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Jock Purtle

Jock Purtle  ·  6 min read

How to keep your employees happy when selling your business

Selling your business is a time of considerable change. How do you keep your employees happy and engaged during times of uncertainty?

Selling a business is exciting. For leadership, it represents a culmination of years of hard work building and guiding a company to become a force in the industry. It can also mean a nice payday for those in the right position.

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But this excitement is not going to be felt everywhere. For employees, the sale of a business can be a time of great uncertainty. Without knowing what the new ownership structure will look like, they will have no clue what the business will look like. This will likely cause people to fear that their job is on the line.

To some extent, this is unavoidable. When a business gets sold, a lot happens, and changes occur that no one can predict. But there are plenty of things you can be doing to help make sure your employees are still happy and engaged, even if there are some question marks surrounding the business.

The best thing to do is to be compassionate, open, and honest, but to be more specific, consider the following for keeping employees happy when selling your business.

Clear, concise communication

As we all know, there needs to be a balance when communicating to employees. During the sale of a business, things change a lot. What is right on Monday might no longer be by Wednesday. As a result, you need to be careful about what you communicate so as to avoid communication overload.

Yet you can’t leave people in the dark. If you stay quiet, rumors start and spread quickly. And once they get going it’s virtually impossible to stop them. Furthermore, having to chase down and dispel rumors will only hurt your credibility with employees when you later try to tell the truth.

So, the best thing to do is to try as best you can to find that “need to know” limit. When something that stands to affect employees becomes certain, let them know, making sure to highlight exactly how it will impact them. You want your communications to answer questions, not leave people with more.

It might be a good idea to choose a specific day or time to send out these communications. Adding some sort of regularity to the messages will make them seem more purposeful and will make it easier for people to engage. However, balance the volume when pursuing regularity. If you are sending multiple emails every day, people will eventually tune these out, miss important information, or begin spreading falsities.

Ensure you’re capturing all your employees when communicating – even, or especially, the hard-to-reach ones. These include your remotely-based or on the road workers, those in dispersed regional offices, stores, or other places of work, and those who are ‘offline’ from your business systems: for example, delivery drivers, or production workers. These are the groups most likely to disengage during the sale of a business, due to feeling out the loop.

Communicate with hard-to-reach workers

(When selling a business, it’s often those front-line, dispersed, non-desk-based workers who will feel unhappy or disengaged, due to feeling out the loop. Photo by Christian Chen on Unsplash)

Consider what communication channels can be used to reach them – whether it’s personal email or text messages, printed letters, a dial-in or facetime conference meeting, or a simple cascade of information via managers.

Hold regular meetings

There’s still nothing that beats face-to-face communication, particularly when communicating change. The surge of digital technologies has taken us all for a ride, and we understandably rely on these forms of communication day-to-day. Yet for sensitive issues such as the sale of a business, being able to get in front of people, talk to them, and hear their concerns, has tremendous value.

If you can, consider scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly meeting (or monthly, depending on how quickly the sales process is progressing). During these meetings, explain to employees what is going on with the process. If meetings were held, let them know, and obviously disseminate any information relevant to them.

Hold these meetings even if you don’t have anything dire to report. If there’s not much coming from your end, then open the floor up to questions and answer them as honestly and freely as you can. This type of open communication is unfortunately rather rare, and employees will appreciate it.

Hold regular meetings with staff

(Give employees the opportunity to respond, ask questions, and have their voices heard during times of change. Photo by Antenna on Unsplash)

For those employees lacking the confidence to ask questions in an open environment in front of their peers, provide the tools and means for them to get their voices heard. This may be through anonymous surveys or feedback forms, or providing a ‘safe space’ such as a Q&A forum on your intranet.

Uncertainty about our jobs can significantly impact health and well-being, so by providing as much information as you can, and by being as open as possible, you are helping to quell some of these fears and return stability to the workplace.

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Consider compensation

The harsh reality is that if you sell the business, some people will not be able to keep their jobs. Whether the company is merging with another or the new owners want to bring in their own teams, it doesn’t really matter. There’s always something.

This causes stress for a few reasons. One, this means those that move on will need to find another job. And two, it means a loss of income. For some people, this can be devastating. You as a manager don’t necessarily have the responsibility to do much about this, but as a person you do.

Take a look at your financials and figure out what you can do to help people out. Consider taking some money from the sale and distributing it among employees based on years of service. You could also consider putting together care packages, including things such as a free coffee subscription service, to express your gratitude for people’s hard work and to show some compassion for what they are going through.

Obviously, no amount of money or gifts will replace the hole of losing your job, but addressing the problem head-on and with empathy will go a long way towards keeping people happy. In the end, most employees recognize that it’s a business decision and that its sale was nothing personal, but it helps to do a few things to demonstrate you feel people’s pain and want to thank them for all they’ve done.

Keep up with the day-to-day

Announcing the sale of the company will force the business into a weird gray area. Uncertainty will settle into the office like a fog. Those that won’t be staying on – either by choice or not – will have a hard time seeing the point in keeping up with their work, and even those who aren’t leaving will find it difficult to stay focused amidst all the changes. When people disconnect from their jobs and don’t see their purpose, this will ripple out and affect their mood and happiness.

The best thing you can do to combat this is to just push forward with the day-to-day. By incorporating the things mentioned above, you are addressing the sale, but there’s no need for it to become the hot topic of conversation around the entire office.

Come in we're open

(Keep going with a ‘business as usual’ mindset where possible, to avoid losing productivity, momentum, and morale. Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash)

Keep up with business as usual and set the example that all the work being done is just as important as ever. This continued focus on getting things done will help people take their minds off the sale, reducing the feeling of uncertainty and helping to keep them happy.

You obviously can’t ignore the sale, but just don’t let it take over your organization. Communicating well and often is a great way to do this, as it helps minimize rumors and keeps people focused on the tasks at hand.

Wrapping up

Ultimately, you can’t be responsible for someone else’s happiness – that’s their job. But when you’re going through the sale of a business, there are some things you can do to ease people’s pain and clarify their situation so that they can take the necessary steps to make sure they are okay. Communication is critical in these situations, and if you do it right, your employees should stay happy in spite of the sale.

eBook

How effectively are you communicating change in your business?

Download our free eBook and guard against the dangers of poor communication and its repercussions on your business.

About the author: Jock Purtle is an online business broker who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He’s built and sold several of his own companies, and now he helps other people do it. His guiding principle is that employees are a company’s top resource, and he’s always trying to stress this both in his own company and with clients. He writes frequently about his experiences and has been featured in publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Entrepreneur and Business Insider.

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