How Microsoft Aligns Employer Brand with Company Mission

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

How can a not-so-cool any more tech company attract the best talent? By aligning its people promise with its overall purpose (of course). Paul Davies is a Consumer Marketing Director at Microsoft, and we spoke to him about the employer brand and people promise at Microsoft.

Have a listen below, keep reading for a transcript and be sure to tune in to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Is there an employer brand, a consumer brand, and a corporate brand, or is it all the same?

As a marketer, I’m more attuned to the company brand, but increasingly I’m seeing the overlap with the employer brand and the benefits of aligning the two. So it’s a topic that I’m really interested in.

I think it is one brand, but it’s one brand that has different meanings to different audiences. If I think about our brand, we have a relatively new mission. Our mission previously was around “putting a PC on every desk in every home, around the world”. That was famously our mission from Bill Gates for many years. And a few years ago we changed that. That mission served us really well for close to 30 years, and then we recently changed it, it’s now “to empower every individual and every organization on the planet to achieve more”.

It’s interesting because our brand is one, it’s not about being cool, which a lot of technology brands want to be. It’s not about us. It’s about us being an ingredient for our customers and so you’ll notice actually that all of our communications and advertising features our customers achieving with our technology. So it’s a very purpose driven mission, and that’s our overall company mission. But then it’s really interesting how that translates to an employer brand because our employer brand is to “be the one who empowers millions”, which is really quite a simple derivative of our company brand. To empower every individual and every organization on the planet to achieve more, there is a very close relationship between the two, which I find very fascinating.

How would you describe the corporate culture inside Microsoft?

Like most technology businesses, it’s very dynamic, fast moving, and very future focused, so we don’t have a huge amount of time to look back. It’s always very much looking forward. I would say it’s a very varied business. We have a huge portfolio of brands and businesses, from Windows as an operating system, through to MSN, which is an online news portal service, through to Bing, which is a search engine, through to Azure, which is about service in the cloud. So we have a number of businesses under the umbrella. So it’s a cliché, but no two days are the same.

It’s quite an entrepreneurial business. People are always surprised by that when they join. It does still feel very entrepreneurial for a big business. We have a phrase, which is, “Come as you are, do what you like,” which I think is really true to the feeling at Microsoft. We really do encourage people to seek out the work that they find most interesting, and that they’re really passionate about. That certainly feels very true to my experience here. Obviously, it’s still a very professional environment, but one that really embraces diversity as well.

What impact has your new CEO Satya Nadella had?

The business feels very different under Satya, and he has helped Microsoft to find our purpose and what we’re here to do. He’s a phenomenal leader, and he’s really lead the business through to the next phase of its evolution.

What are the talent challenges at Microsoft?

The marketing function is always about attracting great marketers. That’s always close to my heart. And then getting a little bit more specific, attracting the millennial audience into Microsoft, who may have a perception of it that isn’t the reality. Particularly when you’ve got some hot brands like Facebook, Google, etc., who on the surface may be perceived as more progressive.

When people join Microsoft, they’re often surprised, firstly how entrepreneurial it is, but also just the range of businesses that we have under the Microsoft umbrella. But working a lot with that millennial audience, I believe actually there’s quite a lot of myths about millennials and millennial talent that I think is really good to bust. The first I hear is, “They switch jobs all the time,” but actually if you look at the data, it’s not a millennial issue today in 2017. It’s a life stage issue, and the numbers are no different than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. It’s just that young people at the start of their careers do tend to switch jobs. It’s not unique to today’s millennials. The other thing I hear about them is they’re easily distracted, which is really interesting. I think actually this group has grown up with technology, and so they’re just smarter at switching between devices, and they’re smarter moving from PC, to tablet, to phone, to conversation constantly throughout the day. So I don’t think it’s a lack of distraction at all. I actually think they’re probably better than my generation in how they operate like that.

Also, I hear about how millennials need constant feedback, which I guess some listeners may relate to. But, actually, they’ve grown up in the social media age. They’ve grown up where if they send their friend a message on Facebook or they send a tweet, they just expect an instant response. That’s just what they’re used to. And so that the millennial challenge is really interesting, but something I’m really passionate about is a bit of myth busting around that. One of the things that I certainly hire for with talent is people who have deep curiosity, and people who are interested in the world and how things work, because I think they make great marketers. But I think we will have careers where we do multiple jobs and multiple things at any one time, and that all becomes quite normal. Whereas today it’s very much you have one job, and that’s what you do, and you go home.

Partly driven by technology, I’m certainly seeing new entrants into the workforce being really good at this. Really smarter at juggling multiple interests. I’ve got one woman who works for me, she happens to be in a marketing manager job, but she is also a food blogger, and at the same time is training to be a fitness instructor, and that’s seen as quite normal for that generation, which I think is really wonderful as well.

What is the EVP of Microsoft?

The people promise for us is offering people the opportunity to “be the one who empowers millions”, which, as I say, that’s a very close and simple derivative of our overall company mission, which is about empowering every individual and every organization on the planet to achieve more. It’s a very powerful promise and a very exciting one as well because one of the things that Microsoft can offer is we do things at scale. We are affecting millions of people around the world with our work, and so if having that deeper meaning and purpose switches people on, then Microsoft is a really good place to be.

