As 2016 wraps up, let’s take a look back – and prove this blog is still active 🙂
This year’s theme has to be Acquisitions and Adjustments, as Western Digital acquired SanDisk, and integration has swept the combined company.
I wrote Change is the only Constant in Life about Fusion-io being acquired by SanDisk, so this is the second acquisition and company integration of the last 2.5 years for me.
Each acquisition brought changes to day-to-day operations – how we report status, arrange travel, adapt to different IT services, etc. That stuff’s easy.
The hard part?
Positioning the value of our Microsoft relationship to people from companies that did not have a history of strong Microsoft relationships, while integration swept the company.
In the years BP (Before Peter), SanDisk, HGST and WD each attempted to build a relationship with Microsoft, but didn’t get the results they wanted in a timely manner so they largely stopped trying, resulting in very limited relationships. With each acquisition, the new company was intrigued by the Microsoft relationship I’d developed, which they obtained through acquisition; but in the midst of multi-billion dollar acquisitions, this was not top-of-mind. Understandable.
Here’s how I’ve approached this situation, focusing on WD’s acquisition of SanDisk which was announced almost a year ago.
Note that WD acquired HGST before SanDisk, but regulators prevented the WD/HGST integration until just before the SanDisk acquisition closed; so all three companies were integrated at the same time.
Job #1 – keep doing what you’re doing.
After an acquisition is announced, but before the deal closes, the two companies must continue to operate independently.
The disaster scenario is everyone sits on their hands waiting for new guidance. Don’t do that 🙂
After the deal closes, the acquiring company can finally dig in to figure out what they actually bought (vs. what they thought they were buying), and begin the integration work that determines their new strategy, how they’ll combine organizations and teams, who stays and who goes. (Don’t forget that occasionally a deal falls apart; I was at Microsoft in 1995 and saw the $2.4B acquisition of Intuit fall apart.)
It’ll be months before that process produces well-informed guidance that flows down from the top, so you obviously can’t wait for that. Keep doing what you’re doing.
I found this “keep doing what you’re doing” phase uncomfortable. I knew change was coming, but I couldn’t predict which things would change; so I just kept pushing forward. Some of the results I delivered weren’t seen to be valuable post-integration, but delivering something is better than delivering nothing. Because the next thing you need to do is …
Job #2 – survive the integration.
A lot of people lose their jobs after an acquisition. Assuming you want to stay, there’s work to do to demonstrate why the new company should keep you.
First, I ask my Microsoft contacts who they work with at the new company (if anyone). That also reveals how those Microsoft contacts view their relationship with the new company.
If my Microsoft contacts aren’t working with someone at the new company – which was the case with WD and HGST – I look for the name of anyone with the new company that deals with Microsoft. I search the public web site and intranet for references to Microsoft – product manager quotes in press releases announcing new products, internal presentations, product development or Windows certification status updates, etc.
With those initial names, I start building new connections with people who can provide insights into how things work at the new company. I pro-actively identify and connect with people who already work with Microsoft , and people in key roles I know I’ll be working with like product managers. I send introductory email explaining who I am, what I’ve done previously, and ask what they do with Microsoft, and – the critical bit – who else I should talk to at the new company.
One week after the acquisition closed, I had a network of a couple dozen people and was starting to get a sense for roles, responsibilities and processes.
It’s taken several months to fully “walk the tree”, following all the references to additional people I should talk to, until most of the references are to people I’ve already contacted. The combined WD plus HGST plus SNDK is a big company!
When I have enough contacts to fill up a couple days with meetings, I jump on an airplane and meet face-to-face with as many of those contacts as possible.
I encourage the person I’m meeting to start – explain what they do (invaluable to me), and ask if they have any questions about the acquired company (invaluable to them). Then I describe my role and the results I’ve delivered, and we jointly brainstorm which results might be valued by the new company. This naturally leads to identifying additional people I should contact in the new company, people who would care about or contribute to delivering those results.
I’m based in Redmond, WA, just a few miles from the Microsoft campus, but all of my post-Microsoft employers have all been based elsewhere – Atlanta, Palo Alto, Salt Lake City, Milpitas and now San Jose, Santa Ana and Irvine.
Regular visits to the mothership are important as a remote employee, but it’s critical during the integration that follows an acquisition. You cannot allow yourself to be just another unfamiliar name or voice on conference calls, or you risk being an early casualty of the job cuts that inevitably follow an acquisition.
This is critically important when the new company doesn’t have a history of people in your role – they don’t value that role, they’ve failed to achieve the results they wanted from previous attempts, or both. That puts you in a hole from the outset and you need to climb out, pronto!
As you educate people on the value you’ve delivered previously, and brainstorm what you might deliver for the new company, you’re doing something no one else in the company can do – establish your value to the new company. This is a critical deliverable from these early meetings.
Meeting with people in key roles in the new company, educating them on what you’ve previously delivered and what you can deliver, becoming known – this may help inoculate you from being laid off during integration.
Job #3 – be a change agent, embrace and lead your team through the change.
