The Confessions of An Integration Advisor

integration advisor

It is critical to view an integration advisor (post-acquisition) as a “trail guide” or someone who knows the way and what to watch out for.  Here are my thoughts and the best tips for post-acquisition.

Engage senior leaders from both sides early and often

The benefits of this are great. Not only will this process generate ideas and opportunities for value creation and revenue growth, but the Engagement will also make the integration personal and gives the non-senior employees ownership of the outcome. When you engage the cultures this will help bring all other opportunities to fruition faster.

Be prepared for the difficulty the first time

The first integration is always a struggle, and if you get half of it right, that will be an achievement! Completing a series of acquisitions becomes an exercise in continuous improvement by enlightened management. Often you’ll hear from newly-formed integration teams as they embark upon this journey, “We’re struggling because we’ve never done this.”

That’s no surprise. It’s a steep learning curve the first time, especially if you’re on it by yourself, but there’s no way “to get down it without getting on it”, meaning you can’t learn if you don’t try.  It’s a little like learning to swim – you can read about it all you want, but nothing teaches you as much as the first time you get in the water!

Research the benefits of an experienced integration advisor

It is critical to view an integration advisor as a “trail guide” or someone who knows the way and what to watch out for.  Many organizations look to outsource the post-acquisition integration support to someone externally. Choose someone who is objective, with no vested interests in the status quo of either organization. Further, choose someone with a strong personality, but good people skills.  Lastly, use a 90- to 180-day contract; then time and materials (T&M) as needed for follow up.

Set expectations appropriately for conflict and strategy

As the saying goes, even the best lawyers can’t change the facts. To this end, even the best integration advisor can’t resolve conflicts between senior management. The integration advisor is not there to do all the work for you, but to show you what needs to be done, and guide you in implementation.

In my mind, “guiding” the team is simple, though not necessarily easy. It’s simple only if the decision has been made about the direction of the company. The Board of Directors should set direction and then then the CEO executes. Executives and senior managers in acquired companies are expected to help in this or are generally asked to leave.

You’ll need to think through the board dynamics from the standpoint of governance and strategy, especially when an acquisition results in a board seat being taken by a representative from the acquired company.

"I often describe myself as the designated sacrificial anode in an integration project – I’m there to get used up in the process, not to carve out a place to stay after it’s done."

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