How to Achieve Strategic Alignment From Top to Bottom

There is an intimate tie between M&A strategy and corporate strategy. To be truly effective, acquisitions must directly support the overarching goal of the company. But beyond that, there needs to be a strategic alignment with everyone involved. In this episode of the M&A Science Podcast, Camilo Franco, Director, M&A Integration and Operations at Jamf, shares their secrets on how to achieve strategic alignment from top to bottom.

How to Achieve Strategic Alignment From Top to Bottom

18 Mar
Camilo Franco
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How to Achieve Strategic Alignment From Top to Bottom

How to Achieve Strategic Alignment From Top to Bottom

“If the people understand the “why”, then we can move into the “how” and how they fit into the process to help with the deal along the way.” - Camilo Franco

There is an intimate tie between M&A strategy and corporate strategy. To be truly effective, acquisitions must directly support the overarching goal of the company. But beyond that, there needs to be a strategic alignment with everyone involved. In this episode of the M&A Science Podcast, Camilo Franco, Director, M&A Integration and Operations at Jamf, shares their secrets on how to achieve strategic alignment from top to bottom.

special guests

Camilo Franco
Director, M&A Integration and Operations at Jamf

Hosted by

Kison Patel

Episode Transcript

Definition of strategic alignment

First of all, as a descriptor, I would say a scenario. When coming into a new corporate environment, one of the first questions I'm going to ask is, 'Okay, what's the corporate strategy? Can you explain where we're going, and then how does M&A fit into that story?' 

Throughout the last 10 years, with the rapid growth of technology and some of the spaces we live in, the pandemic played into that as well, accelerating a lot of things that wouldn't have happened otherwise, such as the increase in remote workers, which ultimately helped companies like Jamf.

With the product sets we have, we grew at a hockey stick pace. When that happens, it's really hard to develop processes to keep up with that type of growth. I kind of describe it as building the ship while already at sea, which can be very challenging. 

You know where you want to go and where you're headed, but the vessel you're in is just not well equipped to handle that yet. There's an intimate tie between M&A strategy and corporate strategy. That M&A strategy needs to support the corporate strategy. However, this corporate strategic piece is missing in a lot of companies because we grew so fast.

These muscles are things we haven't really exercised. We didn't have to think five years ahead necessarily because we were in the now, just trying to stay afloat. Really trying to develop those muscles and bring the M&A strategy in sync is vital and important, and it's a challenge we face today as a fast-growing company.

How to achieve strategic alignment

M&A is almost viewed as this cool thing that people do, but nobody really understands it within a company, especially in the corporate context. So, if we went to Jamf today and asked, 'What does the M&A team do?' They would likely respond, 'They buy companies,' but that's about the only description you would get.

We're trying to change that. We're coming in and asking, 'How can we actually marry up what the M&A strategy is with the corporate strategy?' That corporate strategy should be flowing to the entire company. 

We should be sharing the corporate strategy with anybody and everybody, helping them see how they fit into that piece and how they can play a part.

One of the things we're doing is consistently having meetings with departmental function leads and their teams. We even come into their team meetings to give everyone an overview of what Jamf does. 

This is how we do it, here's the structure around our process, how we manage the pipeline, and other aspects they might not consider because it's not their day job.

Once an acquisition comes around and they're brought in on the integration side, they understand where we've been, what we've done, and how we've gotten to this point. They see how they play a part in moving things forward from an integration perspective. 

Some of the pieces, again, reflect the whole corporate strategy, which was already a bit nebulous due to our rapid growth.

The M&A strategy is just another complex component of all this. The only way to really clear those muddied waters is to be overly communicative and appropriately distill the messaging to more people within the company.

We're talking to everybody, so we'll talk to the functional leads, explaining the value of what we're doing and why. As I mentioned, we'll be brought into their team meetings. Their entire teams are there for their monthly or quarterly review, and we'll be a small component of those meetings to share what we're doing. 

Obviously, we can't share specifics of what we're working on most of the time, but we can at least tell them how we're doing things and what the process looks like. That helps. It gives them a better understanding of how and why we're doing what we're doing.

Relaying M&A strategy against corporate strategy

Yeah, absolutely we have to relay and explain. The corporate strategy is company-wide. Everyone has seen it. They know the four or five pillars, or the big buckets of things that we're looking to grow, along with our goals and objectives stemming from that corporate strategy. 

The question then becomes: How does M&A play into this? How do we inorganically aid and assist in achieving those goals and objectives? In some ways, there might be goals and objectives that we can't reach unless we adopt an inorganic growth strategy to support them. Delivering this message is really important and vital for people to understand what we do.

