Companies are made up of individuals. It’s easy to overlook this fundamental fact when you’re deep in negotiations with a potential buyer. But if you ignore employee fear and anxiety about a merger, the individuals who compose your company can make a smooth integration difficult, if not impossible.
Silence is the enemy
Throughout the sale process, try to keep this individual perspective in mind by viewing the deal from your employees’ vantage point. New owners represent uncertainty, and employees are likely to worry about the possibility of new managers, different compensation and benefit packages, office or factory relocation, and even layoffs.
Silence on such issues won’t make them go away. If employees don’t receive regular updates from their company’s leadership, they are likely to believe worst-case scenarios, and start spreading rumors and discontent. Valuable employees may even start looking for a new job. Not surprisingly, business buyers generally aren’t eager to step into such an environment — particularly since they need employees’ help to integrate the acquisition. So be sure to speak up early and often, and, to the extent possible, include employees in the process.
Easing employees’ concerns
To keep rumors at bay and ease the concerns of individual employees:
Make a plan. Decide when you want to announce the sale and disclose details about it. To ensure there’s little “quiet time” after the announcement, schedule regular information sessions to update employees on the transaction’s progress.
Be honest. If your buyer is contemplating layoffs or consolidation of divisions, relate the news to employees as soon as possible. The truth will surface at some point and it’s better to have a work force that’s prepared for change than one that’s blindsided — and possibly resentful.
Reassure the base. If you know certain employees are valuable to your buyer or that your buyer plans to integrate particular divisions or departments intact, work to ensure that they are on board with the deal. Talk with key employees directly (possibly one-on-one), solicit their ideas, listen to their concerns and consider offering them incentives to stay on through the integration.
Say what you can
Given the nature of deal negotiations, it may be difficult for you to share much information with employees until the ink has dried on the sale contract. But to ensure their cooperation, address rumors head on. So determine what you can say and say it as soon as possible.