Linking in LinkedIn: How Microsoft onboarded a social networking giant
In June 2016, Microsoft announced it had acquired LinkedIn. The message from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to LinkedIn’s 14,000 employees was clear: Microsoft would do everything it could to preserve the social networking giant’s independence and unique character. This message challenged and inspired us in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO) as we discussed the best way to enable LinkedIn to take advantage of Microsoft assets.
The mission of LinkedIn is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We knew the combined synergies of our two companies could inspire innovation and generate opportunities for our employees and customers.
Because intellectual capital accounts for a large share of a company’s valuation, a merger’s success can depend on how employees react to change. To elicit a positive response, we needed to gain a deep understanding of differences in our organizational cultures and develop an approach that complemented the strengths of both organizations. That was the only way we were going to succeed in helping LinkedIn leverage Microsoft assets in a way that would complement its business.
Working together to get it right—right from the start
The CSEO integration team immediately recognized we needed to rethink some of our previous integration approaches. We worked together to establish some operational principles to guide the integration. For example, we needed to:
- Find the right balance of independence and support. We defined a loosely coupled approach that balanced the autonomy of LinkedIn employees with points of commitment across both organizations.
- Create a simple integration framework. We facilitated integration in support of three broad goals that ensured effective decision making. These goals included growing LinkedIn, learning from the data that the two companies share, and creating value.
- Establish a regular leadership cadence. We created recurring meetings for integration leadership teams and management. These meetings helped us align our efforts with other ongoing integration projects and to pivot as needed.
- Empower integration leads. We placed increased authority in the hands of the team leads. This helped build trust across the organizations, resolve bottlenecks, provide advice, and ensure efficient and informed decision making.
Migrating to Microsoft Office 365
From the outset, the CSEO integration team opted to deploy Office 365 and provide support while the LinkedIn Global Technology Solutions team evaluated which features they wanted to use. Like most organizations that rely on a mostly on-premises infrastructure, LinkedIn needed its employees to understand the features, capabilities, and resilience of Microsoft Office 365. They also needed to be able to plan for coexistence, migration, and optimizing user experiences. They were doing more than moving to a new platform—they were also moving to the cloud. Both of these are major changes that they needed to walk into with their eyes fully open. Our role was to help LinkedIn IT navigate through all this change. Once both integration teams agreed that LinkedIn would be part of the Office 365 tenant, we followed standard deployment procedures to ensure its availability across LinkedIn.
Outlook and Microsoft Teams
Goal: Migrate all LinkedIn employees to Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Calendar.
Our priority was to migrate all 14,000 employees from Gmail to Outlook, from Google Calendar to Outlook Calendar, and from Google Hangouts to Microsoft Teams.
We completed our cutover migration in stages, beginning with all email exchanged before December 2016. After we completed this first stage, we began the final cutover to migrate all email, contacts, tasks, and calendar appointments. We performed the final data migration during a weekend to minimize the impact on LinkedIn employees. The migration from Google Hangouts to Microsoft Teams—a collaboration and communication platform that combines workplace chat, meetings, calls, files, and tools—proved to be a success, with a high rate of LinkedIn employee adoption.
Mitigating employee adoption challenges
LinkedIn employees were accustomed to performing certain tasks in Google Calendar that weren’t easily achieved in Outlook. For example, with Google Calendar, LinkedIn users could easily book multiple rooms in multiple buildings at the same time. That task wasn’t as simple to do in our implementation of Outlook. To ensure a consistent user experience, the LinkedIn migration team used the available APIs to create a new Outlook tool that employees can use to book multiple conference rooms.
Office 365 productivity apps
Goal: Provision Office 365 productivity apps to all LinkedIn employees.
For years, LinkedIn employees were passionate users of Google Docs. Their preferred work style involved heavy collaboration on documents. No one was more than an IM away from becoming a contributor. We saw this arrangement as an opportunity to better understand the user experience dynamics of passionate Google Docs users and to make them aware of the increased collaboration features available in Office 365.