How do you communicate this message to prospective talent?

The company mission is actually on the back of everybody’s security pass to get into Microsoft buildings around the world. It’s talked about in every executive’s key note that we see. So it very much runs through the veins of the organization, and it’s embedded through repetition, so much so, you would find it hard to find a Microsoft employee who couldn’t tell you our mission virtually word for word. It runs through the organization very much from the top from our CEO, Satya. Every time he’s on stage, talking to the business or every email that he sends to the company, it always relates back to the mission, and I think that repetition is really critical.

I hope it comes through in all our external communications now. Every communication that we create, and I’m particularly thinking about the big vehicles like TV. We no longer talk about ourselves, we just want to talk about our customers, because it’s really about them. You might have seen our TV commercials, which are normally the heart of our marketing, and then everything else spins out from there, where we feature real people doing real things, following their dreams, following their passions using our technology. Everything always relates back to helping people achieve. That’s probably most people’s touch point into the organization in hearing what we’re about.

Are there any particular initiatives that you are proud of?

We do a lot, particularly young women, and encouraging them to move into technology. We have a global initiative, called DigiGirlz, which I think is fabulous. That’s a global program that we have that’s really about exciting girls in high school about what a future career in technology could look like. If listeners are interested in that, they can have a look online, where there’s more information. Then similar to that, we very famously have run some advertising a couple of years ago that featured young school girls talking about achievement and particularly about some of the great female inventors that we’ve had through the ages, and I’m really proud of that as well, because technology and engineering has very traditionally been a male-dominated environment. So, it’s really good to encourage women into the industry, particularly at an early age, and show them what’s possible, and what they can achieve. I find that very motivational and really exciting as well.

How do you measure ROI on your employer brand?

Marketing is all about the ROI, and in terms of measuring employer brand, I think it’s very similar to how we can measure ROI on company brand. It’s all about a range of metrics that you can look at. Maybe it’s a dashboard for example, of different metrics that measure different aspects of success. So for employer brand, it would be things like retention rates, cost per hire would be another one. You’d hope that as the employer brand gets more successful, it becomes cheaper to hire and attract great candidates.

Another aspect to look at is what is the quality of candidates wanting to come and work for the business. What does that look like? And what are the number of employee referrals? For example, at Microsoft, we have a referral scheme, where we’re encouraged to refer people to come and work here, and it’s hugely successful. I think that’s a really interesting metric for employer brand and really how existing employees are feeling about it.

Lastly, one topic that’s becoming more important is social media chat about the brand, so sites such as Glassdoor, I see growing in scale and also influence. Glassdoor is a really good place to go and look to understand what are existing employees saying. How are they feeling about working for that business? And it does give you quite a lot of insight, although I would say it probably has to be taken with a pinch of salt, because it’s very easy to be the disgruntled employee, and sounding off on social media. So, it’s certainly an interesting barometer to look at.

What are your best tips for employer brand managers?

Employer brand managers, often they sit within the HR division, so I would say reach out, befriend your marketing colleagues in the marketing department, because the skill sets are really complementary. The trick is to make the employer brand closely related to the company brand. If they’re worlds apart, it just isn’t authentic.

I think the second is creating a measurement framework, think about the best way to measure the potency and power of your employer brand. Thirdly, I think seeking support from the very top of the organization, so it can really permeate and really run through the veins of the organization from the very top all the way through, that just helps with driving broad adoption.

What other companies get employer branding right?

Netflix is really interesting. They have a very progressive values presentation that you can find online that’s really interesting. Their policy on holiday, for example, which you can take as much as you need. But they describe how the inspiration for that was from an employee one day coming into work and saying, “We don’t talk about how much time I have in the day that I’m entitled to go to the coffee machine, or to get a glass of water, or go and get some fresh air. So why do we do the same for a day’s holiday?” And so, famously, that changed their policy on holiday to take as much as you need, which I understand people respect, which I think is really interesting.

They talk about impact and individual achievement a lot within that presentation. It’s very clear if you’re going to join them as a brand, it’s all about the personal impact that you can make. They’re really seeking high performance, and so they’re super clear that, achieving a high performance with little effort will actually be rewarded more greatly than an average performance with just tons and tons of effort, it’s a super clear contract.

And the second one is Virgin. There’s something about Virgin, there’s a Virgin-ness, about all of their companies in their group that I probably couldn’t put into words, but you certainly feel it with all of their businesses. I understand for them it’s about having enough consistency across the group, so that every company feels like Virgin, but enough flexibility for each business to operate within it’s local market.

What is next for employer brand?

One of the things that I’m witnessing is a lot of brands are seeing benefit in finding their true purpose, and what they should exist for, and finding their meaning. But I think there’s a danger to that because I do think our purpose and meaning is deeply authentic. It’s just part of the DNA of the organization and what we’re here to do. But I do worry that lots of brands are jumping on the bandwagon and trying to find a purpose, but without depth of meaning or authenticity underneath it, which I think is a real risk. So I think for me that’s a really interesting watch out for us. Simon Sinek talked about finding the why, and there’s a bit of a rush for purpose. And the sad truth is that not everyone can be Patagonia or Innocent Smoothies.

Connect with Paul on Twitter at @paul_davies.


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