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Merger mania?

Be An Intelligent

By Stephen M. Dent

Mergers, acquisitions, and strategic alliances are touted as a boom for both consumers and shareholders which is why corporate America continues on its consolidation frenzy year after year. But when you strip away the veneer, mergers and strategic partnerships don't always deliver their intended results. In fact, as many as 70 percent of them fail to live up to their potential. Why?

The answer is rooted in "Partnering Intelligence" -- a business discipline that is sorely lacking in many corporate
Stephen Dent
boardrooms and executive suites. While tough talk and moxie close deals, partnering intelligence brings those deals to fruition. It is a core competency that translates boardroom bravado into shareholder value.

As with any hard competency, this is not a nebulous concept but a measurable skill. Every executive, manager and employee has a quantifiable PQ, or partnering quotient; much like an IQ, this measures how smart someone is about partnerships. It is a clear indication of how well someone can work with others to translate lofty ambitions into actions that generate value from a business alliance.

The other major reason partnerships fail is that they don't follow a sound process for guiding people and teams through the critical stages of partnership development. Operating from a PQ deficit, many executives expect they can achieve maximum "synergy" by simply consolidating operations.

An intelligent partner would understand that, to get the most from any business alliance, you have to take certain steps. Such steps are analogous to the steps an industrial engineer might take in merging the best features of two separate production processes.

There's not an engineer who would just throw two production lines together and expect to achieve optimality without carefully reviewing the processes or following a discreet methodology for ensuring the "merger" effort is successful. Yet many highly paid executives do this every day with entire companies. They are people with low PQ's who, unfortunately, shortchange themselves, their customers, employees and their shareholders.

Executives with a high PQ, on the other hand, do what you would expect from people who understand what it takes to implement the organizational and cultural changes set in motion by business alliances. After their deals are done, partnership-literate executives shift their mental orientation from hard-nosed negotiation to the attributes they and their subordinates need to make partnerships work. In brief form, these attributes are:

Past/Future orientation: Do you look to the past or to the future in evaluating your business relationships?

Comfort with change: Are you comfortable with changing your status quo?

Win/Win orientation: Do you employ a problem-solving method that creates a win/win outcome for both parties?

Comfort with interdependence: Can you work in concert to achieve mutually-agreed-upon partnership goals?

Ability to trust: Do you give people your trust, or do they have to earn it?

Self-disclosure and feedback: Are you comfortable with disclosing your needs and expressing your appreciation or disappointment?

These critical attributes form a system of behavior that creates healthy, thriving partnerships. Just as the earth's atmosphere protects and nurtures life on the planet, a healthy partnership environment nurtures and protects important business and organizational relationships.

In reality, businesses don't partner -- people do. Companies that build effective partnering competencies in their workforce will fare much better than their shoot-from-the-hip counterparts in achieving the aims of their mergers, acquisitions and other business alliances.

These companies develop an understanding that people hold the keys to effective partnerships, and that partnering intelligence can be measured and learned. They utilize available tools to develop partnering intelligence throughout their organizations. And they roll out their business alliances according to a defined process for making partnerships work.

In doing so, they avoid one of the most common outgrowths of a poor PQ. While top company officers diligently study the numbers and potential benefits associated with a business alliance, they neglect the core competencies of effective partnering. They seek neither the construct nor the tools to recognize or build an effective partnership capability in their workforce.

The result is a clear and predictable minimization of the benefits derived from any new business relationship they undertake. The most talented, valuable people leave. Synergies are not achieved as expected. And the board, after having invested millions, or even billions, starts looking for some heads to claim.
1999 by Stephen M. Dent
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Stephen M. Dent is founder of the Partnership Continuum, Inc., a Minneapolis-based firm that helps organizations build more effective partnerships. His latest book is  Partnering Intelligence: Creating Value for Your Business by Building Strong Alliances (Davies-Black, 1999).

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