4 ways to navigate a post-acquisition partnership

Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously tricky to navigate from a leadership and culture perspective. They require a thoughtful approach to working with a new CEO and joining teams as one workforce — a journey familiar to us and recently acquired Auth0.

Okta and Auth0 have their share of differences — we’re enterprise-focused, to start, while Auth0 is more developer-first — but shaping the future of identity has always been a shared goal. Since the acquisition closed earlier this year, the CEO of Auth0, Eugenio Pace, and I have come a long way in uncovering the best ways to embrace our differences, unite our teams and learn the ins and outs of each other’s leadership styles.

Our journey so far offers lessons for other CEOs navigating partnerships with a new co-CEO or other C-suite leaders post-acquisition. Here are my top takeaways from working together during the past year.

Do the prep work upfront

It’s worthwhile to put pen to paper on your company’s vision ahead of an acquisition — it helps you solidify your goals in writing that you can then easily share. Before our acquisition, I wrote a long paper mapping out my five-year vision for Okta. While articulating Okta’s vision is a big part of my role as CEO, I had never laid it out in this type of written format (which turned out longer than I intended — 15 pages!).

The exercise allowed me to reflect on Okta’s growth over the past 12-plus years and what’s to come.

Our employees probably think we sound like broken records on these integration priorities, but aligning on values has helped promote clarity and consistency across our teams during a time of change.

Eugenio found it helpful in understanding my viewpoint as we started the process of learning how we’d best collaborate and bring our two companies together. He’d actually drafted a similar document outlining his view of success if we were to join forces. These vision documents have helped us align our goals and illustrate how we intend to scale and capitalize on our massive market opportunity.

Identify common ground in how you lead

With any new C-suite hire or partner, it helps to build a relationship by finding common ground and shared values. Eugenio and I knew we both placed equal importance on implementing the same “north star” guidelines for the integration: sustainable growth, putting our customers first, continued innovation, protection of our brands and empowerment of our teams.

Our employees probably think we sound like broken records on these integration priorities, but aligning on values has helped promote clarity and consistency across our teams during a time of change.

Along with our mirrored core culture values, Eugenio and I share similarities in our leadership styles and personalities that complement each other. We’re introverts, and we even have the same Myers-Briggs score (INTP), translating into a natural leadership chemistry. We both take accountable, dependable leadership seriously and understand each other’s work styles. Eugenio has a deep product and technology background, so we’re able to get really technical when discussing and making decisions about the future of our joint companies. Our shared background also enables us to effectively share and receive feedback with each other.

Ultimately, understanding your new partner’s unique style and how you’re similar (and different) can help you work together more efficiently, make faster decisions and build quick momentum.

Tap the strengths of both teams

Acquisitions signal that a significant threshold of success has been crossed for companies on either side of the deal. To acquire or be acquired, companies must be doing something right and it’s essential to identify the strengths within both organizations that have reaped such rewards. Combining the elements of each team that fosters an overall synergy while also protecting the unique areas is key when joining forces.

For example, Auth0’s collaborative culture has already helped Okta reignite its startup spirit. It’s no easy task maintaining the same scrappy energy from the early days when we were pursuing our first 10 customers (we’re now over 14,000), but Auth0 has introduced a new perspective on innovation while still allowing room to retain our respective brands and individual strengths. Auth0 is a brand beloved by developers, and its remote-first nature has also helped us navigate a dynamic work environment this year. Leveraging the strengths of the acquired company helps push your growth forward in new areas.

When in doubt, over-communicate

In the early stages of an acquisition, success depends on intentional and frequent communication with your new partner and team. Keep meetings and check-ins frequent, both with new leaders and with your broader employee base.

This year, we’ve regularly held full company and integrated all-hands meetings, and we’ve made these meetings intentional and transparent. We format the agendas around decisions we’ve made, things that won’t change and what’s undecided as a way to keep employees in the know while staying honest about what we’re still figuring out. In any acquisition, discussions on office spaces, merged benefits and team integration timelines will inevitably arise, and giving employees an open line to ask questions and share concerns goes a long way in creating clarity and building trust.

Acquisitions can test your team’s strength and threaten existing close-knit cultures, so it takes purposeful communication to keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same goal.

It’s worth the energy spent to make the partnership successful; Eugenio and I have worked together for less than a year, and we’ve already benefited greatly from each other’s perspectives and background as we move forward in this next chapter.