Consultant Michael O’Connor stresses that an acquisition should have an “integration manager” to run point on a process that could take 3 months to a year. “This person should be trustworthy and recognized as a good performer by both camps. The main role would be around communications and evaluating what is known to work successfully. It’s a decisionmaking role but not one where decisions are made solely on authority.”
He says this role is usually a reassignment (not a new hire), and in small dealerships there are often some real gems in parts and service who could fill the role, or a manager where there might be some initial redundancy. “It speeds up the process,” O’Connor says. “It’s a vital role to make these things work.”
The integration manager will meet frequently, and engage the key employees and the high performers who are well respected by others, as they become informal leaders of change.
And the integration manager will monitor progress. “Sometimes the integrator will have to pull dialog out of the group, but there’s always at least one thing that the newly acquired dealership will say was an improvement a month later.” And while new employees may complain about a long list of problems to fix, the integration manager will get it to three priorities they can act on and fix in 3 months. “They’ll return to the meeting and he’ll say, ‘Now that this problem no longer exists, let’s go on to the next one. Issues will start to resolve themselves; companies never really have more than 3-5 key issues to fix.”
O’Connor has found one practical suggestion he’s seen in dealers working their way through the acquisition process. “Email poison can’t be allowed,” he says. “If there’s a problem or communication that is negative, complex or unfavorable, the rule is that you cannot use email. If in the same location, it’s got to be done face-to-face. Or between stores, it can be done by phone. Without this rule in place, you’ll get negative and offensive email threads where the sender is copying everyone and their uncle.”