Filling the Integrator talent gap

Mar 31, 2024

What is an Integrator?

In 1967, an article was published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) entitled – ‘New Management Job: The Integrator’[1]. The article suggested many things about this new role of integrator. However, the guiding principles were, as markets, methods of delivery, process improvements, the need for coordinated efforts and decision making expands so must the ability of the organisation to respond to these developments. It suggested the best way to do this is create a position or positions where managers are employed to solve organisational problems across functional departments and create outcomes to deliver company growth and profit. The article notes that it is important to legitimise the role and the number of integrators would vary according to the complexity of the organisation and the issues it faces.

In 2007, in the book ‘Traction’ by Gino Wickman described a concept of the integrator as a functional position within the context of running a business on the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS). The role of integrator, described by Wickman, was aligned with the findings of the HBR article. It was designed firstly as a singular function of an organisation that had various accountabilities attached, such as ‘execution of business plan’, ‘profit and loss of the business’ and ‘removing obstacles’. As described in Traction, ‘it doesn’t matter what you call it, but the bottom line is the integrator is the person to run the organisation, manage day-to-day issues that arise, and integrate the three major functions (sales/marketing, operations, finance). The integrator is the glue that holds the company together.’[2] P.92.

The integrator role then offers a competitive advantage to structure an organisation on what needs to be achieved, from a functional perspective rather than title perspective, assign accountabilities and deliver great outcomes for both employees and customers.  

What is the problem?

Organisations implementing EOS are making terrific gains. However, when the integrator function is not appropriately addressed there is value being left on the table. This experience can be attributed to one or more of five common characteristics in these companies.

  1. Integrators are splicing their time, wearing multiple hats – managing multiple functions in the business;
  2. The company doesn’t have an integrator option yet and a ‘volunteer’ is filling the seat until an answer is found, who may not want the role – this can last years;
  3. The integrator is not familiar with what is required of them nor how to effectively execute – tactical mastery of the role is missing;
  4. The company has lost their integrator – they have taken other opportunities outside the business or realised they don’t want the seat and stay with the company in another role; or
  5. The visionary is also the integrator – noting the skills sets of a visionary are quite different to an integrator and thus resulting in a sub-optimal outcome.

Along with these characteristics there are financial and structural assumptions about what level of commitment is needed to meet the integrator requirement. Business owners assume that integrators are expensive and must be always in the business. Additionally, business owners, if they are not engaging with peers or opportunities to understand EOS better, may not be aware of what great integration looks like and what it can do for a business.

What does great integration look like?

The answer to this question is best provided in two parts:

  1. The technical work of an integrator
  2. The adaptive work of an integrator[3]

Technical work

The following are some of the technical activities of great integrators:

  • Meeting with the visionary regularly to ensure alignment with short- and long-term plans
  • Attending and participating in the EOS implementation process – Focus Day, Vision Building Days, Quarterly Pulsing and Annual Planning
  • Preparing, attending, hosting or co-hosting state of the company updates
  • Taking account for rocks relating to the EOS roll out or coordinating company-wide initiatives
  • Reviewing one EOS tool per quarter to measure their implementation and level of completeness
  • Attend and on most occasions chair the leadership team Level 10™ meeting
  • Lead, manage and hold accountable the members of the leadership team
  • Having an eye on the numbers and making sure the functional leads are delivering towards their numbers
  • Deliver the VTO
  • Maintain contemporary knowledge of EOS

Adaptive work

The following are the adaptive activities of great integrators:

  • Work with the visionary across the business, challenge and influence
  • Drive and inspire the entire leadership team to achieve desired outcomes
  • Proactively identify issues, using their experience and expertise to discuss issues that otherwise would not be addressed or spoken about by the leadership team, as described in the EOS process – integrators ‘enter the danger’
  • Improve outcomes with a solutions mindset by ensuring the business is conducted in the most efficient and effective way
  • Resolve issues effectively by seeing the real problems, calling out root causes, accepting that solutions are not a trade-off of ideas but rather bringing the minds of all parties together to get the best outcome
  • They don’t lead or manage by consensus
  • Driving solutions in a practical and healthy manner.
  • Considering what the next quarter might look like for the business including potential rocks and numbers
  • Have a relentless obsession for values alignment in the business

What is a solution to this problem?

Finding great integrators is hard, Mark O’Donnell, the visionary of EOS Worldwide has expressed the difficulties associated in finding the right integrator. This stems from his observations about core values alignment, business type, industry, maturity of business, geography, pay and availability. Finally, there is the time associated with finding a person to fill the integrator function. In this light what really needs to be defined is putting the right people in the right seats to give them more time to do what they love while filling this integrator talent gap.

To successfully find a person to fill the integrator seat, one needs to look at the function and deliver to those accountabilities rather than consider the role in current organisational paradigms, that is building roles arounds titles. While some may see the role as a general manager, chief operating officer or some other description there needs to be divorce between this thinking and what is needed.

The function is that of integrating. Whether that function requires a full-time commitment or something else is a matter for each business. It should not be defined as ‘fractional’, ‘part time’, ‘interim’ or any other redundant term to make the role seem more important. It is important enough without those precursors.

Finding integrators

It is not an easy process to find the right integrator for your business, in fact it may feel like trying to find a unicorn. The first place to start is make sure you have defined the role clearly. The dot points in this paper are designed to assist in that definition. Once you have defined it you can then start testing the market for that role. However, there are a number of search firms that can assist with this activity should you choose.

Alternatively, you can source integrators from businesses designed to provide that service. An inquiry for integrator placement recruitment within your preferred engine can reveal points of contact for this interim (or ongoing) solution.

A word of caution: integrators integrate, implementers implement. Do not look for or engage integrators to also be a quasi-implementer. The outcome is generally, poor. Self-implement or use an implementer for embedding EOS into the business. The integrator owns the system they do not implement the system. There are always exceptions to this rule, however, for those businesses struggling to get the most out the integrator role adding implementation of EOS is an added burden that will, most likely, derail your efforts to improve your business.   

Three questions to ask?

The three questions you need to answer are:

  • Are we leaving value on the table by not giving the integrator function the due care and attention?
  • Have we truly experienced or have great integration?
  • Have we completed the Independent Executives Fast 50?

Proof point  

“We have utilised the integrator support from Independent Executives over the past 18 months after our previous integrator moved on to another role. As our Integrator, Ryan has been an invaluable resource to support our business and keep things accountable while we reset our team and found our new Integrator. As Visionary of a small team, having an integrator that could step straight in to share the load in the interim has been a life saver. If you are running an EOS business and your integrator seat is not yet filled or has been vacated and is waiting a replacement, I would recommend engaging Independent Executives to fill that gap until you can get a full-time integrator established.”

Lindsay Smith, Excite Safety

More reading

  • Wickman, G., Winters, M. (2016). Rocket fuel: The one essential combination that will get you more of what you want from your business’, BenBella Books, Dallas.

 [1] Lawrence, P.R., Lorsch, J.W. (1967). ‘New Management Job: The Integrator’, Harvard Business Review.

[2] Wickman, G. (2007). ‘Traction’, BenBella Books, Dallas.

[3] Hefeitz, R., Linksy, M. (2002), ‘Leadership on the line: staying alive through the dangers of leading’, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.