If there ever was a company that epitomized the value of people over technology, that would be LinkedIn. Its core asset is its greater than 400 million membership base. For Microsoft to “accelerate the growth of LinkedIn,” it will need to do a good job of onboarding its leadership as well as its technology. That’s going to require getting a head start, managing the message and building the new team.
Yet, there’s an inherent conflict in what Microsoft says it’s going to do. In the same press release they suggest “LinkedIn will retain its distinct brand, culture and independence.” And “together we can accelerate the growth of LinkedIn.” Distinct and independent or accelerating together? Since these are opposite approaches, either they haven’t decided or aren’t telling.
When two organizations merge, they either stay separate, merge one into the other or create something completely new. Staying separate rules out opportunities for synergies. Creating something new is a gargantuan task. Merging one into the other from a technological and cultural standpoint is the way forward.
Leaving technology to the technology experts, let’s talk about the cultural integration.
Here’s what we know:
1. Culture matters. A lot. Vocus provides a good example of merging other cultures into their culture following acquisitions, even going so far as to rebuild acquisitions’ corporate headquarters to drive the integration.
2. Merging cultures is risky. It turns out culture is the root cause of every merger’s success or failure. And 83% of mergers fail.
3. The leadership team holds the key. The merger will fail if LinkedIn’s leadership team disengages or just complies. Success requires their contribution or commitment, co-creating the future.
The Microsoft and LinkedIn cultures are hugely different.
LinkedIn is still acting like a start up. As one of its team members wrote,
There is a tremendous focus on products and product features, decision process at all levels is driven largely by data and insights driven by data, it is a company led in equal parts by engineers, product managers, designers and data scientists.
Microsoft has been struggling to get out of its own way. As one of its employees described the Microsoft culture:
The various disasters/missed opportunities over the last 10 years were well known to engineers at the front line… but due to a viciously-enforced policy of “no bad news, ever,” those who might have taken corrective action don’t find out until its too late.
Applying the thinking on team onboarding, I suggest this:
• Get a head start. Day one is a critical pivot point for merging teams. Microsoft and LinkedIn’s leadership can accelerate progress by getting a head start and hitting the ground running. In particular, they should let everyone in both organizations know what their new roles are going to be. No one can focus on the greater good until they know what the merger means for them personally.
• Manage the message. Everything communicates. People read things into everything you say and do, and everything you don’t say and don’t do. Microsoft and LinkedIn’s leadership is going to be far better off choosing and guiding what others see and hear, and when they see and hear it, rather than letting happenstance or others make those choices for them. The new, combined leadership team should start this process with their current best thinking before day one and adjust steadfastly as they go along.
• Build the new team. The first 100 days after a merger is the best time to put in place the basic building blocks of a cohesive, high-performing team. Satya Nadella and Jeff Wiener will fail if they try to create the organization’s imperative themselves, without the support and buy-in of their new, combined team. As team leaders, their own success is inextricably linked to the success of the team as a whole. They need to set direction, build the team, sustain momentum and deliver results, evolving as they go.