Improving Communications by Building Community At Microsoft – Communications Essay
In the early years, microsoft.com was just one of many computers tucked under a table at the end of a long hallway. It was designed to test Microsoft’s first 32-bit
Windows implementation of TCP/IP, the software plumbing in Windows that enables Internet communications.
Today, microsoft.com is the fourth-largest web site, powered by internal and external servers all over the world and visited by millions of customers daily. How the site got where it is now is a story of intelligent management decisions, especially in the area of communications. Microsoft sought out to build a strong organizational communications model to serve as the communications guiding force for all levels of Microsoft employees and customers. Some of the obvious questions to be addressed were:
1. Is the communications model currently in use adequate?
2. Do shareholders have any concerns about its communications methods?
3. How do employees communicate in the workplace?
4. Are employees allowed to communicate freely?
5. How does the public feel about communicating with Microsoft through its web portal? Is it user-friendly?
This paper is a review of what the company implemented to advance managerial communications.
In 2006, Microsoft initiated “Road to Excellence”, the company’s strategy was to significantly gain more World Wide Web market share, but there was a problem. The company had become a victim of its own rapid growth, mainly in its software division. A disparity in communications had arisen between key decision makers across the organization due to a simple lack of manpower. A strategy needed to be devised to address impending chaos. The strategy encompassed several initiatives and goals across divisions that focused on improving internal and external communications to boost overall performance and deliver sound growth. Microsoft Development and microsoft.com needed to align various levels of leadership and ultimately all employees with communications initiatives that could be truly measured, evaluated and improved.
Strategy & Implementation
Recognizing the value and power of strategic change and communications to align employees with new goals, Microsoft asked CAB and Associates, a marketing consultant group, to conduct an audit of the value of its entire communications function. CAB was also asked to make recommendations for the launch of the audit as well as recommendations for sustained communications outreach.
In working with the CAB team, the first step toward aligning employees to performance goals was to conduct an assessment of employees’ current perceptions. To determine the degree of employee understanding of the organization’s vision and growth initiatives as well as the effectiveness of existing internal communications, CAB conducted qualitative research and quantitative surveys of employees’ perceptions and preferences (Corder, 2006, p. 21). To do so CAB created three teams to thoroughly
evaluate and score Microsoft’s current communication processes, provide feedback, and suggest solutions for findings.
This team had the responsibility of “building community” within Microsoft by using any and all methods, within its reach. Paramount to this entire program was to build trust, which was vital in order to maximize unbiased results. It was their responsibility to correctly interpret, and share the mission, vision, and values of Microsoft’s communications goals. Team I initiated the process by building collaborative teams, using collective inquiry that were results, not intentions oriented, and that promoted continuous improvement (DuFour, 1998, p.25). Other responsibilities included evaluating the performance and findings of all sub communications assessment, and training communication training teams. Even though it was the command center for this communications improvement program, it was promoted to be seen as a support system available to all teams and participants, thus further reinforcing the “community” concept.
Team II, Internal Communications
The leaders of Microsoft knew they needed to transform the way in which employees thought about, measured, and managed communications within the business. After considerable research, they decided that using a computerized survey scorecard approach was the best way to align the organization with the company’s communications goals.
A team was designed to study all internal communications of Microsoft. For this evaluation, CAB’s internal communication department was particularly interested in
deriving information in the areas of strategic message retention, perceptions of senior leadership, the company’s vision and goals, correct communication channel selection, and evaluation of vehicle effectiveness and preferences (Munter, 2006, p.23). Additionally, they wanted to determine how employees were currently receiving and using information about Microsoft in general, and as a whole and the external marketplace.
The Organizational Challenges
Comprised of members from key areas of the business, Team II worked with CAB to develop a customized survey and scorecard for the company. How should the company launch their surveys and have employees understand how to transform their mental model of the business, given all of the other operational initiatives that were underway?