Getting buy-in from team members

Yeah, so many corporate development teams, unless you're in a behemoth of a company, most of us work on small teams. Most of what we do ends up being cross-functional. We're inviting people into our projects, and by inviting, it's often forcing people to participate out of necessity to ensure success and reach the corporate objectives we have. That is a big challenge.

If we are appropriately messaging the overall corporate strategy and what the M&A strategy does to support that, it helps people understand why we're doing what we're doing. If the people understand the “why”, then we can move into the “how” and how they fit into the process to help with the deal along the way. 

Cross-functional resources are often stretched thin, already handling their day jobs. We bring them into another project layered on top of everything they normally do. If you're executing several of these regularly, M&A fatigue is absolutely real, and something we've experienced.

To combat that, understanding the reason behind the acquisition, why this particular one is aiding our corporate strategy, and helping us get to where we want to be in five years, makes team members more apt to participate. They understand their role in the company's success and are more willing to contribute to moving things forward.

Having that type of buy-in, where they see the benefit and understand the strategic vision, is huge. It shifts their mindset in how they participate in the process.

Overcoming anti-M&A culture

That's very difficult. I can think of certain individuals who we've already identified as a challenge. They might not necessarily understand the vision or their mind might just not work that way. They might live in their pocket of doing one thing every day, so this overall big picture thing is too much for them to consume and they're not going to get it.

But you absolutely need their buy-in for a specific piece of your integration, whether that's a financial piece or a legal piece. They require more hand-holding, more time, and more meetings to prepare them for where we're going and to assist them afterwards to ensure things get done. 

It just takes more time, which is the only way I've been able to handle it so far. If anyone knows a better way, I would love to know it.

This is also where empathy comes in. When delivering messaging about why we're doing something, it's challenging when someone doesn't understand it and you do. You think, 'How do you not get this? I get this. Why don't you?' 

Living into that empathy, recognizing where they are, meeting them at that level, and working through it with them tends to be more successful. It's going to be a challenge, but that's how it is.

There are specific functions that as a whole will be more challenging in some of these things. For example, let's take financial reporting. We now have to build out all these financial reports for this new thing. They need to understand how we're going to market with it and the pieces that will play into the products we have.

How do we build those out appropriately? If they don't understand the overall business case for why we did this, it's just grunt work on top of everything they're already doing. So, how do I relate to you in a way that's going to get this done? It's a vital piece of what we do and how we're going to measure our success, at least from a mathematical perspective.

For me, I'm going to have meetings with them to explain, 'This is what we need you to do. But also, this is how it affects where we're going and how we're going to measure success for this particular deal.' Stressing that importance and why, and then thanking them a lot.

I've found that meeting people where they are, understanding the struggle they have through this process, and being really grateful for everything they are doing and the extra effort they put in goes a long way in building relational equity to get things done. 

Again, it's about people. So, how do we relate to people? How can we efficiently work with people to reach those common goals that we have?

Strategies for effectively communicating M&A plans

Yeah, and this will vary by the type of organization you have. It will look different in every company in many ways. So it's hard to build out a rote formula that guarantees success. But it starts at the top. 

Corporate leaders need to effectively communicate to everyone what the corporate strategy and vision is. As that makes its way down, project managers should understand how what they do day in and day out affects the company and our direction.

Simultaneously, that M&A piece, which we've already touched on a bit, fits in with how we're going to reach our goals by 2025, 2026. These are the steps we're taking. Here's how your work is a puzzle piece that fits right in, and here's the overall picture.

So, it's about overly communicating that and doing it regularly. If you're part of our process, you'll see the business case for a particular M&A at the beginning of every single slide deck we have. There's always one slide with the quick business thesis for the deal, which is repeated over and over to continuously remind ourselves why we're doing this. 

This isn't just pre-close, but post-close as well. All the post-close integration decks I build, even updates for our board, will have a slide explaining why we chose to do what we did.

We distill that down into a really easily digestible format. Normally, we'll have just one slide with the three big reasons why we're doing this, and usually, that's one of the first slides on every single deck we create.

Normally, I don't even delve into the numbers of things. The first slide will most likely be the overall corporate strategy slide, highlighting the themes we've been focusing on for the past year, as communicated by executive leadership. It includes our strategic pillars and our direction.

So, we highlight the two or three pillars that this particular acquisition helps us in. The next slide shows how it helps us achieve our objectives in those strategic pillars. That's usually the rhythm we take, showing the larger scope for the entire company and how this deal affects those particular pieces.