I’ll tell you a secret: I hate change.
Ironic, right? I’ve chosen a career in the fast-changing high tech industry, mapping my employer’s evolving roadmap to Microsoft’s evolving roadmap, trying to align activities around product releases that then slip – change is all I get.
But nothing triggers change like an acquisition. Everything changes – strategy, product roadmaps, how the newly integrated company operates, which organization you report into, who the key players are, your email address, who stays and goes, etc. You must redefine your work to align with the new company’s strategy, priorities and processes – that’s what you’re paid to do, but more importantly if you don’t, someone less qualified will do it for you.
Change is hard. Merging the cultures and processes of three established companies is really hard. The people who embrace and lead change will stand out.
As much as I hate change, I cowboy up, give myself a pep talk, and force myself to embrace and lead change. I make it happen.
In addition to educating myself (as described above), I proactively and intentionally share what I’ve learned to lead my team’s discovery and understanding of the new company.
Despite working remotely, I’ve consistently learned more about the new company’s roles, responsibilities and processes than my co-workers whose offices are just a 15 minute drive from the new company’s offices. From my home-office in Redmond, I’ve frequently introduced Bay Area people separated by that short drive. That’s intentional.
Before the acquisition closed, I had a idea of what I’d do at the new company – and I was wrong. Things I thought I knew were wrong, guesses I made were wrong, everything was wrong. That’s OK – my initial idea provided a framework for thinking about what I’d do; every conversation helped me improve my idea until it became a plan, and it quickly became a credible plan.
As the integration process proceeded, the company’s leadership changed fundamental things – which Routes To Market were important and which were cut, which customer/partner segments would be targeted and which wouldn’t, my team was given new responsibilities and some of our previous responsibilities were shifted to other teams, etc.
Embrace the change, evolve the plan. Eventually things begin to calm down, the changes become smaller, and when you share your plan with teammates and key contacts, people will nod a lot and the feedback is about fine tuning, not fixing misunderstandings.
Socialize the plan with your manager and skip-level manager. Share it with your key contacts and their managers. Your plan shows how you’ll add value, and you want a lot of people to know about that. Your leadership through the change will be noted.
Job #4 – become “the Microsoft guy”.
(This one’s optional. I view it as central to my success, but your mileage may vary.)
While my performance goals are typical for alliances work, I believe I’m also responsible for the overall success of our partnership with Microsoft.
I want to become widely known as “the Microsoft guy” – the person who can answer any question about Microsoft, or get the answer.
It’s not often I meet someone that worked at Microsoft for 10 years, then managed partnerships with Microsoft for another 10 years. There’s a high probability I know more about what can be achieved by partnering with Microsoft, and have delivered more compelling results with Microsoft than anyone else at my company, so it only makes sense for me to take the role of “the Microsoft guy”.
Questions I can answer include, How do we qualify for the new Windows Server Software Defined Additional Qualifications? When developers from the acquired company have their MSDN subscriptions expire, what’s the new company’s process to get a new subscription? When the marketing team wants to use a Microsoft logo, are we licensed to do that, and where is the official artwork? Who do we contact to arrange a joint webinar with Microsoft, or a joint customer briefing? We have a great “better together” story with [insert Microsoft product name], how to we deliver a value proposition that successfully engages the EPG sellers? Beyond the goodness in our product data sheets, why should Microsoft’s customers buy our products? Can our products help customers reduce their software license spend? (Yes!)
I also want our Microsoft relationship to be highly visible within the company, and publicly.
Acquiring companies tend to stick with their existing intranet site solutions, so I make a point of learning how to work with the new company’s intranet solution, whether it’s SharePoint, Jive or something home-grown.
Windows certification is important for our products, so I create an intranet page that lists the enterprise products that are Certified for Windows Server, with links to the Windows Server Catalog and the QA engineer that handles certification testing for each product. That helps our Sales teams provide certification reports to OEM customers, and get answers to specific certification questions (e.g., has device A with firmware B and capacity C passed certification).
For our product managers, I publish another page with links to certification requirements, and track the certification status of each product during development. Another page for developers explains how to get a MSDN subscription.
I also work with the owner of our public web site to establish a place to publicize our work with Microsoft, and with our content strategist to publish information about our past successes (e.g., rebranded collateral) and plan the new materials we’ll publish. (Still a work in progress for WD.)
There’s a steady stream of news from or about Microsoft that’s relevant to our company and our Microsoft partnership, so I blog about that news on our intranet, and drive the visibility of my blog.
With each acquisition, I’ve had to start fresh to develop a strategy that reflects the new company and its priorities. I remind myself it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, to deliver value, and explore new opportunities. To cowboy up and be a change agent.
It’s all good, right? That’s what I keep telling myself anyway 🙂 As I knuckle down and adjust to yet another acquisition.
BTW, it’s not like I wasn’t blogging at all this year, it just wasn’t here 🙂 Here are links to my posts on the SanDisk company blog.
I hope 2016 was a great year for you, and 2017 is even better! See you next year.