How Microsoft Overhauled Its Approach to Growth Mindset

Microsoft with the Growth Mindset Master Class

Authored by

NLI Staff
As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has put it, leaders should be striving for an organization full of "learn-it-alls," not "know-it-alls."

As we’ve been writing in our ongoing series, Growth Mindset: The Master Class, growth mindset is a topic that leaders across industries have gotten excited about. This week, we’d like to share a story of one of growth mindset’s biggest advocates: Microsoft.

Case In Point: Microsoft

As the foundational culture attribute at Microsoft, growth mindset has been a critical focus of the company’s culture transformation.

CEO Satya Nadella sparked the tech giant’s cultural refresh with a new emphasis on continuous learning four years ago. With his sponsorship, the talent team has since worked meticulously on enabling growth-oriented business priorities, employees’ behavioral habits, and organizational systems for its workforce of 131,000 employees worldwide. Digital transformation made clear that a state of perpetual learning would be necessary for employees at all levels.

In Nadella’s words, this strategic reorientation would require going from being a group of “know-it-alls” to a group of “learn-it-alls.”

Growth mindset in games, quizzes, and empathy museums

Inspired by Professor Carol Dweck, Nadella and Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft CHRO, along with the senior leadership team, determined that growth mindset would become the foundation of Microsoft’s desired-toward culture. A range of approaches have since been taken to initiate and drive efforts for long-term change, starting with engaging senior leaders to talk about and role model growth mindset, employee-awareness campaigns to drive growth mindset adoption, and ongoing measurement of how the employees experience growth mindset in the company.

For example, interactive online modules with rich storytelling and multimedia were created for employees to learn about growth mindset. Conversation guides were built for managers to enable meaningful exchanges about what growth mindset behaviors look like in team settings. Leaders also engage in storytelling to give examples for growth mindset behaviors.

Successes with demonstrated growth mindset behaviors are celebrated as reinforcements of growth mindset habits in the workplace. Various employee engagement and training solutions like games, quizzes, lending libraries with curated books, mobile empathy museum, and environmental creative assets were developed to engage employees around growth mindset behaviors.

One of the most essential efforts was developing Microsoft leadership principles, in partnership with NLI, with the intent of engaging everyone in the company – from senior executives to new hires – in building growth mindset habits, processes, and environment into everyday culture experience at Microsoft.

Weaving growth mindset into the daily fabric

The talent team also operationalized growth mindset in processes and practices. Growth mindset principles have been embedded in learning, team development and performance management processes, and have expanded to talent review and succession planning practices.

For example, in addition to creating clarity on meaning of growth mindset, managers also are operationalizing growth mindset during business reviews, as well as through goal setting with their teams. Since Microsoft no longer has a system of ratings and rankings, the current performance and development process focuses on providing clarity around what employees are now being rewarded for: the demonstrated abilities to build on and to contribute to the success of others are now equally essential to attaining performance goals.

Last but certainly not least, Microsoft sees continuous measurement as invaluable to its culture change. Daily pulse surveys constantly collect metrics of employee experiences of growth mindset all together, more detailed items such levels of risk aversion, visibly recognizing and learning from failure, or support in unlocking one’s ability. Favorability of growth mindset experience measurement has been trending between 78% and 80%, and it has been proven as the primary driver of the rest of the Microsoft culture attributes of customer obsessed, diverse and inclusive, one Microsoft, and making a difference.

This article is the seventh installment in NLI’s new series, Growth Mindset: The Master Class, a 12-week campaign to help leaders see how the world’s largest organizations are putting growth mindset to use.

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