So, what happens when an organisation gets taken over?
Well, for those in the company who are being acquired, things can often become quite unsettled. It can even shake the sense of identity and purpose of the workforce unless the process is carefully managed.
In fact, very often one of the main outputs is an increase in anxiety levels.
People can become anxious about the future and start asking themselves questions such as:
“Will I have a job?”
“Will I be part of a new team? With people I don’t know and don’t yet trust”
“Will I have the required skills in the new organisation?”
“Will I have to learn a load of new processes and procedures?”
“Will the values and the culture of the new company be different?”
“What if I don’t like the new culture?”
Of course, equally, there are many who also embrace change:
“Fantastic, I’ll have new opportunities in a bigger company”
“Wonderful, I’ll be able to learn a new way of doing things and see which way works best for me”
“Great. Bigger company. Perhaps I’ll get a job overseas”
Knowing that people are different, and will react differently, is actually one of the most empowering pieces of information you can arm yourself with if you are leading the change process.
The more that we can realise people are unique;
…with their own outlook on life…
…their own individual hot buttons and drivers…
…their own way of dealing with anxiety…
… the more we can become effective leaders in the change process.
Help those who are anxious become less anxious:
Let’s focus on those who are anxious.
“People don’t like change” is a well-known phrase, but let’s decode it. What is going on, metaphorically speaking, under the bonnet?
For those with high levels of anxiety, there’s a lot happening:
There might be a lot of negative assumptions flying about.
Inside your employees’ heads they may be saying to themselves:
”This might happen then that might happen. What if this then happens and then that might lead to this….”
It’s what is affectionately called Monkey Mindedness. Similar to the way a monkey swings from tree to tree, our thoughts can do the same. Jumping from one assumed future scenario to another. One thought triggers another; we run one future negative-scenario after another in our head based upon simply not knowing what lies ahead:
“What if I’m made redundant?”
“What if my new boss is hard to get on with?”
“What if I’m not accepted by the new team and don’t fit into their culture?”
This is all natural though. It’s what many of us are programmed to do when the future is uncertain.
For instance, have you ever had a loved one become seriously ill? Or yourself even? Perhaps you’ve lost your job in the past? Lost something important like your keys or wallet. Even a simple romantic bust-up can generate these same thoughts. The thoughts that trigger the voice in our head that unconsciously asks the same question time after time: “what’s going to happen next?”
Can you remember the last time something like this happened to you? Did you feel powerless? For many of us the answer will be yes and that’s often what happens with people who become anxious when change is imposed on them.
So, by empathising with our workforce and realising that, for many of our members of staff, not knowing what will happen next can be really quite daunting, really quite disconcerting. So, by simply appreciating that this is going on inside their heads, it allows us, as leaders, to respond accordingly.
Crystal-clear communication is the key:
Communicating what the future will look like with crystal clear clarity is the antidote. If you are familiar with the Kubler-Ross curve, people going through change often encounter denial then anger then bargaining, then depression (caused by a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness), then acceptance.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross brought this to life in her famous curve.
First people often deny it is happening.
Then they may get angry or frustrated when they realise the change is not going away.
After this they may start bargaining for a mutually-beneficial solution.
When that doesn’t work, they might get depressed
And finally, once some time has elapsed, they accept that this is the new status-quo. From this point onwards what you say or ask of them is more readily accepted.
The dangers of not sharing the future vision:
When change is instigated in an organisation, and the new vision is not known or shared with employees, it is impossible for people to accept; and you cannot accept what you don’t know. In this case, people tend to loop around depression and anger. This makes people even more anxious.
So, it stands to reason that to identify what the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ looks like will shorten the length of time it takes to get to the acceptance stage; and this is a win-win scenario for all.
By communicating with employees with crystal clear clarity, and by letting them know what the future will look like, in as positive and as descriptive a way as possible, you empower them to make their own decisions based upon their newly acquired knowledge.
Clear communication, even if it isn’t great news, gives the power back to the employee.
For instance, even if they are being made redundant, at least they’ll know that they have to do something about it (i.e. looking for another job / retiring). Alternatively being kept in the dark or being given a vague-looking future, generally breeds mistrust and poor commitment.
An important piece of information to give to people during change: What’s their role and how do they fit in?:
On top of all this comes one of the real reasons why we go to work. Purpose and meaning.
For many of us, we don’t just go to work to earn a wage packet. Despite many surveys showing pay and remuneration high up the list of priorities, long-term, we go to work to get purpose and meaning from our job.
Our job, for many of us, actually makes up part of our identity. (Ask someone to describe who they are and see how long it takes for them to talk about their job)
On top of money to pay our bills and enjoy life, we also need to go to a place where we grow and expand as a human being. Somewhere where we can keep on learning new skills, contribute to a bigger cause, develop our sense of worth.
So, by fully appreciating just how important a job is to someone, (especially in terms of the job helping to make that person who they are), then we can focus our efforts to show people how they will fit into the change process. Once again this can be immensely empowering for employees.
Whilst we discussed above that clear communication is a strong antidote to anxiety, this can be turbo-charged simply by making people fully aware of where they fit into the change process. Showing them what is required of them and what life will look like for them on the “other side” is a fast-track solution to gain buy-in to the change
If all of this can be wrapped up by assuring them that their sense of identity and purpose will be maintained, then, again, you’ll get even more buy-in.
Finally, the process can go even further into overdrive if the employees of the acquired company are consulted with regarding how to maintain their culture, their sense of identity and their purpose*. Make them an integral part of the change journey, not just a passenger.
* Assuming that the brand has been bought with the intention of keeping the original brand personality intact and not having it absorbed into the brand of the acquiring company.
Ultimately nobody knows better than the acquired company’s people who they are, what they stand for and what makes them the brand that they are.
So, if you are the buyer of this brand…..ask the your newly-acquired employees how to maintain all the things we’ve looked at above. Put them in the driver seat alongside you.
Hope is powerful:
If your new employees feel ‘hope’, you’re onto a winner. Hope that they are required for this change to happen. Hope can move them dramatically forwards on the Kubler-Ross curve, towards the “acceptance” stage.
And the closer you can get them to the acceptance stage, the quicker change will become embedded, and life for your new employees can get back to normal.
There is so much more to managing an effective change process, but these simple quick tips above are amongst some of the more powerful ones.
Before signing off, let us share with you a powerful equation. One that we find essential having at the forefront of our minds during any change process.
What is C=ABD>X?:
In 1987 Beckhard and Harris developed their change formula from some original work in 1969 by Gleicher:
C = Change
A = Level of dissatisfaction with the status quo
B = Desirability of the proposed change or end state
D = Practicality of the change (minimal risk and disruption)
X = ‘Cost’ of changing
So, if A, B and D are greater that X, change will happen.
It’s a great formula to keep referring back to over the months, sometimes years, that effective change takes to happen.
For more details about how we can help, please contact us on 0044 1737 243 030