LinkedIn decided to use the online versions of Office 365 as the primary way of working in apps such as Microsoft Word and Excel. The company wanted its employees to continue using the web-first, online collaboration features they were used to. We coordinated with our product groups across Office 365 to demo features, conduct training sessions, and ensure a good user experience. We also relayed user feedback about our web-based versions of Office 365 applications to the Office product group. The team didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to learn from such a large-scale platform switch as this. We’re still fine tuning this review process and learning from the heavy use we’re seeing from LinkedIn employees.
This migration differed from a traditional migration from one set of tools to another in an important way. Our ability to grant access to Office 365 enabled us to iteratively plan and test the migration process to ensure a good experience. Key to the experience was our ability to track user adoption and utilization. Beyond measuring the number of installations, we continue to track actual usage metrics of the new productivity tools we’ve introduced to LinkedIn employees to gain a better understanding of their uptake. We can use those trends to determine whether we need to increase communication and training or make functional customizations, like we did in Outlook to better accommodate the scheduling of multiple meeting rooms.
Bringing together two major companies with different platforms and cultures taught us a lot, and we’re still learning. Planning this type of integration presented unique challenges and was a growth opportunity for everyone. It made us look at mergers and acquisitions in a new way. It forced us to ask ourselves, “What does it take to preserve the identity and independence of an acquisition, while fostering collaboration and applying consistency and governance?” We’re evaluating ways to optimize the current integration and establish a baseline of standards for similar acquisitions in the future.
As we tracked our progress and reflected on our efforts, we compiled a few lessons learned.
Governance and goal sharing
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Continually reinforce the integration framework and first principles to all stakeholders across LinkedIn and Microsoft. Trust, but verify awareness.
- Don’t be afraid to say no and stay focused. Prioritize against your core metrics, avoid needless distractions (also known as “shiny objects”), and deprioritize efforts if they don’t pan out.
- Run five-day alignment and clean resolution early and often. Disagreements can linger for weeks if they’re not properly escalated up the chain of command. Encourage teams to surface conflict early.
- Assume good intentions. We’re all in this together and learning together. Pause to check the level of understanding and motivations of participants.
- Write it down. Encourage teams to clearly articulate their perspectives. Writing helps clarify thinking and pinpoint issues faster.
Balancing early adoption and integration efforts
We needed to integrate LinkedIn employees while minimizing any dependencies that could disrupt their workflow or slow them down. At Microsoft CSEO, it’s ingrained in our processes and Microsoft culture to take advantage of our deployment life cycles to test newly developed features. We needed to balance our early adoption efforts with the business goals of completing the integration on time.
User confusion over newly deployed product features or updates led to extended support calls. If LinkedIn support engineers were unaware of updates, they forwarded tickets to our support engineers. We relied on this workaround until we completed the toolset integration that gives LinkedIn support engineers full visibility across the entire ticketing lifecycle.
Learning as we go
Since the LinkedIn acquisition closed in December 2016, we’ve handled nine more acquisitions. None match the scope or scale of LinkedIn, but each project has provided an opportunity to expand our migration playbook and share best practices.
We’re working hard to make the people behind our acquisitions—regardless of the size of the acquired company—feel welcome, embraced, and respected so that they want to stay with us. We don’t want to lose the people behind the companies we acquire because they don’t think that our corporate culture is welcoming enough.
The work of integrating LinkedIn employees remains an ongoing effort that will continue across key areas, including finishing our full migration of LinkedIn employees to Office 365.
One thing is certain. Integrating LinkedIn employees has expanded our acquisitions playbook with a new set of best practices, and it has laid the foundation for similar endeavors in the future. In the meantime, we’ll continue to do everything we can to preserve LinkedIn’s unique independence and individual flair while giving its employees every opportunity and advantage that being a part of Microsoft offers.
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