Among all the advice I've heard about how to undertake a successful merger, one of the most unusual recommendations comes from Russ Bostick, EVP, Technology & Operations, Conseco Services LLC.In a presentation on "Controlling Your Destiny: Navigating Change from a Position of Strength" at last week's Insurance & Technology Executive Summit, Bostick confessed, "I hang out with the smokers," noting that this practice is an effective way to hear rumors and gauge what employees are thinking during times of turmoil. In fact, making sure that people don't have too much time on their hands to gossip and speculate is critical, according to Bostick. "Keep idle hands busy," he emphasized.
While cultural and workforce issues are among the most challenging aspects of a merger that the CIO must address, they are among many potential hurdles IT executives will have to address in the course of a merger, Bostick pointed out. Ultimately, whether an executive is on the acquiring or to-be-acquired side of the deal, it's important to "be a leader," rather than a follower, Bostick stressed. Essential capabilities include "flexibility, resiliency and [being] adaptable," he said. "As CIO, you have to become Machiavellian" as IT often must "reorganize to prepare for a merger."
If a CIO doesn't have these skills, "you won't be involved -- you will be marginalized," Bostick said. "The CIO should have a strong role in negotiating outcomes -- that forms a common language to talk to the [people] you're acquiring or being acquired by."
The importance of shedding distractions when it comes to successful completion of a merger was also stressed by Mark Esposito, CIO, Hartford Life, who used the phrase "focusing forward" in describing IT's role -- not only in a merger but also in today's more difficult business environment. "Focusing forward means spending more time on delivering business value [versus] delivering technology services," he said. The leadership team needs to refocus on growth, Esposito added, which includes "looking for differentiators and aligning innovation" as well as looking to "drive different business models and partnerships."
At the same time, in an M&A situation technology leadership needs to be opportunistic, Esposito told the Executive Summit audience. Among his recommendations: Have a pre- and post-sale "playbook"; have clarity on the deal's objectives and key performance indicators; set up a "disciplined" integration office that can handle "end to end" requirements; and, perhaps most importantly, "Finish the job."
Esposito was equally emphatic about the need for CIOs and other technology executives to proactively face the requirements and risks of the current business environment. In fact, he suggested that the turmoil the industry has faced actually has created favorable conditions to "present business ideas and options," adding that senior management and business executives "are more open to listening" as opposed to the "don't mess with success -- my business is growing" attitude of more stable times.
Esposito challenged the Executive Summit attendees with this question: "How opportunistic have you been?" and exhorted them to "unlock areas that deliver value."