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Establishing Alignment After Company Acquisition

Alignment
Acquisition / Integration
Scaling Team
Collaboration
Changing Company

28 October, 2021

Michael Sobota
Michael Sobota

VP of Engineering at Uplight

Michael Sobota, VP of Engineering at Uplight, shares how he aligned a company using a shift in leadership's language, a partnership program, and a compelling new way to solve problems.

Problem

At my previous employer, our company went through one of the largest partner acquisitions in telecom history. This growth quadrupled the size of the engineering department and brought many new approaches to the same problems and tasks. There were different tools, opinions and ways of developing features or new products. This slowed down our productivity, our ability to ship code, the quality of our products and increased the incidents in production.

Actions taken

The first action we took was making a program we called "box buddies." Essentially, we paired up employees that originated from different companies and assigned them to become work partners. In doing so, we identified connection points of relationships that should be built both across functions and legacy companies. The individuals in this program learned new skills, techniques, and ways of approaching a problem.

Secondly, we created a new compelling way to develop that absorbed different aspects of how original companies were doing it. We didn't pick one existing way or use one more than another. Instead, we created a brand new method that was opt-in, meaning employees could choose this method or not. By making our method compelling and not forcing it upon our team, our employees were more open to use the new system.

Our third course of action was to alter our vocabulary, specifically the critical leaders in the integration process. We made sure not to talk about original companies anymore. These key leaders would model the suggested behavior of our ideal employee by using this new set of language and not reminiscing about the past of any company. When a problem arose, our team would talk about it and come to a solution without involving how a past company may have worked to solve it. We stopped saying "legacy company A or B," and focused on our new organization rather than the old ones. We tried to open key leaders' minds to the change we were going through and model their vocabulary towards our new goals.

After these changes, we still struggled with some challenges. The above approaches did not solve all of the problems, but it did create a substantial momentum that allowed us to integrate major applications within the first year and continue to grow hiring and create a new unified culture.

Lessons learned

  • Change is hard for everybody, no matter what size of company you're at. Speaking openly and vulnerably about that change, not in a technical manner but on a personal level, will help. It made people feel more comfortable talking about the change, which opened them to our new way of doing things.
  • When we created new methods for tasks, we had to make sure they were documented and compelling. We had to sell our changes to our employees, showing them why it matters, why it is the best, and why they should try it. Forcing our employees to work in our new way created less adoption. When we made compelling arguments and let our team decide for themselves, they were more onboard.
  • It takes time to see progress in the integration process. It is hard to see change daily, and by looking often, you may become discouraged. Be patient and take steps until you see benefits. By using a longer time horizon, your changes will be more apparent.

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