Our twins came along more than 13 years ago. This double blessing came just two years after our second kid, who in turn, came a year and a half after our oldest. At 35 years old, my wife and I found ourselves with four kids under the age of 4 — three in diapers.
Today, we’re still a little twitchy at the sight of a double stroller but have recovered for the better part. Understandably, I’ve blotted out a lot of the memories from the early days, but there are a couple that I can’t escape: changing two kids simultaneously in the back of a minivan and the refrain we heard from most everyone we ran into: “You must have your hands full.”
My wife and I didn’t talk much about the diapers; there wasn’t much to be said. We did, however, marvel at the consistency of the “hands full” observation — it never varied, it was always and precisely the same words.
I don’t think that these folks were unimaginative or particularly prone to cliché. It was just the exact right thing to say.
A few months ago, my company was acquired, and since then, my co-workers and I have, well, had our hands full as we integrate ourselves into the new organization. But oddly, I never get the “hands full” line. Instead, it’s just as consistently “You must be drinking from a fire hose.” Odder still, when I went through my last acquisition a dozen years ago, it was the same fire hose analogy. Given that the twins were 2 years old at that time, I was drinking from a fire hose with my hands full.
Here’s the point: I’m getting through corporate acquisition the same way I got through early child rearing — prioritization. When two diapers are full, that’s the top priority. Teasing out the top priority during business integration is less obvious but just as important.
There are a lot of moving parts: Integrating an accounting system built for a 30-person company into the accounting system of a public company with nearly 10,000 people. Rationalizing completely different go-to-market and manufacturing strategies. Fusing together three product lines developed in four facilities in five time zones. Remembering dozens of new names.
But I also found the top priority: the strategy. The missing strategy isn’t as apparent as other priorities. It doesn’t call you on your cell phone at night, doesn’t clog up your inbox, doesn’t drop by your cubicle “just for a minute” or even cry to be changed. Still, formulating the new strategy for the new entity and then communicating it to all internal and external constituencies is undeniably the highest priority.
The reason is that everything flows from the strategy. A strategy states what you plan to do, for whom and how. More importantly, a strategy necessarily implies what you’re not going to do, what “great opportunities” you’re going to ignore. With a strategy, the answers to the daily dozens of questions become obvious. Decisions get easier and are made consistently. Having a great strategy doesn’t ensure success. Execution and plain dumb luck play a role as well. But an organization without a strategy is doomed.
Once the strategy is in place, other priorities can be addressed on a more tactical basis. The great news is that every one of these tasks will be addressed more easily and better within a strategic framework.
- Formulating and communicating a strategy is always the top priority.
- When your hands are full and you’re drinking from a fire hose, you have to step back from the day to day and prioritize tasks, regardless of what makes the most noise.
- Do yourself a favor. With a strategy in place, all other tasks are better and more easily addressed.
Ron Seide was formerly the president of Summit Data Communications, which was acquired by Laird Technologies in March 2012. Seide is now vice president and general manager of Laird’s Connectivity Products Business Unit.