The dismantling of a staff happens every time a company gets shut down, merges or gets acquired. Some are asked to stay for a transition. Some are let go immediately. Some get told to look for a job before the ax comes down.
Recently, I sold core assets of my company. Negotiations took longer than anticipated, and a target close in 2016 turned into a week-to-week target in 2017. Staff was nervous and conflicted. Who was staying and who was going? When should they start looking for a job? Should they panic about being cut off from health insurance?
Lots of acquisitions get announced and don't close for months. Morale plummets. Productivity is zero. Everyone is paralyzed because no one knows who is in charge. Projects for the future are put on hold. So what's a CEO to do to hold it together?
Communicate honestly and often.
The worst thing you can do is crawl into a cave all by yourself. You may be going through your own personal withdrawal, but silence only breeds misinformation and speculation. Sometimes you can't provide any answers because you don't even have them. Share that too. Trust is an extremely powerful asset. In exchange, ask your staff to openly share their job interviews and get ahead of staff departure schedules. I encouraged folks to look for jobs, asked certain staff to delay their job search, and even coached my staff on how to present their best self to future employers. I got two weeks' notice from everyone, and the transition work to the buyer was scheduled in a wonderfully orderly manner.
Check your culture pulse. Find out the undercurrent of perception. What you find out may surprise you as your staff's imagination runs wild. Be sensitive to the fear and anxiety that comes with the notion of being unemployed. Other than selling under duress, if you are getting a fair value for your company, then also be aware that your employees may be thinking you made money from the sweat off their backs while they get kicked to the curb. But as long as you treat your staff with courtesy and respect, you can hope to get the same in return. One person, at each update meeting, would look so sad that I commiserated with her after every meeting. She ended up joining the buyer company and has been an outstanding asset to help our clients transition to the buyer.
Be proud of your staff and your customers.
Every day, remind your staff to do the best job that they can. Remind them to be proud of their accomplishments. I told mine to be proud of the great clients we serviced. After all, our customers and products were just moving out of our house, starting a new life with a new corporate family and needed to be handed off in mint condition. Leaving each day with a smile on your face because you did great work sure beats feeling useless and mopey. Pride in your work is an undervalued motivator. Everyday, I reminded my staff that we wanted the buyer to feel good about what they bought. As I helped my staff get through this stressful change, as a team, we got through it together and celebrated the years we shared with a terrific sense of achievement.
The last thing you want when you are selling your company is to have your entire staff walking around like zombie people eaters, spreading negative energy like bad poison ivy, decreasing the value of the assets you are selling, and leaving you holding the bag all by yourself. Instead, celebrate what you and your team built together and get ready for everyone's next chapter. We did. And we all left with the sweet memory of success.
About the Author
Sue Yee is the CEO of Active Data, a digital products and services company that just launched its newest SaaS event ticketing software WhenNow, with the lowest transactions fees in the market. Her career began in the cable television industry, overseeing all operations, marketing and contract negotiation with cable television programmers such as CNN, ESPN, HBO, and MTV. She was involved in a $100 million dollar merger in the mid 1990's and has negotiated patent and trademark matters, software licensing, company acquisitions, and employee agreements. Recent deals include technology patent and software related asset transactions. Ms. Yee previously served or is currently serving on the Lehigh Valley Health Network Board of Trustees, Executive Committee and Board of Directors of C-SPAN, Lehigh University Board of Trustees, Lafayette Bank, PBS-WLVT 39, and numerous other organizations. Her recent honors include The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Take the Lead Award (2011), Smart CEO Voltage Award as an Emerging Technology Innovator (2014), YWCA Golden Laurel Award (2015), and Lehigh Valley Business 25 Women of Influence (2015).