. If you're in the back office, be even more valuable to your front office clients. Try to be involved in the post-merger integration (see #9 below).

2. Don't rely on your boss
Many employees assume their boss will take care of them. But your boss is probably also uncertain about his or her own future. In fact, the chances of being made redundant after a merger are greater the higher up in the organisation you are. You boss is thus likely to be focusing first on his or her own job, not yours. And anyway, we all know that many bosses really have no clue about what is really happening in the company.

3. Be patient
There's a great deal of uncertainty following the announcement of a merger or acquisition. Once the two companies start coming together, they will find that the integration will be very different than it had been on paper prior to the merger. Therefore, don't make rash decisions about your role based on early communications, as they are likely to change. But also be careful not to wait too long, as then all the plum jobs may have been taken and you have no option but to leave.

4. Don't be a complainer
It is very easy to wish the merger hadn’t taken place. Your colleagues (and you) may have enjoyed your company as it was. Focus on the new future. Try to find the positive about the new organisation: at the very least, it’s likely to be bigger and therefore have more market impact. Try hard to be perceived as a team player on the new team.

5. Expect change and don’t resist it
There’s not just a lot of uncertainty, but also both organisations will be transformed by the deal even if one company appears to be on top and in control. You may be able to impact this change, but even if you merely observe the changes taking place, develop a strategy to adapt to the new dominant culture.

6. Use your network
Internally, you’ll want to network to find out what’s really happening and to identify the best job opportunities in the company. Don’t forget to do the same externally, as often people outside the company (management consultants, suppliers, clients and headhunters) will find out more than people internally; these external observers are also more likely to be objective in interpreting the impact. Resist the temptation to stay at your desk.
7. Understand the new partner’s objectives, not just your own company’s
You’ll be working with new colleagues. They will have different agendas to yours and those of your company. They may also end up with more influence in the new organisation than you initially anticipated, so try to determine what they want to do.

8. Promote your capabilities and accomplishments
Don’t hide your talents under a bushel. The period around a major acquisition is not the time to be shy about letting others know about the great things you do at work. Others may take offence if you do this too overtly and too selfishly, so package it in terms of your team’s accomplishments; if you head that team, you’ll be given the appropriate recognition AND you’ll be helping your colleagues as well.

9. Volunteer to serve on an integration team
Most of the time, the integration teams will be the first to know about the reorganisation plans for the newly-combined companies. If you work on one of these teams, you are also likely to be one of the first to get to know employees from ‘the other side’, as you work with them on the integration. Additionally, as you will be one of the few who know the new organisation and your counterparts at the other company, you may be selected to head or at least play a senior role in the newly-formed division.
10. Prepare a contingency plan
Despite taking all the appropriate steps to retain a job in the post-merger company, you still may be unlucky and be made redundant. Therefore, do prepare for the worst: use your network to identify back-up positions externally. Make sure you are frugal at this time in case you are redundant for a period and without work. Consider the implications of changing industries or taking early retirement.

It can be very exciting to be in a company that is merging, acquiring or being acquired. Maybe too exciting for some. But it is best to have a plan and to think through these issues rather than sitting by passively and waiting to find out whether you will be asked to stay or to leave.

Scott Moeller is the director and founder of the M&A Research Centre at Cass Business School where he is also an honorary visiting professor in the Faculty of Finance. His most recent book, published by John Wiley & Sons, was published in July 2009: Surviving M&A: Making the Most of Your Company Being Acquired.

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