How a Changing Culture at Microsoft Is Changing Everything
Microsoft’s Windows Operating System and Office software was so successful — running on a staggering majority of the world’s computers — that the company’s corporate culture became one of preserving past successes rather than going out to seek new ones. And then world domination began to slip away and layoffs ensued. This culture of protection over innovation was central to the reign of former CEO and cofounder William Balmer until he was replaced by Satya Nadella in July 2014. The story of changes within Microsoft’s culture since then is more than a fascinating look inside one company: It demonstrates the critical importance of culture, and how simple shifts in perspective can change everything.
Windows Central interviewed three key figures at Microsoft 2016, asking them how they think things have changed: Chris Prately, Mike Tholfsen, and Chris Yu. All are MS executives. Prately’s been with Microsoft 21 years.
Microsoft is fond of buzzword-type campaign names — like Ballmer’s One Microsoft or Nadella’s Bold Ambition & Our Core — and the three execs see the dominant themes these days as being Customer Obsession, One Microsoft, and the Growth Mindset.
“Customer Obsession” means something especially profound at Microsoft, which for years pushed features designed to appeal to IT departments and buyers purchasing Microsoft products for companies. Now it’s all about the people who use the software.
“One Microsoft” means “we’re all in this together” so departments aren’t competing any more so much as collaborating. Anyone needing help from another department now just has to ask. “Sounds simple, but it wasn’t always,” says Prately.
Maybe the most exciting change is a switch to a “Growth Mindset.” This a fundamental shift from a cautious, defensive crouch to more of an anything-goes creative atmosphere to own the future. Partly says, “The support at all levels for trying things that might not work is tremendous. Such a focus on quick experimentation vs. polishing a first iteration to perfection, favoring action vs discussion, willingness to seek data vs. opinion.” The effect, they suggest, is absolutely freeing and exciting, and employees are thriving in this newly creative atmosphere.
Where Microsoft ends up in the long run is, of course, still unknown. But it’s safe to say that people working in Redmond are now having a great time getting there, thanks to a newly invigorated corporate culture.