Survival mode: 5 steps to handling mergers, acquisitions and integrations

By Paul Falcone

When I wrote the book The First-Time Manager: Leading Through Crisis (September 2023) for HarperCollins Leadership, my goal was to address the incredible pace of change and disruption that so many of us have faced since the COVID pandemic. Employers and managers needed to learn to manage remotely, deal effectively with talent scarcity and employee burnout, prepare to fend off union-organizing threats and, yes, brace themselves for mergers and acquisitions, as well as subsequent integrations with other organizations that either purchased or sold their organizations in a massive scattering of corporate restructurings.

The book was intended to help us with tools and scripts to lead effectively while helping us manage and navigate our emotions through crises. The excerpt that follows addresses one of those “crisis leadership” scenarios that are impacting everything from movie studios to biotech firms, oil and gas, pharma, food retail and others.

A KPMG 2024 M&A survey reveals that a majority of executives anticipate a surge in M&A activity through the remainder of the year, with 75% planning to complete at least one deal. The renewed confidence in the U.S. economy and easing high interest rates contribute to this outlook. The chapter excerpt that follows below should help you prepare for potential M&A activity that could come your way and assist you in putting your best foot forward as a manager or individual contributor.

No self-respecting book on management crisis and disruption can look past the 800­pound gorilla in the room: surviving a merger, acquisition, or divestiture and the subsequent integration that follows. Whatever the reason, layoffs are a natural outcome of merger and acquisition activity. Some industry experts estimate that roughly 30 percent of employees are deemed redundant when firms in the same industry merge.

MGR Handbook D

As such, M&A represents a unique opportunity in your career. The core question is, what do you do, and how do you approach your career when you learn of potential M&A activity coming your company’s way? Following are certain approaches and considerations you might want to keep in mind when you learn of a potential threat.

Step 1: Don’t panic

Instead, take a collective breath to assess the situation by gathering as much information as possible.

M&A represents a momentous change and crisis. Having the appropriate mindset is key to your success. While bailing when you hear about a potential M&A coming your way and getting your résumé out may be your gut reaction, it might be best to assess the situation objectively first. Significant changes in the corporate structure may create opportunities for voluntary leadership, cross-collaboration, greater responsibility and potential promotions.

Step 2: Conduct a personal SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis is an excellent way to assess where you might fall on the spectrum of “keepers” versus those who are more likely to be made redundant and laid off. Licenses, certifications, specialty knowledge of mission-critical systems, and tenure might all work in your favor. Of course, you cannot know for sure how you’ll fare because you won’t know what talent exists at your level at the other organization. You’ll rarely have a chance to look at your career more critically and objectively than when facing a merger or acquisition, so make the best of this “ancillary benefit” once it presents itself.

Step 3: Decide where you stand moving forward and focus on what you can control

There’s no judgment (or self-judgment) here. Some people put their heads down and hope for the best. Others contact headhunters immediately and get their résumé out without hesitation. But there’s a third option that might benefit your career interests best over the long haul: Integrate yourself into the merger process. View this as an opportunity to promote yourself and your capabilities—there are a lot of moving parts involved, and you may need to turn up the volume to get noticed.

Step 4: Ask appropriate questions

Companies that lead M&A activities undergo a “due diligence” process in which they inspect the target company’s books. “Buyer beware” is indeed a core mantra and risk of merger activities, and if the acquiring company misses anything significant— underfunded pension liabilities, massive regulatory irregularities or significant pending litigation—they inadvertently buy that liability at the time the purchase is complete. You should do the same thing. Ask your boss, your HR team, or a representative of the acquiring company any of the following questions:

  • Is our department unique, or will we be matched against a similar team in the other company?
  • Will my position be eliminated?
  • If I lose my job, will there be a severance package?
  • Will my compensation or benefits change?
  • Will my responsibilities, location or who I report to change?

Step 5: Follow survival tips

The following strategies will likely serve you well when amid a merger or acquisition:

  • Always remain positive.
  • Don’t hide.
  • Leave the past in the past.
  • Don’t speak negatively about the merger.
  • Be flexible and willing to give up your turf.
  • Find ways to lead the change.
  • Be aware of aspects of corporate culture that form barriers to change.
  • Practice resilience.
  • Remain cognizant of signs of being encouraged to quit.

Following these strategies might not result in your remaining with the newly integrated organization, either in your current or in a different capacity. But if done wisely, you can emerge from the process as a winner, no matter what the outcome.

We know that CEOs look for agility and adaptability as core attributes of those they want to hire. Consider using this change as an opportunity to demonstrate your strongest skills, knowledge and abilities, and be prepared to share your learnings with prospective employers. Such opportunities can build character as much as they build résumés, so proceed with caution, but don’t be afraid. Even the worst-case scenario—being laid off—provides you with opportunities to share during an interview regarding how you attempted to support and lead the change.

Paul Falcone (www.PaulFalconeHR.com) is principal of Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Consulting, LLC. Find the full list of his books at Amazon.com/author/paulfalcone. Subscribe to his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/@paulfalconeHR.