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How to Help Your Team Understand Top-Down Changes to the Products They’re Working On

Amit Kaul

Head of Platform at Plaid

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Problem

My company just recently went through a really big reorganization. We had four products that I was running, all of them in the United States. Three of them were doing quite well so we decided they needed to become global products that the global business would own instead of just the U.S. business.

"The fourth product we were not going to invest in anymore even though it was selling very well in the market and was in high demand. The reason for this divestment was because we didn't have the resources to build it at scale and, therefore, it didn't make sense for us as a business to build the product."

Of course, teams were built around each one of these products and so the product manager who had been working for two years on the fourth divested product became really frustrated and disagreed with the decision. He became very vocal about it in meetings, in one-on-one conversations, and also outside of the office. A number of leaders in the business approached me stating that he was being disruptive and toxic and asked me to iron out the matter.

Actions taken

The first thing I needed to do was to explain and articulate to him why it didn't make sense for the business to continue investing in this product. I knew how passionate he was about the product and the solution and I understood that from his perspective it was a great fit for the market. He was emotionally attached to it and I shared with him this sentiment of attachment and connected with him on an emotional level.

"Then I asked him to remove emotion from the picture and we worked through why this product wasn't the right thing for the business. Together we walked through all the different scenarios and the resources that we needed in order to be able to scale the product and how we weren't going to be able to generate those resources. I separated the emotions attached to the product from what was logically best for the business. This got him about 60% on board."

"I got him another 20% of the way by sitting down and having a very hard conversation with him as a friend, not as a boss this time. I explained that it wasn't helpful for the organization, for the team, nor for him as an individual to create a lot of noise and prevent people from doing and focusing on the things that needed to be completed. His toxic attitude as a leader was not helping the team get over the divested product nor to move on to the next thing.

I was empathetic with his disagreement over our decisions and with the reorganizations, but I explained that sometimes there's things that we need to give up on and move on. This is called disagree but commit (taken from the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni).

"Voice your opinion and make yourself heard but then commit to the direction. If you keep pulling yourself in other directions you're going to lose the respect, momentum, and relationships that you have throughout the company because people are trying to do one thing yet you're preventing them from doing the new thing. Have your opinion but also be a leader and join in on the new shared vision."

Lessons learned

  • I think that it is important for a manager to be able to help keep a consistent thread for people throughout change. Help bridge the gap from 'here's what we were doing yesterday,' and 'here's what we're doing today.' Start to build stories of how those two connect together.
  • Be very transparent when reorganizing. Don't only direct people but explain to them why something is happening. Create a conversation that begins with the old organization and continues into the new. Specify your decisions and why those changes are the best practices.
  • Change is constant, especially with the pace with which technology is moving these days. Technology and software development, and innovation are very iterative. Have a discussion about how you want your company to be nimble. Share with your team that changes are going to happen as new things arrive in the market and when the organization learns new things. Get people comfortable with the fact that things are constantly changing and that you're not going to settle into a rhythm. Inform them that all of the really successful companies are in a constant state of change, and I'm sure that they want to be successful as well.

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Amit Kaul

Head of Platform at Plaid


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