Winning the Business

Survival of the Fittest

Adapting to and surviving organizational changes when your job is on the line

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Today’s climate of mergers and acquisitions, and other types of company reorganizations, can create a feeling of insecurity and instability for various roles within the sales division. From bid and proposal managers to capture and support functions, personnel in all roles feel the stress that comes with change and uncertainty. Layoffs and cutbacks often accompany these changes, and those decisions are usually made well above the level of the people who are doing the day-to-day management of the work itself.

Even so, there are some things that managers and leaders can do to help employees feel more secure in their roles during times of change. There are also actions that individual contributors can take to stay relevant and valuable within their organization.

If group leaders know that layoffs are going to affect their team, they should not instill a false sense of security in their team members.

What Managers Can Do

In larger organizations, the managers who directly supervise the people within the sales divisions most at risk of layoffs are not always the people making the decisions about who stays and who goes. Even when the managers’ input is requested, the final decision is not always theirs to make. In cases like these, what can managers do to help maintain the focus of their teams and to help their direct reports weather the storm?

  • Communicate frequently and honestly. The difficult truth is that sometimes managers have information that they are not allowed to share with their employees. In those cases, leaders need to try to find a balance between being open and honest and being discreet. If group leaders know that layoffs are going to affect their team, they should not instill a false sense of security in their team members; rather, they should share as much information as they ethically can, so their direct reports are not blindsided when the tough decisions are finally made. Keeping personnel apprised of any updates (and sometimes even when there are none) will help to keep people as focused on their daily tasks as much as possible.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Letting your team hear you complain about the way things are going and constantly speculating about worst-case scenarios are some of the most detrimental things you, as a leader, can do during these already difficult times. Good leaders lead by example. Demonstrating a positive, energetic, and focused attitude will go a long way to setting your employees at ease and encouraging them to behave in a similar manner. As a leader, try not to share the frustration and uncertainty that you most likely feel. It’s a pretty safe bet that your team members already feel the same way and do not need to have those feelings magnified. Instead, let your actions demonstrate a calm acceptance of the things that are out of your control and focus on the job at hand. Attitude is contagious.

Make yourself an expert in your field by perfecting your craft, getting certifications, and knowing your job or your client inside and out.

What Employees Can Do

Unfortunately, sometimes it just comes down to dollar signs and an organization needing to get to a certain budget, but most of the time there are other factors that weigh into the decision-making process when an organization is making cuts. What are some of the things you can do as an employee to increase your chances of avoiding the cuts?

  • Be the go-to person to get something done. Whether you are in a support role (such as editing and desktop publishing), a proposal management role, or even a capture role, strive to be the person that people come to when they need to get things done right the first time and in a timely manner. Make yourself an expert in your field by perfecting your craft, getting certifications, and knowing your job or your client inside and out. Your reputation as someone who provides quality work and who can solve problems can help your organization justify keeping you, even if the company needs to get to a certain bottom line.
  • Volunteer to lead process-improvement initiatives. Become known as a thought leader and someone who demonstrates a genuine desire to improve the immediate group and the organization as a whole. Look for areas where processes have room for improvement and suggest changes or request to put together a tiger team to review the processes and recommend improvements. If you are recognized as someone who is invested in your career as well as the growth and success of your organization, that may make the difference between being the one who is cut and the one who stays.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and managers and employees alike are faced with uncertainty and difficult challenges and decisions when mergers and acquisitions occur. Even though you can’t control what your company does or the decisions it ultimately makes, you can control your reaction to the change, how you are perceived by your manager and your organization, and how you choose to move forward. Make those choices positive ones, as it could help you to survive the transitions.

Candace Jenkins, CP APMP, is a senior proposal manager at Perspecta, a U.S. government contractor based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She can be reached at

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