One of my early articles for this publication was about AMN’s CEO Susan Salka and Three Priorities in Ensuring a Smooth Merger or Acquisition. Those priorities were 1) early conversations with all, 2) a well-resourced integration management office and 3) staying close to the process.

That article described how Salka had told me that AMN’s most recent acquisition of Medfinders was going “exceptionally well.” She believed the acquisition had strengthened its position as the country’s largest health care staffing company, leading to a doubling of fill rates, keeping more services “in-house”, and helping win more business. She was pleased because AMN’s customers, leadership and team members saw the benefits of the merger for their businesses and for themselves.

This success did not come without hard work and careful planning. The steps Salka and her team took provide insight into how to use the time before the deal closing to jump-start learning and relationships. Salka built success on a foundation of improved customer service and the three priorities noted above.

Early Conversations

Salka and her lieutenants had early conversations with AMN’s investors and laid out the benefits to its clients and the company culture. Then she spent significant time aligning the combined leadership team, investing heavily in planning and communication between the announcement and the close, and then bringing the combined sales leadership together right after the close. As Salka explained to me,

Investing in planning and communication up front … so we could have as many decisions made and ready to communicate as possible…That clarity and decisiveness created a lot of trust and reduced anxiety.

Integration Management Office

A merger is not business as usual. AMN established and resourced an Integration Management Office to give it a real-time view of how things were going. As a result, they knew:

  • What they were accomplishing and getting done;
  • How they were progressing towards their target of adding $10 million in EBITDA;
  • How well we were keeping team members motivated and inspired.


Stay Close

Salka learned the importance of communicating with everyone at a personal level to get at their expectations, hopes and fears. It’s not good enough to keep tabs on what’s going on; leaders must show up. As Salka put it, you need a management process:

But even more important than that is to be out in the field listening, listening, listening to the team members, to our customers. Because you can hear one thing in a meeting and see it on paper, but if the reality or the perception is different out in the field, whether it be at one of our offices or with a customer, then what’s on paper doesn’t really matter…You just can’t spend enough time out in front of your team members listening – and sharing!

Susan and AMN continue to do well. She’s now in her 33rd year as its CEO.

Implications for you

The prescription for you is straight out of The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook Change Management playbook: A detailed integration plan that spans across organizational, operational, strategic and cultural issues is essential. We’ve all seen organizations acquire other organizations and then run them as wholly-owned, separate entities. You can’t possibly realize synergies out of separate organizations. Synergies must be created together by teams looking beyond themselves to new problems they can solve for others.

In line with AMN’s model, staff your integration management office appropriately, understanding that

Leaders inspire, enable, and empower others.

Deputies are second in command, empowered to act in their superiors’ absence.

Chiefs of staff give leaders increased leverage by managing them, priorities, programs and projects, and communication. Where a deputy has some direct power, a chief of staff’s power is all indirect as the voice of the leader.

A project management office (PMO) conceives potential programs and projects, helps prioritize and define them, assembles resources, communicates and coordinates within and across, facilitates key meetings, tracks milestones, analyzes results, and initiates appropriate process improvements.

Transformation or integration leaders, or chief transformation officers manage chaos as key points of contact, accelerate process by helping executive staff manage, architect success by providing focus and direction, and personally drive the change on major issues.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #813) and a summary of my book, The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook

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