Microsoft’s 5Ps … creating a purpose-driven culture “to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.”

November 13, 2019

Microsoft under Bill Gates was a pioneer of the internet age, visionary and entrepreneurial, redefining how the world works and plays. Microsoft under Steve Balmer was a relentless product-driven engine, focused on the dogged efficiency and sales optimisation of its pipelines. Microsoft under Satya Nadella is inspiring again.

Having worked with Microsoft over the last 18 months, I have experienced a culture that is enlightened by a leader who believes in being more – every individual, and every customer. Since Nadella stepped up to the CEO office 5 years ago, the tech giant has been on a profound cultural journey. A reawakening you could say.

Growth mindset

Talking about the journey at Stanford GSB last month, Nadella says it was a shift from “know-it-alls to learn-it-alls” … from a culture of arrogant product-driven perfectionism, to one of empowered customer-centric discovery.

Most simply, it is a “growth mindset”.

The term originates from Carol Dweck, and is founded on a genuine openness to trying, failing, learning and embracing the endless possibilities of growth. It is a learning culture, one that values humility and diversity, questioning and discovery.

It is also linked to what Microsoft describes as its mission statement, but what is actually more an enduring purpose for why the company exists … “To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.”

Those words are important. Because the story is no longer about Microsoft, or its products – it is about the customer, and what Microsoft’s products and services enable them to do which they could not have achieved otherwise.

For Nadella it also became a new “North Star” to make bolder decisions – like the shift from the highly successful client server business to the cloud computing business which at the time looked like a business one quarter the size of the existing business. But it worked, and was transformational.

It is a journey which this year saw the 44 year tech giant regain its position as the world’s most valuable company, reaching a groundbreaking $1 trillion in market capitalisation. Not only that, but as it has built its B2B business (its sometime surprising to think of Microsoft as previously, largely a B2C company) it has outmanoeuvred Seattle neighbour Amazon in many recent contract negotiations.

My role has been to work with Microsoft Services and their B2B sales organisation, helping sales and marketing people make the shift from product-driven to a customer-centric approach – or more simply, solving problems rather than selling products. The implication is that Microsoft’s people become strategic advisor, with a language of growth and innovation, rather than clouds and subscriptions.

Developing “Gamechanger” programs (using a set of toolkits based on my book)  is a big challenge for people used to shifting products, but the opportunity is huge. Every consulting company can talk about growth strategies, and every tech company can bamboozle people with tech. Microsoft can do both. Which means they can help business leaders to explore what is possible, as well as work with them to choose and implement what is right. Which is a far more strategic, valuable and profitable role.

Purpose-driven transformation

Kathleen Hogan, Chief People Officer, says “The senior leadership team were quite clear from the start that they would have to work on the organisation’s culture every day. When it comes to culture you are never done. It’s a destination we are always striving for, and we are not there yet.”

Hogan was particularly passionate about creating “an every day, every employee experience” as the aspiration. For people to think in a new way, become more inclusive and open-minded and connect with each other and the customer more empathetically, there must be work conditions and experiences that facilitate a focus on and yearning for growth and change every single day.

Microsoft’s 5Ps

The 5Ps work follow the logic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. By fulfilling the basic needs of an employee first, you can then explore the true impact of higher self-actualization needs. Here’s how Microsoft describes their 5Ps:

  • Pay. When it comes to work, human behavior is multi-motivated, but pay is a foundational need. Employees want a fair, market-driven wage that recognizes their contributions, and they want opportunity to progress to achieve greater compensation as their scope and impact increases.
  • Perks. We’ve been on a journey to improve, enhance, and broaden our benefits to ensure they reflect our culture, including the expansion of our parental and caregiver leave policies. Building off solid protection benefits addressing health, life and retirement and extending into family benefits and beyond, we strive to offer benefits that empower both our employees and their families to live life well. And while perks and pay are critically important to satisfaction and can be very attractive to employees, we recognize there is more we can do to encourage people to not only join our ranks – but to stay.
  • People. People are at the heart of every company, and this could not be any truer for Microsoft. Last year, I shared some of the stories of a few of the employees who inspire me, and those stories just scratch the surface. The people with whom you work, the teams that achieve great innovation, the colleagues who become close friends combined with a culture that encourages you to grow and be your authentic self provides a lot of joy and inspiration every day. Deep connections with one another, combined with a sense of inclusion and belonging (and fun!) is a force multiplier for the first 2 Ps.
  • Pride. From our Autism hiring program, to AI for good, to employees going above and beyond to help their communities through our giving and volunteering program, I am proud of what we stand for. But it’s equally as important that our employees feel the same. Being proud of the organization for which you work and being proud of the work you do are primary drivers of motivation and satisfaction. Just as our pay and perks work to provide the foundational support for our employees, we are working hard to ensure each employee feels a deep sense of belonging and pride in our company, and what they do every day.
  • Purpose. Each day, our employees show up to contribute to our ambitious mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet, and ultimately making a difference in the world. As a result, we focus on fostering a workplace where everyone can use the power of the Microsoft platform to pursue their passions, fulfill their purpose, and empower others. It’s core to our mission as well as our culture. When your culture is paired with a purpose-driven mission, employees use your company platform to realize their own aspirations and passions and find deep meaning in what they do – and solutions for some of the world’s biggest challenges result. A deep sense of Purpose combined with Pay, Perks, People and Pride, is where the magic happens.

