"After all these years, they're letting me go!"
I immediately recognized the voice at the other end of the phone. It was my friend Joe. Without taking even a breath, he continued, "What's happened to company loyalty?"
I wanted to answer, "The same thing that's happened to my vacation tan!" But thought better of it. Joe was obviously upset and needed help. We talked a while and when finally I calmed him down, he explained what had happened.
For over fifteen years, Joe had been with a large printing company. Recently, he'd been in a middle management accounting job, and he expected to be there until his retirement. But then came a merger and the inevitable reorganization. Joe's job was eliminated, and there was no other spot for him. His job loss came as a sudden and stunning shock.
It shouldn't have.
I told my friend that in a world of global corporate mergers, buy-outs and reorganizations, management often values the "bottom line" more than loyalty to employees. That's the way it is, and it's been this way for several decades. Nobody should be surprised by this fact. If a merger is intended to streamline two companies, it's obvious that two accounting departments can't continue to exist. Some folks will have to go.
Joe should have seen the early warning signals -- the writing on the wall. But, he thought the writing wasn't "that" visible. He'd only heard through the grapevine that a merger/buy-out was coming. Of course, he'd have been wise to prepare himself just the same. After all, where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
I suggested several methods Joe can use for surviving -- and actually profiting from -- a lack of corporate loyalty in the future.
First, anytime there are rumors of organizational change, one should take stock of one's self and career. Decide what to do and how to do it, in advance of a formal announcement. For example, what will make long and short term goals happen? Look at alternative industries and functions and decide what might be a good fit. Begin to put a resume together, as well as an action plan. Even if a rumor turns out to be false, the preparation will minimize the impact of something like this down the road.
Next, do some research about the other organization, and don't listen to gossip. If the other company is doing the acquiring, how many employees are there? What is its reputation in the business community? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
In Joe's case, if a buyer's strength is advanced computer software, and he's unfamiliar with it, he might take a quick course on the subject, in order to appear more valuable and improve his chances of being retained. If a weakness is in the buyer's accounting department, he should figure out how he can help improve the situation. That might even get him promoted!
Also, always investigate the buyer's culture and working environment. It's a good bet these standards of operation will be imposed. Is a 12 hour day usual, is the management style "in-your-face", is the dress code too traditional? If these are uncomfortable, it may be best to seek greener pastures elsewhere, before it's decided who will go and who will stay.
If one is working for the buyer, what is the reputation of the company being acquired? Do their employees appear to be more skilled and better able to handle the merged workload? What would a merged department look like? How many people would be doing the same jobs?
There are many sources for information. One of the best is friends in the industry. This is called networking. Or, if an acquiring organization is publicly held, a copy of its annual report will indicate the company's financial health. Many organizations are struggling with huge debt loads from their merger mania activities of the past decade. Notions of job security and seniority may have been abandoned long ago in an effort to cut labor costs.
Joe's problem resulted from a denial of reality. His company was a prime target for acquisition. He had known that for some time, but made no effort to protect himself. Even after the acquisition deal closed, he was still confident that his job was safe. He really believed that the new management would look at his fifteen-year record and say, "We can't let this guy go!" That might have happened twenty-five years ago, but not today.
Even when a relative owns the company, job security is one's own responsibility. We must all stay alert, aware and sensitive to what's happening around us, as well as be prepared with a "worst-case" plan of action.
After getting Joe on the track to job recovery, I left him with a couple of key reminders. A job, unlike a diamond, is not forever. And, since we are the CEOs of our own careers, we must manage them like the businesses they are!