Effectively leading a team through an acquisition or merger can be shaky ground to navigate. You aren’t just dealing with merging teams, tech stack, and processes—but also a culture. Your team needs leadership that is open, honest, and transparent about the process. If your company is going through a merger or acquisition and you want to arm yourself with some tools to manage your team efficiently through the process, learn from the expertise of today’s guest, Loïc Houssier. In this episode of Simple Leadership, Loïc and I discuss what he’s learned about leadership, what his mistakes have taught him, and how he managed his team through multiple mergers.
With a background in Mathematics and Cryptography, Loic launched his career as a security researcher in France. As his career evolved, he took on management roles in Software Engineering—focusing on Critical Infrastructure of European Administrations—for Orange, Thales, and Naval Group. He joined a startup, OpenTrust, to help with its growth and organize the teams and eventually became the CTO. Loïc joined DocuSign via the acquisition of OpenTrust 4 years ago and is now the VP of Engineering and based in San Francisco. His role is leading the Docusign effort on Mobile, eCommerce and Billing systems.
With Loïc’s background as a research engineer in the field of security, he was used to being the voice of expertise in a room. As he moved through different organizations and moved into managerial roles, he worked in areas where he was not the technical expert. It was an eye-opening experience for him. Loïc had to learn to put his ego aside and find other ways to get his teams to listen to him.
PerLoïc, “You don’t have to be the best technical person in the room to make a decision”.
Armed with the knowledge that he wasn’t always going to be the expert, he sought to find ways to learn to listen to his team. Even without the technical knowledge, he could help solve their problems and make decisions. Loïc encourages you to try something completely different than your area of expertise for the humbling experience—and learning lessons—you’ll get. The higher up you move the more you have to rely on your non-technical skills to influence, communicate and get things done.
When you take on a management role you quickly learn that everyone is gifted differently. Some people, like Loïc, are more outspoken and on-task go-getters. Other people can be quiet and painstakingly detail-oriented. Loïc experienced this firsthand with a team he was assigned to for a government project. He assigned a team-member a task that he expected to take a couple of days. But it took almost 4 weeks for him to submit the requested document—after being asked for it multiple times.
Loïc went to his superior, fuming, stating there’s no way he could continue to work with someone who wasted his time. After explaining the situation to his boss, his manager flat-out told him that the mistake was his. He had assigned the wrong task to the wrong person. Loïc learned that as a manager, his role was “Not to change people, but to understand how people are efficient in their own way and give them the work where they will be successful.''
The team member that he struggled to understand? Loïc placed him in a role that was a much better fit—managing configuration management. He excelled in the role and did amazingly well. Loïc learned you can’t be quick to judge people who are different. Instead, you must take a step back and approach the situation through a different lens. You may yield unexpected results.
When a company is acquired and your team is about to be integrated into a new culture, it can be disruptive. If you’re in a leadership role, it can be difficult to navigate the changes while keeping your team calm and collected. Loïc has learned that your #1 priority needs to be setting clear expectations as soon as possible. When people don’t have clarity about their ongoing role it leaves room for fear. This can lead to friction between the merging teams which in turn leads to a lack of efficiency.
You must aim to be as transparent as possible. Tell your team why the business is being acquired—were they looking to complement their software? Add to their tech stack? Perhaps the acquiring company was looking for a marketing asset? Stay apprised of the situation so that you can communicate with your team and alleviate any concerns that may have.
Whether your team is prepared or not a merger comes with significant change. As you’re leading your team you must help them embrace the change—not fight it. The team might need to learn a new system or process. They may even have to change what instant messaging platform they’re using. Although change can be frustrating, encourage them as they’re integrating. Sometimes you must accept changes that aren’t optimal for your team for the good of the company.
Loïc also noted that your team needs to have a sense of purpose, a mission. It isn’t just about integrating into the new company but making sure they are bought in and invested in the vision of the new company. People need to belong to something bigger. If you can effectively help them connect with a vision, it can also help to lower turnover as the two teams become one.
Loïc and I talk about efficiently scaling teams, the process of innovation, and introducing metrics and measurement. Be sure to listen to the episode for the whole conversation!