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December 13, 2021

During an M&A transaction, things can get very complicated, especially if you have a large M&A team. The more people you involve, the more complex it can get. But according to Jim Buckley, Vice President, Mergers and Acquisitions Integration at VMware, keeping integration simple is the real key to success. 

“Start simple and stay simple, for as long as possible.” - Jim Buckley

M&A practitioners love to go into details. And while that could be beneficial, it doesn’t often help with team alignment. The biggest challenge in strategy execution is making sure that people understand the thinking behind it. And the best way to get everybody aligned and on the same page is to keep things simple. If every one of your members has a different understanding of the deal rationale, you are bound to fail. 

Team Alignment

Jim suggests that you work backward and start with a clear vision of what the end state should look like for the company you are acquiring. In his experience, most of the team members working on the transaction don’t even know the deal rationale. 

Once you have communicated the big picture, figure out the necessary steps to achieve your end goals. This will give your team a clear definition of the necessary OKRs. 

As an integration leader, you don’t need to know every little detail of the workstreams. You only need to know the big overview of the milestones being achieved. And more importantly, is the team achieving the integration goals in the right order? Have they identified the interdependencies and the resources needed to accomplish the integration goals? 


With the end state at the forefront of everyone’s mind, you need to use frameworks instead of checklists. Checklists suggest that every deal is the same and directs you to follow a particular path that might not even apply to your deal.

A framework gives people more freedom, guided by the strategy you have laid out at the beginning of the transaction. For Jim, you only need to focus on employee experience and the customer experience, and the rest should follow. 

His framework only consists of four questions that need to be answered, and each one ties back to the strategy of the deal.

  1. What do you plan to do with the people?
  2. What are you going to do with go-to-market?
  3. What are you going to do with infrastructure?
  4. What are you going to do with everything else?

Keep it Simple

In the interest of keeping things simple, Jim likes to do a 5x5 format with his team. When answering the questions above, use no more than five words per bullet, with a maximum of 5 bullets per question. 

This will force all your team members to simplify everything, which will help maintain alignment throughout the deal. 

Change Management

“If you get employee experience right, you are golden. Because everything else follows after that.” - Jim Buckley

Your entire focus during integration should be on the employee experience. If you want more revenue, you need happy and engaged customers. And the only way that will happen is if your employees are engaged and happy too.

Your functional leaders need to have a strong grasp on change management. Since they basically have the same job as the acquired employees, they can adequately explain the changes that will occur. 

They have to guide the incoming employees on how to do their job in the new environment, based on how they did it in their former environment. Bringing in a change management expert, instead of utilizing internal functional leaders, can complicate things more.

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