“Nothing will change.” It is almost de rigueur for an acquirer to include that in his or her opening comments to the incumbent staff of a just-purchased business. Sometimes it is the seller’s attempt at making folks feel better. “Don’t worry. They promised me that nothing will change.”
In the moment, it seems like a calming thing to say, a confidence builder for the employees who have just been informed that they have a new boss. In the long run, it can cause more problems than it solves.
In any company, change is ongoing. Employees are asked to learn additional skills. Systems are upgraded. Procedures are rewritten. People are promoted or terminated. Customers leave, or (hopefully) big new accounts with new requirements are landed.
No experienced business owner in his or her right mind would ever promise employees that “Nothing will change.” Change is part of the landscape, and adjusting to it is inherent in keeping the business growing and relevant. Employees accept that fact unconsciously, because it’s always been part of the landscape.
Of course, when an acquirer says “Nothing will change,” he means today. There will be new procedures. New reporting relationships will have to be worked through. Software will be modified, or even discarded for the acquiring company’s preferred systems. And eventually, some employees will be promoted or terminated based on their ability to accommodate those inevitable changes.
“Nothing will change” is a license for employee dissatisfaction. They have to learn a new telephone system. (“He lied. This is a big change.”) All invoicing will be done through the central office. (“She lied. This is a massive change.”) Job descriptions and incentives will be adjusted to match the parent company’s. (“He lied. Everything is changing!”)
The appropriate soother for acquisition anxiety is the truth. “I know this is a big change. You’ve faced great changes in this company before (get some examples from the seller) and your ability to adjust and succeed is what makes us so excited to be teaming up. We’ll take things slowly to start, and work with you so that our integration will be as painless as possible.”
There are no magic words that can completely eliminate employee concern. Dealing with it by promising something that isn’t true is just incurring a long-term cost for a very short-term benefit.