In view of the events of the past few weeks, what advice would you give to employees of Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers?
First, we would like to say that we are truly sorry for their sense of loss. Being fired when the company you work for has just been taken over are experiences that can mark you as a death in the family. Shock, sadness, anger, and confusion can make you want to go into a prolonged period of mourning. either way is a normal response. But in terms of career management, such a response can be disastrous.
Be careful, we are not cheerfully telling the 60,000 employees of Merrill Lynch and the 22,000 of Lehman to play happy people and carry on as if nothing had happened. Wall Street has just been the victim of a massive earthquake that will mark some people for a long time.
But to the employees most directly affected, we say you can’t spin around for too long. At Merrill, people need to quickly adopt a mindset of non-resistance. And at Lehman, they have to act fast to avoid the vortex of defeat.
Merrill first. For nearly a century, it has been independent—and so proud that brokers have been known to call themselves “the thunder herd.” Now it’s a subsidiary of the gigantic Bank of America, the result of a rescue mission.
How do you suppose Merrill employees will react?
It is true that Bank of America has already proven itself in integrating other companies. However, if the people at Merrill are like most redeemed employees, some will drag their feet. BoA’s culture, processes, leaders, and way of doing business will look different – and wrong. Everything at BoA, fundamentally, will sound worse than the good old days at Merrill, and many employees will say so, if not in their voices it will be in their attitudes.
No no no ! If you are an employee of Merrill a worker of any acquired company understand one thing. Your new owner has limited patience with sulky people. They know that kind of people do bad work and poison the atmosphere. This is why, when it comes to nominations, the vast majority of buyers choose to buy brains. Superstars can get a free pass, but if you’re a regular guy, a mid-level executive with just a good amount of experience—you can now be one of two people fighting for your job. Your margin for error, as BoA seeks to achieve $7 billion in “synergies,” is smaller than ever.
So to Merrill employees, we say: Honor your past, but set it aside. Forget your victimhood claim, join the heart and soul of the Bank of America team, and work hard for its future. This is your best chance of being included in BoA’s future.
Lehman employees face a tougher challenge. They seek positions in a fearful industry inundated with experienced applicants, the kind of dead-end situation that can easily send people into a spiral of self-doubt.
The best antidote to this vortex of defeat is immediate action. You may want some time to get your life back on track, but any delay on your part only gives other job seekers an advantage over available opportunities. You need to tap into your reservoir of self-esteem and self-confidence and start applying or doing something with your life today.
If you’re thinking, “good, but Wall Street isn’t hiring right now,” we hear you. That’s why our next tip is to broaden your search, both on the nature of the job and the geography. A few years ago we met a group of licensed engineers in a mid-sized Midwestern town who had been looking for work without success for a year. Their industry had largely left the area, but they all wanted a position identical to their previous position. Which was a bad method.
Sometimes, of course, laid-off people can find jobs where they worked before, but that rarely happens after a collapse like the one we are currently experiencing. To move forward, Lehman employees will have to think expansively and creatively about how to start all over again. It’s scary, yes. But it’s better than waiting for a better moment that will never come.
Now, we don’t expect Merrill or Lehman employees to readily embrace our message. Who wants to be told to drop their understandable anger? But rare times call for rare solutions. Quite reasonably, the tumultuous events of recent times may have left you hungry for the past. We urge you to thirst for the future.