IT departments and technology companies have faced real challenges in the course of the recession. Many have suffered cutbacks, and have had to make difficult decisions.
At the same time, however, some have taken the challenge as an opportunity and have grown and strengthened, putting them in a position to take advantage of the recovery.
One of the features of the recession has been a stagnant deal market, both for technology companies and for the whole business spectrum – if banks wouldn’t lend, deals couldn’t happen.
However, with the cautious onset of recovery, deals are starting to happen – large-scale consolidation and strategic mergers have been a feature of the technology landscape throughout 2010, with Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January a case in point. This is a trend that looks set to continue in the coming months.
Good news? For the industry as a whole, certainly. But for the workforce and for individual employees, it may be the start of a hugely challenging period. In almost any deal, a degree of rationalisation will take place, and redundancies and redeployment are inevitable.
Now is the time for those employed in the sector to begin their own consolidation exercise, making sure they have acquired the sort of transferable and personal skills that will make them the ‘safe bet’ if a deal goes through.
One of the greatest challenges can be in an acquisition situation. In practice, mergers of equals are very rare – instead, one company will buy another and as part of the deal’s terms, it will allow the acquired organisation to proclaim the action a merger.
Employees will often be all too aware of this fact, and those at the smaller or struggling business may feel they have a mountain to climb to secure their position in the new company.
In fact, in any merger situation, every employee is likely to have something to offer. And where there are two people with similar skills and experience, it is how you present yourself that will make the difference.
Employees typically fall into one of two categories: the victim, who looks at the future with negativity, who can’t see the wood from the trees; and the embracer, who thrives on a new challenge and is excited by a new chapter in their life.
The scenario is often something like this. Your company is bought by a competitor, and a team contains you and one other with very similar roles, but there is only one position available.
Which of you is going to be successful: the one who embraces the new change, and is excited by the aspect of a potentially brighter future, or the one who presents scepticism, concern and negativity?
It’s vital that you are realistic. In mergers and acquisitions, there is no question that there will be employee casualties – costs will need to be cut, and a sprawling organisation where too many roles are duplicated will never be a viable proposition.
The majority of the time when two companies merge, the main threat to success is the cultural differences between the individual businesses. It only takes a summary look through the history books to find organisations that tried to better themselves by either merging or acquiring, but didn’t take a closer look at the people in each organisation.
You need to accept there will be change, and look forward to learning new ways of doing things, as the way you have done things in the past is not necessarily the best path to success – and certainly not the only one.
Crucially, you need to understand where your skill set lies and have confidence in your abilities. This is an attitude that will reap dividends not only in a deal situation, but also throughout your career.
You must recognise the huge employment benefits of taking ownership of your development and learning, ensuring that your skills are transferable if you have a varied role, or invaluable if your role is within a niche sector.
It is well worth taking a look at the huge number of options available to help people with their career development, whether you are looking for technical enhancement or soft skills training. It is up to you to manage your own career development, and manage your future – nobody else has as much invested in it as you do.
It is proven that the best leaders develop within their organisations; it is the people that really make the difference. A merger or acquisition can be a catalyst for your career, and present you with the opportunity for something new. You should embrace an uncertain future with optimism.
Mark Wilding is a director at RMG, an executive search consultancy