Telling your employees you’ve sold your business may be one of the most difficult meetings you’ll ever have. Even if your small business doesn’t have family members working there, employees can feel like part of the family. You’ve worked closely with them, often for years. Now you have to tell them you’re selling the business.
The first thing to remember is it’s important to keep it confidential until the deal is done and you’ve signed on the dotted line.
No matter how loyal an employee is, disclosing your plans ahead of time carries too much risk. You don’t want vendors, clients or other employees to get nervous. If a key employee or a vendor or large account leaves, you can put the entire agreement at risk and damage your business. But even though you shouldn’t tell employees before the deal is final, you definitely should have a clear plan in place to communicate with them, as well as a timeline you can share. The more information you can give them, the less anxiety for your employees.
Going into this situation, everyone has qualms; the seller is afraid the buyer is going to let the employees go and the buyer is afraid that the employees are going to quit.
If your business has multiple departments or locations, you may want to call a meeting with key management first so you can involve them in helping manage the transition and ensure they help support other employees through the change. For most small businesses, however, the best approach is to call an all staff meeting and tell everyone at the same time. You want as many people as possible to hear the news directly from you rather than through the rumor mill. Ideally, you’ll do this immediately following the close of the sale.
Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and tell them what you would want to know if you were in their place. Be prepared for their reactions. Their initial responses will probably be emotional, even angry, so make it safe for them to express those angry and hurt feelings. Show them you’ve considered their well-being, you care about their futures and you’ll help them with the transition to the new owner. Just remember: you can’t make any promises about the future.
Fear of the unknown is almost always greater than reality so, if possible, bring the new owner in toward the end of the meeting and introduce him. The new owner depends on the knowledge and experience of the employees because he has yet to learn the business so it’s a good idea to have the new owner take the floor so employees can see that this is someone excited to be there.
Keep lines of communication open throughout the transition process. It’s a good idea for the new owner to conduct one-on-one meetings with each of the employees, to further reassure them and get to know their work ethics and responsibilities.
Change can provide an opportunity for growth for the employees. The new owner can ask them for suggestions for improvement and work with them to develop a better vision for the business.
Telling your employees that you are leaving the business may be hard, but you can help turn it into a positive step forward for everyone.