Integration: What’s the secret sauce?

I would by no means consider myself an integration expert. However, over the past ten years I have had the opportunity (I choose that word over privilege) to be part of several “integrations” of organizations. In some instances I’ve been an integral part or leader of the “integration” team.

You first might ask why I put “integration” in quotes. I have decided that you can integrate systems like payroll and financials, for sure. Can a whole organization really be integrated? No, it can’t. A new organization and culture can be created. Most often the acquired organization is left alone so that it can continue to do what it did so well before. The other option is to consciously or by default change almost everything about it. This occurs by the decisions that are made and by the replacement leadership that knows nothing about the prior culture that was cultivated and nurtured.

Is this a bad thing? That depends.  As Simon Sinek would say, “Start with why.” What is the desired result? Was that a question that was even asked? In many cases the answer is “no”. The appropriate people were not gathered together to figure out what the end game of the combined organizations would look like. Should the two organizations be combined to get the desired result, at all? Is the acquisition simply to create more shareholder value and then flip? Is it to build a larger, long-sustaining organization? Again, what is the end game?

That should drive the strategy for what is done with the systems and more importantly, the people. If people weren’t involved, then perhaps it would all be so much easier (this is also a thought we all may have while sitting in traffic or standing in line).  However, those are the people that have produced the results in both the acquiring company and the acquired. They make the systems & processes happen and they matter! In fact, the people will be what make or break the success of that acquisition.

So, although I do not consider myself an expert at integrations, I do consider myself an expert at dealing with people, groups and organizational systems. I would contend that people are the secret sauce for every acquisition and “integration”, regardless of how the acquired company is dealt with (call it ‘tuck in’, ‘swallow’, or whatever you like).

There are many great books on change, resistance and building cultures. Did the investors ever read them? The CEO? Those involved in the “integration”? People will do and say many things when their financial livelihood is on the line. But those same people will either help, hinder or leave that organization when they figure out whether they are truly valued & valuable to the people they work with/for, whether or not the organization operates in alignment with their values, and whether they can trust the person to whom they report.

Integration is about asking, “why?”, developing the strategy that matches the why, and moving forward consistently & methodically toward a desired end with the element that matters most: people; both communicated with and appreciated.