Employee Experience

The Company Culture at Microsoft

5 Mins read

i4cp‘s recent research on organizational culture transformation found that healthy cultures have a strong positive impact on business performance. The study surveyed nearly 7,700 global business professionals from thousands of companies, with 64% having experience in culture transformation. The report revealed that high-performing companies with better revenue growth, market share profitability, and customer satisfaction in the past five years tend to exhibit the traits of a healthy culture such as encouraging innovation, collaboration, and bringing out the best in employees.

Similarly, the company culture at Microsoft has successfully transformed since Satya Nadella became CEO in 2014, which included revamping its employee review process and interdepartmental relationships. At Talent Connect 2019, Kevin Oakes (CEO of i4cp) and Joe Whittinghill, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of talent, learning, and insights, shared three essential steps for ensuring long-term success in culture renovation:

#1 Plan: Secure buy-in from leaders, survey your workforce and understand what needs to change and what doesn’t

Creating a successful culture renovation requires a multifaceted approach. According to Kevin, almost 90% of successful companies had CEO buy-in for time and resources to see the culture renovation through. In other words, the CEO needs to be the culture champion. The CEO should model the desired behavior change to inspire and encourage others to follow suit.

However, CEO buy-in alone is not enough. It’s essential to co-create the new culture with the employee base. This is because when senior teams lock themselves in a room for a couple of days to decide what the culture should be, they often get it wrong. Employees are the ones who experience the culture firsthand, so it’s crucial to survey and talk to them to understand what the culture currently looks like and what needs to change.

Annual surveys can be helpful too, but they can also create false proxies. For example, employees need to remember one issue that seems important at the time, which the organization fixates on. Instead, it’s best to survey staff on an ongoing basis and use sentiment analysis tools like Glint to gain deeper insights into their responses. According to the survey, two-thirds of successful organizations use this approach.

Company culture at Microsoft takes it a step further by asking employees one question every day to keep a pulse on what’s happening. Identifying recurring issues that require tackling rather than one-off problems that are less crucial, helps the company. By doing so, the company can also pinpoint what not to change. Some aspects of the culture that former CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer established are still relevant and meaningful today. By preserving these legacy aspects that support the company’s success, the company can move forward more effectively.

#2: Using Stories to Reinforce Change and Identifying Detractors: Strategies for Building a Strong Culture

In order to successfully renovate an existing culture, it’s essential to identify the key influencers within the organization. These individuals are the ones that employees turn to for answers and guidance, and if they have doubts or are resistant to change, it can undermine the entire culture renovation effort.

To identify these key influencers, performing organizational network analysis (ONA) can be very helpful. This allows for a more nuanced understanding of the workflow within the company, going beyond just the formal hierarchy. However, in some cases, it may not be possible to win over certain key influencers, and it may be necessary to replace them in order to move forward with the culture renovation.

To reinforce the core values of the new culture, it’s important to use storytelling and symbols. For instance, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella wanted to install a growth mindset in all employees and used posters in conference rooms to remind employees of the importance of this value. Using these visual reminders can help to keep employees aligned with the new culture and values, and create a more consistent experience for everyone within the organization.

By focusing on identifying key influencers and reinforcing core values through storytelling and symbols, companies can create a strong and cohesive culture that drives future success. Here’s an example as an illustration:

Company Culture at Microsoft poster

#3: Adjust Your People Management Processes to Align with Your New Culture

To renovate your company culture, align your people management processes with the new culture. This includes evaluating employee performance, feedback, and talent mobility systems. These systems should all support and reinforce the core values of your new culture.

For Microsoft, this was a major area of focus during their culture renovation. The company’s highly competitive culture was centered around a dehumanizing and ineffective performance review system. Microsoft got rid of the ratings and redesigned the review process around Talent Talks, a constructive conversation system.

According to Joe Whittinghill, Microsoft’s former VP of talent, “We want it to be a dialogue versus a math camp test. We talked about talent using spreadsheets. It was really dehumanizing, but we’ve gotten away from that and are now talking about the humans.” Talent Talks evaluates employees on three areas: their impact, their ability to contribute to others, and their ability to leverage others.

This change was essential for Microsoft to demonstrate its commitment to its new company culture at Microsoft. If employees felt like they were still being judged against the old system, it would be difficult for them to fully embrace the company’s new values. Additionally, the shift to Talent Talks made it easier for Microsoft to encourage talent mobility. In the past, managers had a tendency to hoard their top performers and prevent them from moving to different teams. This new system helped create more visibility around internal mobility and ensured that employees were evaluated fairly based on their individual contributions rather than arbitrary quotas.

i4cp research shows that companies successful at renovating their culture prioritize internal mobility 7.5 times more. Aligning people management processes with new culture is crucial for lasting change in the organization.

Microsoft Unique Approach

According to Grove, company culture at Microsoft is centered around empathy, where the focus is on creating innovative products and services by understanding the unmet needs of customers. The growth mindset is also a crucial element, with managers encouraging employees to pursue their interests outside of Microsoft to foster personal development, acquire new skills, and monetize them. The company emphasizes collaboration by organizing meetings and programs to encourage team bonding, as well as assigning tasks to groups. The annual global Hackathon is a prime example of collaboration, where employees from all departments can participate, exchange ideas, and experience the power of teamwork. At Microsoft, working together is essential to achieving big dreams.

Working at Microsoft

On the Comparably page – a transparent feed to find employee reviews, here are public some reviews we found for Microsoft:

Tips for Improving Your Company’s Culture

To enhance your company’s culture, it’s crucial to first establish your company’s values, their significance, and how they will impact employees. Even remote teams can achieve creating a positive work environment through various methods. Trusting employees by delegating responsibilities and providing them with the necessary tools demonstrates that you appreciate their contribution to the company. It’s vital to recognize that granting employees responsibilities, independence, and respect can yield significant long-term benefits for the organization.

Further Reading:
5 Top Job Description Tools
How to build a winning internship program
Effective team meeting agenda

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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