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10 things we’ve learned about culture

LinkedIn post from Kathleen Hogan, EVP Human Resources at Microsoft

Culture is a hot topic these days, and as someone who’s been deeply involved in helping shift our own culture at Microsoft, I’m excited by the level of interest from our customers and partners who want to learn more. And even though culture change can feel like growing pains, it’s an amazing time to be at Microsoft, which is in no small part due to the influence and leadership of our CEO, Satya Nadella. His new book, Hit Refresh, chronicles his personal and professional journey to become the third CEO in Microsoft’s 40-year history. It also tells the story of a leader helping a company and its employees rediscover its soul and transform its culture.

I was recently asked to share what I’d learned about our culture transformation over the last three years, and while in some ways we are just getting started, we’ve already learned quite a lot about what it takes to make culture change real. So, in the spirit of sharing and learning, here are:

#1 Honor your past; define your future

When we started this journey, a lot of people wanted to write a narrative that said, “what’s happening today is good and what happened in the past was bad.” But we didn’t see it that way because there was a lot to love about our first 40 years! We spent time talking with employees about what we wanted to build upon—things like our spirit of employee giving, creating technology for good, and setting big bold ambitions —our people were very proud of this heritage. But, we also knew we needed to leave some things behind. We were competing on the inside, yet our real competition was on the outside.

And there were other things to leave behind.

Satya put it best when he said we want to change from a “know-it-all” company to a “learn-it-all” company.

Once we knew how we wanted to evolve, we needed to think about our future. Through focus groups, surveys and a lot of dialogue up, down, and across the organization, we defined the way we wanted to work. At the same time, Satya was reading about the concept of a growth mindset, and we began to see how that approach could fit nicely with the culture we wanted to create.

#2 Net it out: Simple yet strategic

By this time, we had 50 different ways to describe our culture—learning, curious, brave—and the list went on. It was too much, and we needed to net it out.

That doesn’t mean we hurried. We took our time on this step—nine months, in fact.

We brought in experts like Dr. Michael Gervais, the mindset coach to the Seattle Seahawks football team. We met with Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft leader and CEO of the Gates Foundation, and now on the board of trustees at Stanford. And, we consulted with Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset and leading authority on growth mindset.

We conducted more focus groups across a wide variety of diversity dimensions, hosted meetings with our corporate vice presidents, and then organized a “Culture Cabinet” to synthesize the ideas and serve as evangelists for the roll-out.

In the end we decided to embed our culture in the growth mindset focused on three attributes: Customer obsessed, Diverse and inclusive, and One Microsoft. All of these are in service to Making a difference in the world.

#3 You can’t fake it

Satya announced our aspire-to culture to the entire company and then at our shareholder meeting. It was a bold approach, and it meant that every action would be measured against it, and we couldn’t fake it. Satya’s ability to regularly exhibit the growth mindset through his words and actions has been a huge driver for our momentum. For culture change to stick, your CEO, leaders, and managers must embody the culture that you’re talking about, and it must be real.

#4 Have a purpose-driven mission

The next big lesson is that it’s not just about culture. It’s important for culture to be paired with a purpose-driven mission. I find that the majority of employees today want work that gives them meaning and purpose—they want to know they’re making a difference. While your strategy will evolve, your culture and sense of purpose should be eternal, or at least long-lasting. Culture paired with a purpose-driven mission allows your employees to use your company platform to realize their own aspirations and passions.

#5 Make symbolic changes big and small

Once you declare the culture, the next big lesson is to signal that things are changing.

We quickly took on some big changes, including revising our review system which was previously focused on a forced rating curve that tended to drive competitive behavior. The new system focuses on individual impact, contributing to others, and leveraging others. Our company meeting changed dramatically as well, from an experience where employees sat in the audience and listened to executives talk—very static—to a week-long event that includes a hackathon, product expo, and learning events—very interactive.

To raise diversity and inclusion awareness, we launched unconscious bias training and followed up with a course called Dialogue Across Differences to help employees understand how to support individuality and promote belonging.

We did small things as well, including sharing ten inclusive behaviors – things like not interrupting each other in meetings. These smaller actions can telegraph to employees that a change is underway and individual efforts can make a difference every day.

#6 Make it who you are

#7 Communicate, communicate, communicate

#8 Let technology accelerate the change

#9 All oars in the water

#10 Stay humble, stay the course

Read the explanation of the last 5 points on the LinkedIn post.

 

 

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