How to Save Your Job Amid a Company Merger

By Arlene S. Hirsch

When news of a merger or acquisition breaks, anxieties escalate in the organizations involved. Rumors about what will happen run rampant, and many employees who fear losing jobs scramble to write resumes. In many cases, their fears are justified.

Those most at risk following a merger include employees working in duplicated roles and those whose value to the organization isn't clearly apparent. Others who are vulnerable include poor performers and employees who resist change.

"There are real reasons to be anxious in certain kinds of mergers," says Susan Maloney Meyer, chief executive officer of Arc Leadership, an executive-coaching firm in Chicago. "The key is to turn that anxiety into something positive and really use it."

Lee Rosenthal wished he had taken a more active role when his employer, direct marketer Metromail, was acquired by Experian, a global information-services company, in 1998. Since he had a good reputation and relationship with his bosses, the information-product manager expected to be given a satisfying job in the post-merger company. He was wrong.

Following the acquisition, he was never sure what he was supposed to do. In the end, he resigned voluntarily. In hindsight, Mr. Rosenthal believes he should have introduced himself and showcased his capabilities more forcefully. "I learned the hard way that you always need to take care of yourself," he says. "No matter how good your relationships are, you can't expect other people to do that for you."

Learning From Experience

Mr. Rosenthal decided to do things differently when it happened to him again. He was vice president of client services for Chicago list company Markets on Demand in 2002, when it was acquired by Acxiom Corp., a customer and information-management company based in Little Rock, Ark.

This time, he was part of Markets on Demand's management team, so he knew what was happening and when. Although his job was vulnerable because of redundant functions, he lobbied strongly on his own behalf.

"I was very proactive to seek out my new boss and very positive in speaking about the future," says Mr. Rosenthal. "I made it my job to make him think I was a critical part of the company, someone whom he needed in order to be successful and someone he could trust."

Mr. Rosenthal also volunteered to be a liaison to the new company's human-resources and finance executives during the integration. This broadened his exposure and helped him to meet more people. Eventually, he became friends with the lead HR specialist, who explained the acquiring company's culture and how best to navigate it.

A Decision-Maker's View

John Ardis, vice president of corporate strategy for ValueClick Inc. in Westlake Village, Calif., has helped manage the acquisitions of several companies since joining the Internet advertising company in 2001. Being a good performer is often the key to whether you'll stay or go, he says.

"What many people don't realize is that by the time a merger is announced, a lot of decisions have already been made," says Mr. Ardis. "If you weren't performing well before the merger took place, it may be time for you to consider other options."

If you want to stay, now is the time to step up to the plate and make a contribution. "The first thing we look for is redundancies," he says. "Where there are obvious redundancies, we tend to look for who's the stronger one. The bottom line is that you have to be a rock-solid performer."

Team Players

Even if you hold a duplicate role, positioning yourself as a team player can improve your prospects. Reach out to executives from the acquirer and help wherever you can. Executives who understand the reasons behind a merger and the strengths of the two companies are more likely to thrive following a deal, while those who don't often flounder or are let go.

Volunteer for the transition team. "You need to take on some responsibility. Step out and understand what the acquirer really needs and what you can do to help," says Ms. Maloney.

By participating in the transition, you may be able to identify potential job opportunities or persuade decision-makers to find a new role for you after the reorganization, says Susan Cramm, president of Valuedance, an executive-coaching firm for information-technology professionals in San Clemente, Calif. "Raise your hand," says Ms. Cramm. "See if you get yourself assigned to the transition team so that you can be close to the decision-making process."

Attitude Adjustments

Being perceived as an obstacle to change is a red flag that may lead to your ouster, says Ms. Cramm. Mr. Rosenthal says one co-worker nearly lost her job because she seemed to disapprove of the deal with Acxiom. The employee was given coaching, which helped to change her attitude and save her job, he says.

An employee who worked with Ms. Cramm at a company involved in an automotive merger behaved the same way. He didn't say he disliked the deal but showed his disapproval in other ways, for instance, adopting a wait-and-see attitude rather than being helpful. "He may as well have painted a bull's-eye on his shirt, because he called attention to himself in [the wrong] way," says Ms. Cramm.

Having a good attitude and offering to help during a merger transition is never risky, she says. The real risk "is denying reality, hiding, being negative."

Mr. Ardis adds: "Be very, very useful. Ask the question: 'How can I help?' While everyone else is hiding in the bushes and hoping it will go away, you can be making a good impression."

-- Ms. Hirsch is a career counselor in Chicago and the author of "How to Be Happy at Work" (Jist Publishing, 2003).

Email your comments to cjeditor@dowjones.com .

Article from CareerJournal.com Today – November 2005

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