Talk is valuable | Straight Talk

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Integration is hard work. Good communication can make it easier.

By Larry Moncol, Chief Information Officer, Advantasure

M&A integrations are never simple. Even from an IT perspective, combining two organizations is generally much more complex than just making sure the networks and the applications can all talk to each other. You need to get people to talk too. 

I’ve spent my entire career in IT, but I was a political science major in college, and I think this may have made me more likely to think about how organizations function on a human level. Typically, a merger brings a lot of changes – not only to the new company’s processes, but to its culture. In my experience, you can’t ignore those “soft factors.” People built these companies that you are integrating, and if they are going to continue to perform, they need to feel they’re part of this successor organization.  

Daily huddles are crucial

This is why communication is never more important than during an integration – something we recently went through with the merger of health plan solution providers Tessellate and Visiant to form Advantasure. 

Integrating Visiant and Tessellate gave us a more extensive product suite for our clients, which are primarily US-based health insurance companies. From an IT point of view, having a full portfolio of products and services gave us greater economies of scale that we could leverage in a variety of ways, including data science, machine learning, and the cloud.

Communication continues to be critical to our successful integration. We have quarterly all-staff meetings that allow us to keep a pulse on the things that are going on in our newly joined operations and give us more time to react. This gives you a greater comfort level on a day-to-day basis with your team, especially with most of us in different locations across the country. 

Even more crucial in my experience are the daily standup meetings I have with my own leadership team. Every day we meet for 15 minutes and talk through things. In addition, each member of my team meets with his or her own team on a very frequent basis too, so we take a pulse on what’s going on in every section.

The interaction that occurs in the daily standup meetings keeps lines of communication open and makes it easier for people to get in the habit of sharing information. You lose some of the formality that larger meetings encourage, and that enables you to get to the heart of a problem more quickly. If what people report suggests you need to adjust your strategy, that collective awareness of the issues can help you pivot more quickly too.

In our earlier meetings following the merger, we talked about what brought the two companies together – what the vision was, and what we needed to execute to get there. Then we had to make sure that we were all aligned, and to address any differences to create a shared understanding of the company’s goals. Ensuring that everyone understands the vision is key to cultural alignment.

The cultural conundrum

Culture is bigger than process, protocol, policy, or technology, but those things do help shape culture. As we move now to a scaled agile development framework, we aim to explain why we are making this change and our goals in terms of client satisfaction, efficiency of delivery, revenue growth, and margin – getting to the bottom line of why everybody comes to work every day. This kind of communication helps the staff feel engaged in what we’re doing and makes it easier to enact changes with less friction. They see that we’re implementing these things so people can be more successful in their work on an individual level.

Not all of these discussions are just within Technology. For example, when a policy, memo or call comes in from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, of the Department of Health & Human Services, our compliance team engages our product management team in addition to our product technology teams. Together, we take the time we need to understand the new policy, what that call is about, what that memo means, and then to work with our product management team to ensure that the new requirements are distilled in our software.

Ultimately, it’s the people who make a company successful – the people who go to the office every day, get their hands dirty, and do the hard work that needs to be done.  Your employees need to have a certain comfort level and understanding of what the vision is, and the road map they need to follow to achieve that vision. If you do that – and you keep doing that –  they’ll get there. 

The Takeaways 

Merger integrations are easier when there is a lot of communication.

Everybody needs to feel they belong to the new organization and share a common culture.

Culture is the operating system of every organization.  If people don’t feel aligned with each other culturally, functional changes are very hard to execute.