These 5Ps can apply to any organization, and we are working hard to deliver on all five layers. For me personally –as I reflect on why I am still here after 15 years– I certainly appreciate the pay as a single mom providing for my son. I’m grateful for our incredible benefits that I leverage every year, and I’ve experienced the full extent of those benefits while fighting cancer. I love the people and a culture where I can be myself. I am proud to say I work for a company that stands for what we believe in. And I find deep purpose empowering the people at Microsoft who do amazing things to empower others.

Hogan reflects on the 5P model saying “The ability to offer employees all 5Ps is why I love what I do, and it’s my aspiration for everyone.”

“I was trying to articulate my own experience in terms of what kept me at the company, where I spent 15 years and, yet, I’m more engaged than ever. As I started doing that and continued talking with employees to figure out what kept some and why others left, this sense of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs started emerging.”

“People want to provide for their families, and as a single mom, I want to be able to provide for my son. You must couple that with perks, which I see as benefits that help people live a healthy life and give them the time they need, because, life happens. If we can layer on those two dimensions, the other three—a sense that the culture allows you to be your authentic self and you love the people you work with, being proud to tell others where you work because the company takes its stand on important issues and then, ultimately, feeling a sense of purpose—you have a universal experience.”

Unlocking The 5Ps

As an interdependent set of key enablers, no single P can alone spur growth. Organizations (and people, too) sometimes mistakenly rely on pay, loyalty and/or some other component to fulfill a need for evolution. But, an imbalanced approach spawns work-related dysfunctions—creating the deeply disengaged workforce of our time. Moreover, if companies end up focusing on the highest P, purpose, without giving the required attention to pay, perks, people and pride, purpose can ultimately backfire.

Hogan says that delivering on the 5Ps at Microsoft has launched a variety of programs and actions: “We’ve implemented a whole culture transformation strategy, and we are very intentional on what matters to our employees. We try to break old models and we continue evolving on inclusion. When it comes to groups that are in the minority or have unique needs, we try to understand how we can deliver on all five Ps. Things like investing in manager training, mentorship, sponsorship and ally-ship programs, to adding an inclusion priority to our review process, to holding senior leaders accountable for creating an inclusive culture, the opportunity is real.”

Purpose To Purpose 

Microsoft’s new culture aims to create a strong customer focus, genuine diversity and inclusion and ONE Microsoft—all in service of making a difference. It is this intentionality applied to purpose that’s kept their senior leadership team focused on the organisation’s own transformation process. For example, for the past four years, the weekly SLT’s meeting has started with a different senior leader sharing his/her “Research of the Amazing” — a story about an individual, team or group in their organisation who’s made a real difference using that growth mindset Microsoft is so bent on nurturing.

As the growth mindset Microsoft values today implies that nobody knows it all—not even leadership—the company has steadily sought to learn more from employees and other stakeholders. Take the intern program. While in the past Microsoft might simply implement initiatives they thought would resonate with students who join the organization for the summer, last year Hogan and her team decided to, instead, ask the company’s interns. It was at that point that “one group came up with this concept of learning lunches and hosting leaders…it was them organizing it and saying this is what we want…” It’s that sort of active listening and open thinking that can help organizations like Microsoft create opportunities for different stakeholders to learn from each other and devise more honest and engaging ways of fostering internal and external growth.

The dialogue Microsoft is trying to promote internally is critical, especially for a company of its size and complexity. In an organization with thousands of employees and hundreds of processes and systems implemented daily, the question of driving real change poses a unique leadership challenge, which is why applying purpose to purpose can make all the difference. As Hogan noted: “Sometimes, leadership is hard. But having that sense that what you are doing is something you deeply care about, that’s what I lean on when I have days when I think ‘we are not delivering.’ Coming back to that purpose and why this work matters, that is key to propelling you forward in your journey as a leader.”


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