Selling your business can itself be a daunting prospect, and that’s even before you have to think about how and when to tell your staff, and how they will react.
Change can be unsettling, but if the process of delivering the announcement is properly prepared, it doesn't have to be a negative event.
So, here are some tips on how to handle the situation when you break the news of the sale to your people.
Preparing the ground
Most experts will advise against letting your staff know about the sale until all the details have been finalized. This is for several reasons:
One important consideration is that – in a worst-case scenario – early notification puts your staff in the perfect position to sabotage your deal ahead of the sale if they should happen to disagree with any aspects of your decision.
Another advantage of delaying the announcement is that you will then have a time window in which to make some proper preparations without any outside interference. This way everything can run as smoothly as possible when the moment comes to make your disclosure.
One important aspect of your preparation should be to ensure you have installed an efficient team responsible for managing the business. This will not only empower those who deserve such responsibilities, it will also demonstrate to your potential buyer that the business can be run successfully without you at the helm.
This will reassure the prospective new owner that they are purchasing a viable business, and will also do much to help secure the job prospects of your employees after you have gone.
Maintaining the status quo
An important part of managing this process is to make sure your staff continue to feel safe and settled.
If any disruptive events occur, or if there should be any obvious signs of an impending change, this can cause unnecessary alarm. And before you know it, all kinds of frightening rumours can start to be spread.
So, keep all routines and work practices as constant as ever, then once the news of the sale is finally delivered, it will be far easier job to reassure everyone about the likely consequences.
There would be little point in keeping your employees happy if all along you knew it was likely the new owner was planning to start again from scratch and hire new people.
Even though you may not secure any guarantees, the change of ownership will be smoother from a staffing perspective if you can find a buyer who likes the kind of business you have built.
This reduces the possibility that your staff will be removed the moment someone new takes over.
Finally breaking the news
This can be a scary experience, but with the right preparation beforehand, your staff will be in a much better frame of mind to accept the news.
If it can be arranged, it is often good practice to make the announcement when the new owner is also present. This helps to maintain the transparency of the process and is a good way to show that even under new ownership they are vital to the success of the business.
Such an approach will also send a message to your staff that you too are optimistic about the future prospects for the company. It can also act as a way to break the ice for any subsequent meetings the buyer may wish to arrange with the workforce and/or key members of the staff team.
You can follow this up by keeping the lines of communication open after the announcement, and by being honest and open with everyone about any future changes that might occur.
There is also the related consideration of how and when you wish to announce the change to your customers, business suppliers and any other stakeholders.
If your staff receive a privileged early disclosure of the sale, you should remind them it is in everyone’s interests to protect the reputation of the business by keeping everything private and confidential until the company is ready to ‘go public’.
And if this can happen in an atmosphere of reassurance which demonstrates how your business values its staff, this can do much to gain their support and respect at a crucial moment in your company’s history.
By Bruce Hakutizwi, USA and International Accounts Manager for BusinessesForSale.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for buying and selling small and medium size businesses. Bruce has over 7 years’ experience working within the US business transfer marketplace connecting buyers and sellers.