10 ways IT pros should prepare for a merger

Mergers and acquisitions can be scary and bring about unwanted change, but they can also lead to benefits as well. Learn 10 things every IT professional should do to get ready.

nervous worker looking at computer

Image: iStock/fizkes

I've been employed in my career as a system administrator for 27 years spanning five separate jobs. Every company I've worked for has undergone a merger, either while I was actively working there or after I departed, regardless of whether it was a medical organization, clothing provider or technology company. It's simply a way of life in business.

I've weathered five mergers thus far—three at my current place of employment alone—and I've learned some tips along the way to help ease the transition and also protect my career and goals as best I can. So far so good, as I'm the last man standing in a group through which dozens of IT professionals passed along their career paths. 

Here are my top 10 tips for when the merger announcement hits the company airwaves.

SEE: Checklist: Mergers & Acquisitions (TechRepublic Premium)

1. Keep on working as usual

The first reaction to a merger announcement is usually uncertainty. It's a no-brainer to assume employee response to the news will be focused around concern for their employment. We've all heard the horror stories about companies that merge and fire boatloads of staffers to send their jobs overseas. 

SEE: 6 signs that teams don't trust their leaders (TechRepublic)

The best way to address such trepidation is to keep on doing what you're doing. Assume those daily tasks, obligations, and project deliverables will remain intact and on the stove until you're told otherwise. 

That said...

2. Evaluate upcoming priorities

If you were planning some new system implementations, cutting over to a different service provider, or hiring more staff, identify how these plans are going to fit in with the merger. This is probably a series of questions you won't be able to identify the answers to on your own but will require upper management feedback. 

SEE: 5 things leaders do that could compromise stakeholder buy-in (TechRepublic)

Don't expect immediate decisions, however, since every merger I've seen involves a lot of wait-and-see, but these topics should be on your radar and can only move forward when confirmed.

3. Brace for change but embrace the opportunities

Change is going to happen, but it doesn't have to be bad. I worked for one small family-owned startup, which was an amazing place to be employed, but they wound up selling to a larger company that kept us intact. The CEO of the startup later confided in me that the business wouldn't have been able to excel as it had at their current level of funding. 

SEE: How to eliminate the Sunday Scaries and be more productive (TechRepublic)

And that was true; we enjoyed bigger budgets, bigger bonuses, and more career stability after the merger; I branched out into more elaborate technological roles and enjoyed an expanded network of colleagues. Yes, I missed the family Christmas parties with the open bars and shellfish buffets, but the trade-off was better opportunities for advancement.

You might also benefit from the addition of groups brought in to do things you don't really want to do (e.g. password resets and account lockouts) to free you up for more meaningful endeavors.

4. Document your efforts

One of the new mandates from a merger we experienced was time tracking of tasks. It's never anyone's idea of a good time, but I've turned it into a daily habit whereby I keep a document in Microsoft OneNote that records the activities I've engaged in; problem tickets, user assistance, server builds, etc.

SEE: Big data and DevOps: No longer separate silos, and that's a good thing (TechRepublic)

It sounds tedious, but the reasoning behind it is valuable: It justifies your existence at the company. You have a written record of your workload. Even if you're not required to do so, I recommend documenting your work not just to demonstrate the skills and accomplishments  you bring to the table, but it comes in handy at review (and bonus) time if you can elucidate on how you've made the business run better or even just "kept the lights on," as we call it. It might even serve as justification to hire additional staff to ease your workload.

5. Document your environment

One thing I can virtually guarantee you when a merger is announced: The auditors are coming. Someone is going to want a list of all hardware and software in the environment; diagrams of how network, AD, and DNS connectivity operates; the details of vendor support contracts and software licenses; virtual systems and where they reside; the whole kit and kaboodle.

SEE: Early bird or night owl? How to win the morning either way (TechRepublic)

Get ahead of the game by getting any existing documents up to date or starting to flesh out new ones. Not only will it save you time and effort down the road when the requests start rolling in, it will make you appear on top of your game to provide the latest details.

6. Steer clear of low-level work

This can be a tough one to interpret as you still have to do your job even if it entails low-level work, but where possible try to avoid basic tasks that require little effort or skill. The people performing those tasks generally end up on the chopping block. Companies would rather keep a high-level virtualization expert on staff as opposed to someone who just sets up or disables user accounts all day. 

SEE: Companies are relaxing cybersecurity during the pandemic to boost productivity (TechRepublic)

As a system administrator, on any given day I usually have a set of choices as to what I can do. I'd rather write a script to automate a server build than clean out old data on a file share nobody uses and which has little relevance. You're going to want to demonstrate unique talent.

7. Assume good intentions

As the merger gets underway you're likely going to receive a barrage of requests to provide other techs with access, to train them on business procedures, and perhaps to cede some of your workload to others.

SEE: How to plan for a post-pandemic return to work, according to industry experts (TechRepublic)

Every time I've seen this there has been concern by the employee that they're being asked to conduct a knowledge or skills transfer like this because they're being set up for a layoff. And every time this involves an employee with detailed technical skills and a complex workload, things have turned out fine. 

Companies I've worked for that were undergoing mergers invariably found people with siloed information not to extract their knowledge and fire them but to ensure business continuity and even free people up to take vacations or be on call less frequently. In my experience it's generally been a win for all involved.

8. Roll with the punches

Some new measures implemented during a merger may seem onerous and cumbersome. I once worked as a system administrator for a small clothing company, and my boss and I handled all manner of tasks, often implementing changes to servers and firewalls as needed. 

If the "internet went down," as my users would say, such as if a router seized up when we tried to upload a firmware update, someone stuck their head in to ask when it would be back up. We'd say "30 minutes," and that would be it.

SEE: 4 ways to keep your company's and customers' data private and build trust (TechRepublic) 

Then I worked for a large organization where no changes could be made without advance written request, review and approval. A router update in the middle of the day resulting in an outage would have been taken very seriously indeed.

At first I considered such measures a heap of red tape and wondered if things might be different at another organization, then a coworker informed me that not only were such processes standard for big companies, but he had seen even worse elsewhere. The grass wasn't going to be greener in another pasture on that front, so I learned to roll with it and accept things as they were.

9. Establish your make-or-break point

A merger may make you feel like you're putting in too many hours, enduring too much stress, answering the same questions over and over or performing endless inventory audits for various random people. This can all make you wonder if it's worth it. 

Identify to yourself where your "stick with it" and tipping points are. What would have to happen for you to stick around; the assurance of continued pay increases, bonuses or promotions; a stable work environment; an easygoing manager; decent benefits; meaningful work? 

SEE: Making work more like a video game: Gamification technology helps managers and staff (TechRepublic)

Conversely, what would be the point at which you would determine it is time to move on? For me, the elimination of bonuses or a pay cut would be a deal breaker. At 49, I'm not answering phone calls at 2 a.m. for the thrill and excitement of finding out what's broken this time, so sufficient monetary incentive for my family and me is much appreciated.

10. Keep your resume and professional networking up to date

Regardless of what happens, no matter how stable or chaotic the merger turns out, always make sure your resume and LinkedIn or other career-related social media profile is up to date. Sign up to receive information about job prospects; it never hurts to see what's out there or even go on interviews. 

The worst outcome of a merger that yields negative effects on staff would be for employees to cling to their jobs out of fear of the unknown or reluctance to face change. For what it's worth, my career ladder has always led to better opportunities, and in this era of remote work technologists are no longer limited to employment in their geographic regions.

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