If entrepreneurs have mixed feelings about selling, well, that's nothing compared with what the employees go through. Perhaps that's why, when she was selling LearnVest to Northwestern Mutual, Alexa von Tobel was advised that 25 to 30 percent of her team would leave. Plum, sold to Campbell's, lost 25 percent. Von Tobel lost about 10 percent--and it still hurt. Here's how to limit the desertions.
1. Put yourself in their shoes
When you're selling your company, you have a few months to get to know the acquirer. Employees don't have the benefit of all that prep time. They've no doubt put lots of thought into choosing to work for you, because they knew that commitment would likely last a few years. Compare that with what happens during an acquisition, says Mike Lee, co-founder and CEO of MyFitnessPal, which sold to Under Armour. "All of a sudden, five minutes after an announcement, you're working for another company." Your employees are too. And nobody asked them.
2. Keep it steady as she goes
In the long run, it may be better for your company to 1) be fully integrated, 2) stay fully independent, or 3) be something in between. But in the short term, if you want to hang onto the people who got you here, don't change too much too fast. It's comforting to know that people won't be losing their jobs, and won't have to pick up their families and move, and that everyone will report to the same person they did yesterday. Change may be inevitable, but it doesn't have to be today.
3. Communicate carefully
Employees will have lots of questions after an acquisition is announced--and you won't have all the answers. "People want to know what the road maps are," says von Tobel. "We didn't have the whole plan. We just needed a minute to iron it out." Tell them as much as you can, but be honest about what you don't know. And make hay out of good news. "If we had to announce something the team wouldn't like," says Lee, "we would give them two pieces of good news before the bad news."