The Essential “Me”

John Whitaker Change Management, John Whitaker

Survival is a powerful instinct. In the back of our minds, we’re always counting the seats available on the lifeboat.

It’s a primal reaction you’ll witness whenever an acquisition is announced. The scrambling begins, and it’s downright embarrassing at times… but it’s also distinctly human. Politicking, rumor-mongering, turf wars, alliances—we can mask our emotions pretty well, but it’s our actions that tell the story. In Human Resources, your role can quickly change to one of advisor, counselor, and psychiatrist. People are scrambling for seats, and they are hoping you can punch their ticket to ride.

We want to surviveIn our efforts to do so, we expend quite a bit of energy in non-productive and unhealthy activities with worry and anxiety taking over larger chunks of our day.

It’s estimated that employees will “waste” up to 3 hours per day worrying about major organizational changes (Business as Unusual, Pritchett.) It’s natural and forgivable for us to worry about something as traumatic as being acquired; the sin is letting the feeling perpetuate as productivity continues to suffer.

These are not novel, unexpected emotions from employees. We can predict and even identify these behaviors but are often remiss in preparing our leaders to address them. The catch, of course, is that leaders are often in the same boat, wondering about “The Essential Me.” How close are you to your business group leaders? Are they prepared for the psychological change (tip: 90% are not) they will encounter individually, and (some would say more importantly) the impact on the people they manage?

Want a quick way to find out? Quiz them on the “Essential Me” questions; if an employee asks these questions, what is your response?


  1. “Do I still have a job?” – sometimes cleverly disguised as “Should I get my resume ready?”
  2. “When will the merger be finished?” – i.e., “When can I stop worrying?”
  3. “Will my job/compensation/reporting structure change?” – Valid questions, but these are still end-around attempts at gaining more clarity about “me.”
  4. “What have you heard?” – maybe the most frequently asked question; generally signals that you have a communication gap, time to fill it up.

Until you can answer these questions with a level of sincerity and legitimacy, you have work to do on “Me.”