Microsoft's New Culture, Ambitions, and Strategy Are Based on a Book

Microsoft's New Culture, Ambitions, and Strategy Are Based on a Book

Last week, along with some other hand-picked press folks, I spent some time on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. We spent 2 long days sitting through presentations and meetings, and being led through some pretty interesting and exciting tours. You can catch the full monty in my published photo tour here: Microsoft Campus Visit 2015.

Frank Shaw kicked off the visit. Frank is the Corporate Vice President of Communications at Microsoft. The first session was a relaxed effort, with each of us sitting in a semi-circle of chairs with Frank in the middle. It felt more like an intervention than a presentation.

Frank's job was to lay out for us Microsoft's current strategy, and to set the base for what we'd hear throughout the next 2 days. As a brief history, Frank told the story of how Microsoft had essentially achieved its earlier mission of putting a PC on every desk and in every home. But, as with any company that successfully achieves such as massive goal, it's easy to get lost and sometimes difficult to move forward. Through this grand achievement, Microsoft's culture, mission, and strategy had become stagnate, while the world around it changed significantly.

So, Microsoft needed to change. It attempted many times to reinvent itself through developing competing technologies, but that produced lackluster dividends. To truly invent itself, Microsoft needed to change its culture and choose a specific strategy.

Early on, once Satya Nadella had taken the throne as the company's latest CEO, we constantly heard the now famous mantra of: The Cloud First/Mobile First World. But, this was just the beginning of a company-wide change and was not the intended mission. Instead, this phrase was the world view that would drive Microsoft toward a set of clearly defined ambitions that will be used to drive engineering and development for the next several years.

There are three ambitions to which Microsoft now adheres. The ambitions are:

  1. Reinvent productivity. Originally, this phrase was "be more productive" but the messaging folks at Microsoft determined it sounded more like a threat, so the kinder, gentler phrasing was invented. The essence of this ambition is that Microsoft should be helping people do what they want to do. It's not really that productivity has to be reinvented, or that it's about me doing work, or you doing work, but that we should be productive together. Evidence of Microsoft's undertaking in this area already show up in Office, Business Intelligence, and Cortana. And, there will be more talk and evidence for this when Office 2016 launches.

  2. Build the intelligent Cloud. The key word here is "intelligent." Microsoft believes that the Cloud should power apps and services across any and all devices that people love. For a mobile-centric world, it's not just about Windows – and can't be anymore. The Cloud powers mobility. Microsoft's cross platform support has surprised people, but is a perfect reflection of the Cloud First/Mobile First world view. Microsoft is proud of its work with Azure, showing over 400 improvements its Cloud service in just the last 6 months. As an aside, Microsoft sees itself as one of only three players in the Cloud and really doesn't expect any additional competitors to be revealed.

  3. Create more personal computing. Windows 10 is a big deal for Microsoft. And, while it's less of a Windows-centric world these days, the company believes that Windows-as-a-Service will help spur innovation and creativity, and build a stronger relationship with partners and customers across the entire ecosystem. Interestingly, something that really resonated with me was that Windows 10 is primarily focused so developers have a common platform for which to develop. Microsoft has spent considerable marketing cycles recently touting the "75 million devices running Windows 10," but that promotion is really to show developers that Windows is a platform that's safe to develop for. Microsoft is already showing evidence of this ambition in things like Cortana, HoloLens, and Windows Hello for Windows 10, and its cross-platform app releases.

Incidentally, each of these three ambitions has an entire engineering team behind it.

Though created by Steve Ballmer, "One Microsoft" is still the core to which Microsoft aspires. Microsoft found that while internal competition can create great things, it can also tip out of balance. So, with the ambitions defined, the culture of the entire company needed to change. The culture needed to support the ambitions. A change in culture is not something that can be declared, but is something that has to evolve over time, based on a growth mindset. No company can immediately comprehend what can be done at a high level to initiate change, particularly in the culture of an organization. So, Microsoft set out to gather its own research and eventually settled on a book called "Growth Mindset" to help cultivate a strategy for culture change. This led to the concepts of becoming customer obsessed, living where customers live, and not making assumptions about what customers need.

I've just started to dig into this book myself, but you can grab your own copy from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Kindle by Carol Dweck

This customer obsession has already shown dividends. Paying careful and direct attention to customer needs led to Windows 10 from a very uninspiring Windows 8. Actionable feedback can be seen in the company's third iteration of its now popular Surface tablet, the Surface Pro 3. These are results of both customer feedback and the blurring of organizational boundaries within the company. Instead of fighting each other for dominance, orgs are now listening to customer feedback first, and then working together to build things that customers actually want. Remember the "3 screens and the Cloud" that was intended to replace "a PC on every desk"? Using this culture change Microsoft realized that it didn't fill a gap that needed to be filled and, even though the mantra wasn't replaced, it's no longer a relevant focus.

Throughout my 2-day visit, these same three ambitions were repeated again and again by each presenter, showing either a clear and collective understanding of Microsoft's new mission, or a carefully scripted performance for the visiting press.

Personally, I believe that Microsoft's employees want to have impact on the world in very positive ways and that the company truly is customer obsessed. Additional evidence of this comes recently with the company backtracking on Change Lists for Windows 10 updates and allowing Windows Home users to turn off automatic Windows Store app updates.

We've heard the phrase "a new Microsoft" bantered about in news stories and investor circles, but I believe this truly is a new Microsoft intent on competing honestly and openly in a market that is wrought with concerns and danger over privacy, security, and innovation. I'll have more to share on the privacy aspect when I write about Brad Smith's (EVP and General Counsel) Day 2 talk and dig deeper into some security and management innovations coming in Windows 10 later this year as professed by Jim Alkove (CVP, Enterprise & Security), but suffice to say that Microsoft honestly intends to do good without doing evil.

As customers of Microsoft products this is very opportune time to get in your feedback and get the chance for Microsoft to become obsessed over you.

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