Alignment with the integration team

So, C-level executives and senior leadership teams, particularly in higher executive roles in the company, are crucial, especially on the corporate strategy piece. You should have a framework in place that people work through, and it's usually those C-level executives setting the tone for all of that.

Sometimes the integration role can be a thankless job, depending on the corporate culture. At Jamf, which is known for its people-first culture, everybody works together, and it's been wonderful. 

However, I've been involved in companies making acquisitions without a clear strategy, resulting in acquired companies just existing on their own, with nobody measuring success or any significant metrics. 

This leads to a thankless job in integration, especially when you have entities that don’t want to embrace each other, leading to a challenging push-pull scenario where nobody is satisfied.

The strategic alignment makes a huge difference in your role. There's really nothing worse than an M&A strategy that doesn't align with the overall corporate strategy. Having a team that's good at doing deals is great, but if it doesn't feed into the overall corporate strategy, you'll be left with numerous integration headaches.

Depending on how your company is structured, you may have an actual corporate strategy team. If you do, the connection with that team must be tightly integrated. My boss, for instance, is intimately tied with our executive leadership team.

They're constantly discussing where we're headed, our strategic vision, and how we're going to achieve our goals. This informs what our team does, where we focus, and the types of deals we bring in.

Formulating the integration thesis

Yeah, so again, as part of our initial business case, which becomes clearer as we delve into the process, the business case usually includes an integration component from the beginning. This expands as we go through due diligence and uncover more information. 

I'm grateful to be involved upfront as it's vital for the integration lead to be part of this process to help identify future challenges.

During this process, I start building out the integration process, identifying risks, and noting the potential synergies from an integration perspective. Getting involved in this space allows the integration planning and story to expand as the deal progresses.

As for documentation, we formulate our integration thesis. We come in and outline where we think integration should occur and what needs to be siloed or remain separate. We build this out shortly after due diligence and present it to our steering committee, our investment committee.

Creating this early is important because it provides insights for every deal. Each deal has a specific driver, which significantly impacts how the integration plan pans out.

Definitely, and this can be challenging from a personnel perspective. For instance, making an acquisition to fill a technological void won't impact everyone, and not everyone might understand it. So, part of the process is bringing those who are impacted along and involving very specific people who might not have been involved in any process before.

This cross-functional aspect requires training new people, informing them of our process, figuring out how to work with them, and training them to execute the integration. But at the end of the day, the integration thesis is informed by the overall business thesis. We aim to integrate in a way that is compatible with the overall goals of the company."

Role of steering committee

So, the vast majority of the time when we're presenting, we provide updates on where we are, and if there are any critical decisions to be made that are above my pay grade, decisions impactful to the entire project or company in a meaningful way, the steering committee will definitely make decisions on that level.

Who's on the steering committee? Usually, it includes our C-level executives like our CEO, CTO, CIO, and CFO. We meet about once a month or once every two months, depending on the length of the project, to update them on progress.

Regarding the flow of the meeting, we typically present slides and updates. One thing I encourage is making these updates as easily digestible as possible for those C level executives. We use fewer words and focus on the big picture and status. 

We get really colorful with some of that stuff, so they know what is good, what is bad, and what needs discussion. Organizing the information in a way that's easily digestible for them is crucial.

We go through the updates, then open the floor for feedback and discussion. If there are any decisions to be made, we usually save those for the end, concluding with, 'What decision are we coming to?' We document that and then move forward.

Communicating decisions with the broader organization

Yeah, that's been challenging for us in a lot of ways. In the past, we've used different tools to communicate with project leads and others for project execution. Having a decision log stored somewhere is vital and important, but even that is challenging, especially with the cross-functional aspect. 

For example, finance might use one tool for their integration pieces, and others use different tools, leading to disparate ways of handling things.

Having one centralized repository for decision making and for all the documentation built out throughout the entire process is crucial. As more people are brought into the process post-close for integration execution, the question becomes how to update them and get them up to speed. 

So, having one place with all the information laid out is important, which is one of the reasons why we appreciate using a tool like DealRoom.

Managing integration without IMO

I'm not sure anybody has this figured out perfectly, and I know I don't. It's a constant learning curve for me. Listening to people with more experience who have done this multiple times in other spaces is vital. 

That's how I've been able to build what we have so far. We have a long way to go, but having a learner's mentality is essential. We're on this ship together, so let's figure out how to make it a good trip.

