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In Agile M&A, Playbooks are out, Game Plans are in!

In Agile M&A, Playbooks are out, Game Plans are in!

Show Notes Of Podcast

The M&A Playbooks

The traditional M&A playbook is generally thought of as a set of best practices that guides an organization through the complexity of M&A. They are usually a grab-bag of tools, templates, checklists and processes covering the full M&A spectrum - from initial strategy through to post-merger integration.

I’ve never been a big fan of playbooks. While I’ve produced plenty of them over the past 20 years, I felt I was doing something people wanted; not what they really needed. 

Before I explain what I don’t like about them, let me give a quick overview of what a playbook is and how they are used. 

I’ve never been a big fan of playbooks. While I’ve produced plenty of them over the past 20 years, I felt I was doing something people wanted; not what they really needed. 

Before I explain what I don’t like about them, let me give a quick overview of what a playbook is and how they are used. 

The M&A Playbooks

The traditional M&A playbook is generally thought of as a set of best practices that guides an organization through the complexity of M&A. They are usually a grab-bag of tools, templates, checklists and processes covering the full M&A spectrum - from initial strategy through to post-merger integration.

Playbooks are often developed as a one-size-fits-all solution for any kind of M&A transaction an organization may undertake. The intention is this massive bit of discretionary expenditure doesn’t fall off the rails and delivers upon its intended objectives.

Naturally, something we all know: every M&A deal is totally unique with the kind of gotchas capable of challenging even the most experienced professional.

For those tricky, more expensive deals, an organization may want to go one step further, and have a playbook tailored to meet the unique characteristics of a deal. Typically, an external consulting firm is brought in to do this. The firm comes in with their own notions on how things should be done, run a number of meetings and workshops; finally producing a playbook for others to follow. The consulting firm then exits the stage. This playbook then becomes a set of instructions on what to do - much like a cookbook.

The Problem with Playbooks

1. They promote checklist fever

People love checklists. They are easy to follow and allow you to get busy real quick. They're also a great way of demonstrating progress.

The problem is that they encourage everyone to pile in - doings things and ticking them off as complete. But when everybody is checking things off, a kind of group-think starts to emerge. Don’t get me wrong; checklists are very useful. But when everybody is thinking the same way then someone is not thinking.

2. They create an illusion of certainty

In the perfect world, if you follow what the playbook says then the results will be delivered. But when you consider just how wild and stormy an M&A deal can get - particularly post-deal, you know it’s not going to be plain sailing. As the saying goes: “The first casualty of any battle is the plan of attack.”. We often find ourselves lamenting after the event, how little the playbook resembles what actually occurred.   

3. It puts M&A on autopilot

Autopilot is great, until it’s not. It’s one of those paradoxes. What you don’t want to happen is for the team to be on autopilot and crash into obstacles right in front of their eyes. Conversely, unique opportunities to branch off and create some massive wins are tacitly ignored. At best you get mediocrity in deal performance. At worst it could be lemming march into the sea.

M&A Gameplans

The Agile approach to managing change is very well suited to M&A. In M&A, as you would in an Agile environment, teams should plan as they go, complete short bursts of work, whilst being ready to change tact. Behind all of this, the team takes their cues from a set of hand-crafted values and principles guiding the course of action.

In the Agile world, a game plan is a different kind of construct compared to a playbook. Here are the big differences:

1. A game plan is created organically

Unlike the traditional playbook; created from the top and distributed through the organizational hierarchy, a game plan is created organically through multiple interactions, both within and across socially connected teams. The person who creates the game plan (this could be an external consultant or a person internally appointed) would be more like a facilitator or coach.

2. A game plan is a group exercise

A game plan is composed of individual Agile plays. A “play” is usually (but not always) a group exercise where people come together to achieve a specific purpose. They are as much about team building as they are about solving problems. Through expert guidance from a facilitator, the goal is to create a game plan out of a set of plays that meet the unique characteristics of the deal. 

3. A game plan is adaptive

Unlike the traditional alternative, it’s almost expected the game plan will change during the course of execution. The Agile approach is to conduct work in short-cycles with retrospectives built in so that the next cycle can be readily adapted after evaluation and feedback. This could mean running one or more extra plays to get the additional insights needed.

The reason why I think game plans are far preferable is because that they are all about people, their personal development and the trust and confidence that’s generated. 

Game plans are also about communication at its best. Through the process, people get to implicitly understand what they need to do. A document doesn’t need to be created to spell it out.

Game plans also have the ability to tap into people’s problem solving skills. Since game plans are inherently a team building exercise, people get to find out what others know, and how they should work together in finding new and different solutions to problems.

