Scott Curtis is a Managing Director at Consilio and was previously at Huron Legal, a division of Huron Consulting that was just acquired by Consilio. Huron Legal has been a client of mine, but more importantly, Scott is a friend of mine, and we were talking about the challenges involved with company ownership changes. Scott asked if we could co-author a post about the topic, and I jumped at the opportunity.
I’ll let him introduce himself first:
Scott Curtis Writes:
Have you ever found yourself caught in an acquisition, “realignment,” workforce reduction or other organizational change to your day job? If you haven’t, you almost certainly will at some point in your career. Experiencing the collapse of Arthur Andersen taught me several lessons that have stuck with me in my career. Brent and I experienced significant changes in our organizations at about the same time. In a recent exchange, he and I identified several considerations to make the process less painful for those going through a change. Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not the views of Consilio.
We’ve organized these comments into advice for employees and advice for leaders. Basically, those who have no advance warning about upcoming changes vs. those who are do.
Scott’s Advice for Employees (No advance warning):
- Listen for facts, especially those that you need to know for the immediate term. Tune out assumptions and conclusions from backchannels (including internet comments).
- Public companies must abide by strict non-disclosure rules. Acquisitions often fall through at the last minute. You can’t know the news in advance. This sucks. Please don’t take it personally.
- Understand that you aren’t the only person with questions, and, likely aren’t even the only person with the question you have. You should feel comfortable asking questions. Be thoughtful and respectful with your questions.
- You will be in a better mental state overall if your outlook focuses on the new opportunities rather a series of worst-case scenarios.
Brent says: that last part is so incredibly important. There’s a new concept of acqui-hire – buying a company just to get the skills of its staff. You might be the very asset that’s getting acquired. This could be your chance to improve your career situation, big time. I’m not talking about taking over job duties from people who quit – I’m talking about managers that need team leaders and visionaries who aren’t afraid of change.
Scott’s Advice for Leaders:
- Fear, uncertainty, and doubt breed faster than rabbits in a life-sized petri dish. Be prepared to dispel each of those.
- Think of the most basic question that people will ask and then expect to answer that question on numerous occasions.
- You’ve likely already had a chance to mentally process the change. Your team members, who you’ve worked hard to hire, keep, and build a culture around, are hearing this for the first time. Give them some room to breathe and ask questions. And allow them to ask the same questions over and over again.
- It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” It’s better to follow it with, “but I’ll work to see what I can find out.”
- Have as many face-to-face conversations as you can.
Brent says: Be as honest as you can about why the company’s going through this change. If it’s good news, tout it! If it’s not good news, like if the company’s going down the toilet and it’s basically being acquired for its IP or customer list, I understand that you can’t be completely transparent. However, coach your team to find the right opportunities for their long term goals. It’s easy to drop hints about folks who should move on as quickly as possible when things aren’t going well.
Scott’s Advice for Everyone
- Have an exit strategy. If you’re not now actively looking for a job, consider always having a (mostly) current resume and know the first three contacts you would make if you get blind-sided tomorrow. The fact that you have options will help you take a reasoned approach through the changes.
- Keep your finances in order. Seriously. In times of transition you want to be able to focus on the big picture of your career. Maybe now is the time for you to go get a graduate degree or finally start out on your own like you’ve been talking about for years. It’s tough to have a long-term vision if you are budgeting paycheck-to-paycheck.
- Vent to the wall. Vent to a colleague. Vent to your mother who thinks you are the world’s greatest worker. But be very, very careful venting on social media. Your future boss may be watching you, your old boss may want to recommend you, and you don’t want to look back and see you jumped headfirst into the shallow end of the assumption pool.
Brent says: If you’re good at what you do, the people around you today are the people who will want to hire you (or be hired by you) down the road. As companies change and people take different career paths, stay in touch. It really is a small world, and you never know who you’ll get the blessing to work with again.
About Scott Curtis
I live in the Chicago suburbs with my family and my bbq. I started my career as an accountant at Arthur Andersen analyzing large data sets for investigations and big litigation projects. Since then I’ve continued to spend my time around data and lawyers, sometimes consulting directly on projects and other times (including most recently) building software. I work with an awesome team of developers to build solutions for the legal industry. I am a self-described data enthusiast.