One key aspect is continuously learning from others. But it's also crucial to figure out what works for your corporate environment and the way people work there. At Jamf, we have a people-first approach to almost everything we do, and we love to give people choices, allowing them a say in what they're doing and how they're doing it.

You have to be very flexible, open to different ways of getting to point B. It might not be the way I would normally do it, but that's how they get there, and at the end of the day, all that matters is that they reach point B. Being open to different perspectives has been key and something I've been learning at Jamf.

Coming from more stringent environments to a space where people have choice was challenging but also refreshing. I've been able to ingest a lot of different ways and perspectives to get to where we want to go, making life interesting. So there's also value in leaning into the fun side of things.

Yeah, corporate culture cannot be understated in all of these things. It affects everything. Integration is about people most of the time, whether it's on the receiving side or the other side of the deal. So, yes, corporate culture is pretty important.

Ensuring company readiness for integration

Yeah. Our investment committee meetings are tailored towards that. We present various things from a market perspective, discussing markets we need to play in, different players, and who we might be in conversations with or greasing wheels.

These conversations with executives are important because they are aware of all other projects going on. Something might be happening that the corporate development team doesn't have insight into. 

Regular meetings with executives who have a full view of everything happening in the company are vital. We've walked away from opportunities that might have been good, but our company or our people weren't ready for it, or we didn’t have the right resources to allocate.

We've decided it’s not the right time for those opportunities. There are a lot of enticing deals out there, but there's nothing better than walking away from a deal you're not ready to take on.

Again, it comes down to communication. As a corporate development team, you're not just communicating with all the resources you're using within your process, but you're also having regular meetings and communication with your executive leadership team to ensure alignment

They're apprised of everything you're doing, and you discuss why you might say no to certain opportunities. Those cross-functional leads are aware of potential challenges. They can bring these up, and we can determine whether a risk is acceptable or if we should pass.

Gauging M&A readiness 

Yeah. Challenging. It's going to be different for every company and whatever stage they're in. For us particularly, we're in this stage where we've had that hockey stick growth. We're working heavily on a lot of really cool things, but bringing in other tech stacks is challenging and creates a lot of stress on our R&D and product teams.

Working through that, ensuring roadmaps are aligned, and we’re heading in the same direction while properly resourcing everything, is a challenge. We're considering a lot of creative ways of managing that, whether it's through some outsourced components or bringing in other people to help us because we don't have those internal resources. 

Thinking through them, evaluating them, and figuring out what works and what doesn't is important. Those are the conversations we're having.

Side effects of burnout people

The level of effort put into the process is often minimized. It's like, 'Oh yeah, I need to get that thing done.' But then we just hodgepodge something together to say we got it done. However, did we really put forth the effort needed to appropriately execute that particular integration task? No, it wasn't done properly.

Then you get very forthright individuals who ask, 'Why are we doing this again? Why do I need to do this?' And sometimes, they're right; it's not a priority. That's come up a couple of times, where we've had to pivot and change approach because it hasn't been a priority for certain individuals or functions. Maybe a piece is done, but there are other pressing matters.

Obviously, we either have to get senior leadership involved to evaluate this prioritization, or we need to pivot and find a different way or a different function to execute on this. 

I'm not sure there's a way to prevent burnout, especially in a high-acquisitive environment. It's going to happen in cross-functional teams, so you have to learn how to manage it, and that's the challenging part.

Defining the end of integration

Yeah, so obviously, you have your integration plans with a lot of execution-oriented tasks within that plan. A lot of people think that once those plans are done and all the tasks are ticked off, we're done with integration, but that's not necessarily the case. How are we continuing to report and measure progress? Are we actually receiving the value we said we would from this particular deal?

This may continue to happen and evolve well past your 180-day plan. Is there an end? There is an end eventually, but it's usually not a clear line in the sand. It's more nebulous than that. We're still tracking things that were done two years ago, still talking about them and figuring out if there's something we need to do. So having that pulse on where we are continues for a while.

Regarding stakeholders involved, you see a balloon effect post-close. The number of people involved in the integration piece and its execution expands for a while and then begins to dwindle over time. There's less and less involvement, especially as we move to a normal business process. 

Now, we're no longer managing this from an integration perspective; it's already moved into whatever normal process we have built, be it financial reporting or something else. So, once it moves into that normal cadence, that's when the integration piece is essentially over. 

But we're still tracking the overall piece of the integration for a while. People tend to move in and out of this process quite organically.