My final point, and perhaps the most important of all, is that game plans are created and owned by the team - not the consulting firm brought in to help. So often I hear about the ‘PwC playbook’, ‘EY playbook’ or some other firms playbook. Games plans are different because it’s the team that produces them. The consulting firm, where required, is there to facilitate, advise and coach.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Hopefully, this post has given you some thought. As an industry veteran, I’ve been working on M&A deals for several years, and as is often the case, it’s the softer side of things – people, leadership and culture, that really matter. The process will naturally follow when you get these right. Thank you for reading!

m&a playbooks

Read Toby Tester's article "Driving Transformation through M&A"

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I’ve never been a big fan of playbooks. While I’ve produced plenty of them over the past 20 years, I felt I was doing something people wanted; not what they really needed. 

Before I explain what I don’t like about them, let me give a quick overview of what a playbook is and how they are used. 

The M&A Playbooks

The traditional M&A playbook is generally thought of as a set of best practices that guides an organization through the complexity of M&A. They are usually a grab-bag of tools, templates, checklists and processes covering the full M&A spectrum - from initial strategy through to post-merger integration.

Playbooks are often developed as a one-size-fits-all solution for any kind of M&A transaction an organization may undertake. The intention is this massive bit of discretionary expenditure doesn’t fall off the rails and delivers upon its intended objectives.

Naturally, something we all know: every M&A deal is totally unique with the kind of gotchas capable of challenging even the most experienced professional.

For those tricky, more expensive deals, an organization may want to go one step further, and have a playbook tailored to meet the unique characteristics of a deal. Typically, an external consulting firm is brought in to do this. The firm comes in with their own notions on how things should be done, run a number of meetings and workshops; finally producing a playbook for others to follow. The consulting firm then exits the stage. This playbook then becomes a set of instructions on what to do - much like a cookbook.

The Problem with Playbooks

1. They promote checklist fever

People love checklists. They are easy to follow and allow you to get busy real quick. They're also a great way of demonstrating progress.

The problem is that they encourage everyone to pile in - doings things and ticking them off as complete. But when everybody is checking things off, a kind of group-think starts to emerge. Don’t get me wrong; checklists are very useful. But when everybody is thinking the same way then someone is not thinking.

2. They create an illusion of certainty

In the perfect world, if you follow what the playbook says then the results will be delivered. But when you consider just how wild and stormy an M&A deal can get - particularly post-deal, you know it’s not going to be plain sailing. As the saying goes: “The first casualty of any battle is the plan of attack.”. We often find ourselves lamenting after the event, how little the playbook resembles what actually occurred.   

3. It puts M&A on autopilot

Autopilot is great, until it’s not. It’s one of those paradoxes. What you don’t want to happen is for the team to be on autopilot and crash into obstacles right in front of their eyes. Conversely, unique opportunities to branch off and create some massive wins are tacitly ignored. At best you get mediocrity in deal performance. At worst it could be lemming march into the sea.

M&A Gameplans

The Agile approach to managing change is very well suited to M&A. In M&A, as you would in an Agile environment, teams should plan as they go, complete short bursts of work, whilst being ready to change tact. Behind all of this, the team takes their cues from a set of hand-crafted values and principles guiding the course of action.

In the Agile world, a game plan is a different kind of construct compared to a playbook. Here are the big differences:

1. A game plan is created organically

Unlike the traditional playbook; created from the top and distributed through the organizational hierarchy, a game plan is created organically through multiple interactions, both within and across socially connected teams. The person who creates the game plan (this could be an external consultant or a person internally appointed) would be more like a facilitator or coach.

2. A game plan is a group exercise

A game plan is composed of individual Agile plays. A “play” is usually (but not always) a group exercise where people come together to achieve a specific purpose. They are as much about team building as they are about solving problems. Through expert guidance from a facilitator, the goal is to create a game plan out of a set of plays that meet the unique characteristics of the deal. 

3. A game plan is adaptive

Unlike the traditional alternative, it’s almost expected the game plan will change during the course of execution. The Agile approach is to conduct work in short-cycles with retrospectives built in so that the next cycle can be readily adapted after evaluation and feedback. This could mean running one or more extra plays to get the additional insights needed.

The reason why I think game plans are far preferable is because that they are all about people, their personal development and the trust and confidence that’s generated. 

Game plans are also about communication at its best. Through the process, people get to implicitly understand what they need to do. A document doesn’t need to be created to spell it out.

Game plans also have the ability to tap into people’s problem solving skills. Since game plans are inherently a team building exercise, people get to find out what others know, and how they should work together in finding new and different solutions to problems.

My final point, and perhaps the most important of all, is that game plans are created and owned by the team - not the consulting firm brought in to help. So often I hear about the ‘PwC playbook’, ‘EY playbook’ or some other firms playbook. Games plans are different because it’s the team that produces them. The consulting firm, where required, is there to facilitate, advise and coach.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Hopefully, this post has given you some thought. As an industry veteran, I’ve been working on M&A deals for several years, and as is often the case, it’s the softer side of things – people, leadership and culture, that really matter. The process will naturally follow when you get these right. Thank you for reading!

m&a playbooks

Read Toby Tester's article "Driving Transformation through M&A"

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