Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Merger in the First Degree (and 2nd and 3rd)

The SIKM Boston group convened last week for a lively workshopping session. There was lots of discussion and very little discussion on what to discuss. The focus? What to do when peering straight into the inscrutable eyes of Chess Piece Face. Yes. we're talking about takeovers of the most alien kind across the hostility spectrum. I especially liked the idea that the discussion gravitated to source conjugation:

* First degree: what can I do unilaterally to keep my job?
* Second degree: what can I do to convince you?
* Third degree: how would the disinterested consultant organization counsel their acquirer-client?

The premise starts not with the pieces but the game board. The game we're playing is capitalism and the rules are by, for, and to the owners of capital. Us custodians, gardeners, farmers, bodyguards, and gatekeepers must take in a deep breath and a full step back from our cubes and Outlook boxes at the dawn of a newly waking work day, knowing that the lights may already be turned off.

To be on board is to be prepared to jump ship once the manifesto has passed from one shipping magnet to the next. The crew, however, is not part of the negotiation or even the inventory. To miss that reality is to be held hostage to our own lethargy and inflated sense of importance. Unlike the good captain, we can't go down with the ship. It's not our board to begin with.

Part of the ship-jumping drill is conducted in the self-renewal of our daily vows (including refresher swimming lessons). From the first degree perspective Kate Pugh recommends declaring "a major" to resist being tagged as cargo (overhead). In the consolidations to come it helps to eclipse counterpart "majors" by playing the "best practices" hand in trying to stave off commodity status and marginalization. I concede that the part about personal branding and sucking up to the brigadier smacks of a Fast Company survival guide written by that same doomed captain after the life boats have left for good. Animal magnetism is what seals deals and wins business. There are limits, however, to personal charisma outside the school of self-preservation.

The options seem more leveragable in the second degree where self-declared majors can double as brokers for the teams they've assisted and the projects they've led. One of the more thoughtful second degree contributions to our meeting came from Dave Wallace who spoke in terms of what farmers provide hunters in acquisition terms that is also certain not to show up on a balance sheet:

"How do you reward firefighters for the fires that never happen? he asks. "How can you document that demonstrated ability to diffuse the crises?"

Here it helps to take a page out of Kate's playbook for connecting personal outputs to winning outcomes by elevating those contributions to revenue-generating status. Dave was also quick to address the match-ups and shake-outs around the re-ordering of org charts: who is your equivalent in the new organization? Do they have a higher title, a lower salary band? What expectations do they answer to and what problems do they resolve?"

The third degree is about the ultimate out-of-body merger drama. The active disinterest that speaks to the dispassionate observance for how outsiders advise their conquering clients to carve out the crown jewels of the predatory spoils. Beyond the aggressive cost-cutting that finds a home in bull and bear markets alike there is the need to safeguard the knowledge flows that drive the sales cycles -- not just the profit centers they flow to. I've always carried this implicit understanding with the type A bosses I've supported in their sales efforts. KMA's Mike Gilronan was incredulous how under the radar this realization lands on the operational side: "Some non-revenue-bearing folks don't get it -- How do we justify ourselves?" This is not a rhetorical question to Mike: "Have you ever been held to a quota?"

That unwritten contract trades knowledge flows in the form of competitive intelligence, task-based search results, and accelerated proposal generation for job security. Pure and simple. The easiest way to demonstrate this systemically to an outsider.

That's where the appeal of an enterprisewide tool like SharePoint can play to a farmer's advantage. There's nothing a hunter-gatherer likes better than the map to the treasure -- especially if it spares them any unnecessary turf battles or homegrown improvised explosives designed to blow-up in their faces. That's the beauty of what Chris Rivinus described in my KMWorld Reality Series as the Rorschach test-like properties of SharePoint.

It's a system designed to unify and synchronize all the moving pieces -- prized assets and headcounts alike. Flush the red dye of a bloodless acquisition coup through the SharePoint plumbing and you'll see where the information travels through the anatomical heart of the enterprise. Conversely you'll see the blockages too -- where gangrene is setting into the outer corporate limbs because of information-hoarding, silo-keepers, and other forms of fear, loathing, and clog-hardening lethargy.

Here's a conversation that an acquisition leader and a SharePoint manager can have. It's not "take me to your leader." It's more like the building inspector flushing the pipes to show the rust in the plumbing. That's the kind of knowledge that transcends where the bones are buried and speaks to where the integration needs to happen -- hint: it lies below the financial reporting radar.

Sadie Van Buren referenced the ultimate third degree solution based on a New York City-based copy editor who joined Google Adsense and gamed the vanity results. Every time the agency googled itself it got the gamer's resume. He got his choice of offers.

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