How to Identify Detractors in M&A Integrations and Transformations

By Global PMI Partners Partner, Anirvan Sen

Every transformation and integration project has detractors. Many people have reasons to oppose projects, however, detractors differentiate themselves by their constant opposition to projects. Their hostility, is often characterized by opposition for trivial reasons, scathing attacks on project team members for small mistakes, being extremely political and full of back-channel subtle maneuvers to negatively impact projects. Detractors can be within the project team, stakeholders, support functions, operations, or any other team.

Detractors with their actions, tactics and lack of collaboration contribute to delays in project with increased expenses and wasted time and effort; and in worse-case scenarios, failed or abandoned projects.

What makes managing detractors challenging is the limited understanding amongst the project teams and sponsors to effectively detect specific detracting actions and covert tactics. Without specific evidence and behaviors, it is tricky to frame the problem and present a commanding argument.

In this article, I have highlighted 5 attributes that are commonly demonstrated by detractors. By detecting these attributes early enough during a project, the teams can effectively mitigate the risks in time.

Vulnerability based Trust

A project should have an open and honest environment where people can interact with considerable amount of freedom and directness. Team members can collaborate with others and can tap into other’s strengths to offset their own capabilities.

Detractors demonstrate the following:

  • Conceal their inabilities and mistakes by inordinate deceits
  • Do not offer help outside their functions and areas of responsibilities
  • Tendency to jump to premature conclusions and are highly judgmental
  • Belittle other’s mistakes and personal attacks on other team members
  • Involve in time and effort wasting behaviors
  • Absence from critical meetings (or proxy representatives) on pretext of other priorities

Detractors tend to abuse other’s vulnerabilities to protect their short-comings, exhibit lack of cooperation by their absence and find ways to inject delays in projects.

Fear of conflict

All projects need to foster an environment that encourages team members to exchange ideas, debate tactics and challenge each other. Teams should be able to comfortably handle controversial and contentious topics without the fear of reprisals especially in transformation and integration projects as many items need thorough deliberations before they can be adopted. Mistakes made should not be rebuked and personalized. Retaliations and vengeful attitude must be addressed early and sternly.

Detractors exhibit the following behavior:

  • Spend enormous amounts of time during meetings discussing trivial issues
  • Avoid getting drawn into dialogues that drive decision making and critical issues
  • Prefer to stay with status quo
  • Spend time and effort to drive offline meetings and back-channel politics
  • Do not encourage input and ideas from other team members on their own functions/operations/responsibilities
  • Do not stretch themselves at all out of their comfort zone
  • Vehemently defend their own turf

Detractors believe that they have supreme knowledge of their area of expertise and therefore, do not need any outside input. On the other hand, they show no interest or participate in areas that are beyond their comfort zone. This they believe, is either because they feel that the risk is too high for their comfort, may have a negative impact on their career, no clarity on WIIFT (what’s in it for them) and no incentivization for extra effort.

Commitment

In an integration/transformation, all members whether part of the project, operations, support team, leadership team and/or stakeholders have to show a significant sense of commitment. Commitment can be allocation of dedicated time and effort, it can be in actively throwing their weight behind the initiative, people going out of their way to assist the project, allocating right levels of resources, engaging in constructive and mobilizing discussions that provide the right level of oil to the transformation engine. Detractors are usually involved in actions wherein they avoid taking on responsibilities, deliberately introducing delays in the process and spending inordinate amount of time in back-channel political conversations.

Here are some of the characteristics for detractors:

  • Steer meetings to discuss trivial issues
  • Always dodge and circumvent steps and actions that are specifically required for an activity
  • Create ambiguity on the purpose of meetings and priorities
  • Never allocate owners or timelines for action items
  • Always seem to have a reason why something cannot be done or should not be done
  • Analysis paralysis and constant demand for additional facts
  • Being vocal on dissonance in a meeting that needs consensus

Detractors will avoid participating in consensus building exercises. They will deliberately allocate their resources and teams to other priorities and severely defend their actions. To make it worse, in integrations and transformation, they perform lip-service for the senior management and show superficial sincerity. However, with specific actions they will almost invariably never give any timeline, allocate any owners or load most of the actions with dates to the fag-end of the project to avoid any upfront commitments.

Accountability

One of the most critical elements in a transformation/integration is around people and their accountability. Due to several moving pieces at the same time, large number of dependencies and high levels of synchronization, it is crucial that team members are accountable for their actions and responsibilities/roles in the project. Many members slip on their accountability in a project and therefore, leadership needs to put right the level of cadence to monitor them. However, there are some people (read as detractors) who continuously sidestep their accountabilities on some pretext or the other, and when confronted would use all sorts of reasons to support their case.

Detractors express the following conditions:

  • Claim victory before the tasks are completed
  • Closely guard details and vehemently oppose any scrutiny
  • Encourage shallowness in discussions and enforce variable performance standards
  • Milestones, actions, and deliverables are regularly missed or incomplete
  • Blame others especially the project leadership for lack of structure and outside consultants for lack of involvement

Detractors often play double standards when it comes to accountability. For the work, they are responsible for, they maintain a complete closed door policy. They don’t entertain any input from anybody outside of their team. They will either vehemently deny any participation from anybody outside their team or will conduct back-door politics to avoid including somebody else’s ideas. On the other hand, they are very active in providing all sorts of relevant or irrelevant input into other’s responsibilities or worse, heavily criticize their actions. In fact, it is quite common for detractors to pose suggestions quite cunningly that leads others to question the performance of the individual.

Performance

Due to the multi-functional nature of transformation, high inter-dependencies and synchronization, and significant pace, team members need to maintain high standards of performance. Not just that these performances need to be meticulously followed up and monitored on a regular basis. Detractors on other side, make it a point to show a certain level of disdain to these performance measures.

Detractors under this topic would demonstrate the following:

  • Indifference to project performance indicators
  • Question authenticity of data
  • Discourage usage of metrics for projects or suggest vanity metrics
  • Focused and always first-priority on operational business-as-usual objectives vs project based
  • Lack of attention to details on the project
  • Rarely shows team camaraderie or definitely not accept responsibility on short-comings of projects
  • Always focused on serving their own interest vs project needs

In projects where performance indicators are not adequately defined or certain amount of vagueness exist about metrics, detractors take full advantage of the situation. On paper, they always claim activities completed, they are always in green but in reality, or in spirit, most of them are far from completion. Moreover, in cases where detractors hold position of importance, their attitude of being indifferent to performance measures gives others similar leeway to miss deadlines and milestones. Thus, reducing the effectiveness of the project and its core team.

Overall, detractors are always detrimental for projects. The reality is that every project unfortunately has detractors. Some of them have a few while some have many. Larger projects like transformation, integration, ERP implementations and others have more than their fair share of detractors.

Detractors can have varying degree of animosity towards projects. Some of the more moderate detractors with the right level of discussions and engagement can be aligned to the broader objective. These are the people who should not be ostracized but need to be engaged in a constructive dialogue.

However, there are detractors who cultivate more extreme views and can pose real threats to projects. These are the people who need to be handled very carefully with the right structure, right discussion points and most importantly, the right leadership support. The last one is very important because in many cases, the leadership team do need to make tough decisions on detractors. Presence of weak or politically driven leadership only accentuates the problem ten-folds.

As Albert Einstein had famously said
“ If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

This article has been written along the same lines on how to effectively identify detractors. The article on how to manage resistance and detractors will follow soon.

This article is inspired by Patrick M. Lencioni’s work: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencio)

What are your thoughts on detractors in M&A integrations and transformations? Comment and “Like” this post on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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