7 Traits that Drive Success
The role of Integration Manager (IM) in M&A is a challenging but fascinating job. It calls for a versatile, multiskilled person who possesses executive muscle and strong leadership ability. The role is ambiguous and sketchy at first, so the IM must be able to take charge and bring order to an undefined, very fluid situation where a lot is at stake.
PRITCHETT’s 40+ years of merger integration experience have taught us the seven key attributes needed for IM success. These are defined below, along with a rating scale for each of the traits to permit an easy and systematic evaluation of a potential candidate.
1. PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS
Merger integration is a complex process that needs the discipline of effective project management. The situation is complicated by new organizational dynamics, time pressures, power and political issues, competing priorities, numerous constraints, and personal agendas. The IM needs good organizational ability in order to bring structure, coherence, and alignment to the integration efforts. This involves establishing the IMO charter, work streams, timelines, objectives, reporting methods, etc. Integration governance and decision-making authority need to be defined. Interdependencies need to be identified and coordinated. Strong project management skills are essential to keep things systematic, on track, and moving forward.
2. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND EXECUTIVE CREDIBILITY
The IM needs the personal stature to be taken seriously across the merging organizations. Ideally this person will be a veteran with a record of success in various line and staff management positions in different functional areas, providing him or her a well-rounded grasp of the parent company’s processes, culture, products/services, customer base, and competition. These qualifications engender high trust and respect from others. The IM also should have direct access to top executives plus their clear endorsement as the person running the integration.
3. SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE
Leading the IMO is a people-intensive job that calls for tact, empathy, diplomacy, and self-insight. The integration process will inevitably surface conflicts, personal sensitivities, and stress. As the individual in charge, the IM needs to be a calming influence with good political skills who can broker disagreements and foster a collaborative spirit. The IM also should facilitate social connections and serve as a bridge-builder between the two organizations. He or she should be able to show impartiality and objectivity, readily functioning as a fair- minded advocate for the acquired firm’s personnel and interests.
4. TOLERANCE FOR AMBIGUITY AND UNCERTAINTY
Merger integration begins with the task of bringing structure to a vague, undefined situation and creating a game plan for consolidation. The job of the IM is psychologically challenging because there are so many more questions than answers, so many moving parts, so much to get done. The IMO work requires decisions on many gray area issues, often involving people with strong opinions and different points of view. It’s a messy, high-pressure situation. The IM needs to be flexible, change-adaptive, and able to guide others through the fog of uncertainty.
5. SENSE OF URGENCY
Merger success is highly correlated with the speed of the integration. “Slow” raises the risk level. Therefore, the IM should have a clear bias for speed. He or she needs to be a results-oriented person with a get-it-done mentality, a person who will keep the pressure on and drive the integration effort on all fronts.
6. STRENGTH OF PERSONALITY
The IM needs to have guts. The job requires the ability to take the initiative, make independent judgements, stand tough, face the hard decisions head-on, deal with very sensitive matters, manage the politics and power issues, counter resistance, hold people accountable, etc. In short, the IM needs to have backbone, because he or she will be challenged by others who are pursuing their personal agendas or who simply disagree. This is not to endorse an authoritarian management style, but to emphasize that the IM needs to have the strength of personality to handle the demands of the job.
7. HIGH ENERGY LEVEL
Merger integration is taxing work—e.g., long hours, job stress, challenging goals, time pressures. The IM position, in particular, can be physically and emotionally draining. A person with a mediocre energy level will likely set too slow a pace or simply run out of steam. Energy is formally defined as “the capacity to do work,” and this work can be exhausting. The IM needs to have the personal vitality to carry the workload and set the proper cadence for the IMO group as a whole.
It should go without saying that the IM needs to be smart, have good judgement, and possess a thorough understanding of the deal strategy and value drivers. Prior M&A integration experience also can be helpful, as can command of/access to a proven merger integration methodology.