An Integrated Solution
A Survey Scorecard Knowledge Map (SSKM) was developed using multiple proprietary software packages that were deployed at random sites through one hour working sessions at various working hours and conditions (office, distribution, sales, etc.). The map was used to launch the scorecard concept, raise the participants’ awareness level and have each person critically think about his or her role in the business without having to worry about job responsibilities or distractions.
The assessment found that while employees had positive perceptions of the company’s direction and strategic initiatives, they were not retaining key messages around the new strategy. They also felt deluged with e-mail communications, liked
CAB’s print publication but felt it to be less effective in terms of conveying information, and preferred, instead, more personal communications from senior leadership.
Team III, External Communications
Another leading software manufacturer and distributor faced unprecedented change. Customers were trimming internal operations that weren’t seen as “core”. Customers expected the steel vendors to offer these operations as value added services at a minimal price. In addition, the amount of business that was sold off of “list” price had fallen from 70% to 30% in three years and the downward pressure on pricing was increasing dramatically.
This team had the privilege of evaluating Microsoft’s external communications.
The team designed and implemented e-mail and print assessments, conducted telephone interviews, captured a representative sample of customer input from a base that included participants at all levels, geographies and years of experience. In total, approximately 4,520 persons were surveyed.
The CAB internal communications team had restructured all employee communications to better focus on company performance and progress-tracking. Microsoft was now in a stronger position to support senior leadership with practical advice on implementing quarterly, cascaded employee communications forums, and have redesigned print and electronic publications to reflect growth initiatives and goals. In addition, the communications campaign, delivered through a computer delivered scorecard had enabled employees to better anticipate the level of performance required within the context of their assigned duties.
Improved communications were proven to be at the heart of delivering results and winning support from every area of Microsoft that eventually improved the company’s
profitability, growth and market share. In fact, communications were found to be so important that they need to be strategically managed – in the same way that operations, finance, administration, technology, human resources and other facets of the business were managed.
There had never been a time when effective communications had been more important. Microsoft had entered a business era that had been transformed by constant change and transition, leadership challenges, evolving technologies, and global markets that were best described as unpredictable, fast-paced and unforgiving. CAB provided strategic counsel, expert guidance and implementation support on all critical communications issues. CAB’s global team of communication and business professionals helped Microsoft understand, enhance, and manage the perceptions of their company in the eyes of their critical audiences:
• Shareholders and the investment community
• The company’s senior management team and Board of Directors
• The company’s employees, at every level
• The media and, by extension, the public
• Opinion leaders who impacted corporate reputations
CAB took the initiative to enhance shareholder value by fostering clearer two-way communications with the investment community, and aligning employees at all levels to ensure commitment to the Microsoft’s vision, values and communications operating
Communications Strategy 8
strategy. CAB’s combination of professional expertise, geographic reach, breadth of services, and depth of resources was proven to be truly unique in the corporate communications consulting industry.
Based on the results of these assessments, Microsoft developed a comprehensive recommendation for multi-level, aligned communications that focused on the company’s growth strategy. Also based on the facts, CAB provided recommendations for a communication campaign to launch an ongoing survey process to a random selection of Microsoft’s general employee audience. The launch included a celebratory event concept to further build community and promote employee buy in that offered a continuous flow of updates, available to employees and shareholders.
CAB helped accomplish these tasks by delivering measurable business results. Their approach began with a careful identification and analysis of Microsoft’s key constituents, their perceptions of the company, their behaviors that resulted from those perceptions, and the drivers of information that would improve those perceptions.
Experts in CAB and Microsoft’s corporate and financial communications were deployed in every major facet of the business to include the input of everyone involved with Microsoft, especially professionals with extensive backgrounds in senior communications management, journalism and marketing. With this in place, the teams had what they needed to offer the best assessments and solutions for overall communications at Microsoft.
Corder, L. (2006). The Snapshort Survey. Chicago: Dearborn Trade.
DuFour, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington: National Educational Service.
Munter, M. (2006). Guide to Managerial Communication (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.