Tools used to maintain alignment

Yeah, when I initially joined Jamf, one of the first things I identified as a high risk in our process was the use of many tools for different purposes. This goes back to our corporate culture where everyone has a choice in the tools they use. 

While this flexibility feels good, it presents challenges from a process perspective. My key objective within the first year at Jamf was to consolidate these plans into one place, which we achieved by using DealRoom.

DealRoom became our source of truth for what's been done or not done in any part of the M&A process. What I love about it is that it's not just an integration tool. We started using it solely for integration, but we realized its broader potential. 

Now, we use it from the beginning of the process, documenting early discussions with potential targets, all the way to post-close integration reporting and building out reports for executive leadership.

Having this end-to-end capability is vital. It's also easy to navigate and use, which helped overcome initial resistance due to tool fatigue. People realized they could do much more with this single tool than with several others they had been using. 

Now, we have people building playbooks in DealRoom, creating templates for future processes.

We're also looking at how different technologies, like AI, can aid our process, be it in due diligence or integration tracking. One of our biggest challenges is managing interdependencies between departments. 

Their integration plans often depend on each other, so linking these effectively is challenging. We're exploring how technology can help make these connections in a meaningful way, keeping us accountable to timelines and ensuring everyone is moving at the pace we want.

Agile M&A

Yeah, and having been on both sides of the table, I completely agree with you. It is a challenge because people are set in their ways. They think, 'This is how we've always done it.' The buyer provides the data room, and I understand there are concerns about where data is housed and the risks involved. 

But one thing we’ve emphasized from the beginning is that we’re going to see this data anyway. We assure them that our system is secure and we can provide documentation to prove it. There are obvious benefits, not just to us but also to the seller, in using our platform.

However, we’re not going to push it to the point of a deal breaker. If they prefer using another system, that's fine. We'll go along with that. At the end of the day, the data will still make its way into our DealRoom, whether at the beginning or end of the process. 

For us, it’s our source of truth. When there are questions, people want to see the information in the system we use. So, it'll get into our system one way or another. It seems like it should be a non-issue, but it is for many people.

Connecting diligence and integration

We were in the middle of a deal when we first brought on DealRoom. We didn’t use it for due diligence at that time, just for the integration piece, which was great. We loved the product and realized we left a lot on the table by using it only for integration. We couldn’t connect all the pieces or pull information to inform those integration plans smoothly.

In the next deal, we used Deal Room for the entire process, and the target was amenable to using our platform. It saves them money too, so it was a win-win. We carried out the process from end to end within DealRoom, and you could tell the difference. 

Everyone knew where to go and find things easily within the data room we set up. We could correlate data to specific tasks within the integration plan, which was really cool to see.

It’s been interesting to see how different people make it their own. Everyone thinks differently and has different perspectives on managing things. Different functions have found various ways to use the tool effectively. 

One department might leverage it in one way, while another doesn’t need to use it the same way. Finding those different value pockets within various departmental functions has been intriguing.

Using integration templates

If you think about it, much of what we talked about today, especially from a people perspective, involves challenges like M&A fatigue and under-resourcing. This isn’t their full-time job, and all these aspects add to the challenge. What we're discussing helps to solve this by taking away the burden of having to generate content.

Let's be honest, people don’t like creating content from scratch. They prefer to modify existing content. If you ask someone to start with a blank slate, it’s a significant challenge compared to giving them something pre-populated where they think, 'Oh yeah, I can figure this out.'

This approach is powerful and time-saving. It’s not just about saving time, but also reducing fatigue. They won't get as fatigued if I give them a starting point rather than a blank Excel spreadsheet where they need to figure out their tasks and plan based on reports they have to read. Taking that burden away from them is huge for our process.

Advice for integration practitioners

One, you'll get through it. It will feel daunting and complex because it is, but it's incredibly rewarding. So I would say just push through and move forward. Like I said earlier, listen. There's a lot of good content and practitioners out there who've been doing this forever. 

Learn from them. But also, don’t be afraid to bring new ideas to the table. We need that. Having people with different experiences and perspectives on how to get things done is a good thing and can lead to a better process.

Don’t be afraid to try new approaches. Maybe we try it this way and it might not work, but that's okay. My third point would be don’t be afraid to fail. You may fail, and aspects of the deal might not work out, but that's really the only way you learn in some ways. Move through that, learn, and iterate for the next time.

Many people think the M&A process is a very linear process, but it’s not. Every single deal is different and complex in its own way. Experience and time will teach you a lot. Just keep bringing that to the table every deal, and you’ll be okay. Challenge the status quo.

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