Culture doesn’t have to be cutthroat to spur business growth

Every company wants and plans for growth, but when their offering verges on the ho-hum or borderline irrelevant, they usually need a group behind them whose culture and structure can create something new and better for their customers and marketplace — now! In today’s fast-paced business environment, just about every mature business needs to be refreshed and refitted to enable growth. Microsoft is a case study in how to do it right.

Satya Nadella, who has been CEO of Microsoft since 2014 and was recently named chairman of the technology company in June, oversees a business that was almost deemed irrelevant and left behind when he took over seven years ago. Under his leadership, Microsoft stock had tripled by September 2018, with a 27% annual growth rate, and the company just closed above the $2 trillion market valuation mark for the first time in June. Wow! Yes, $2 trillion! What a turnaround.

What did Nadella focus on — the culture. He realized he had to refit the culture to allow and cause the growth required. He knew that to refit a business it would be tough to do without refreshing the people.

Nadella got his team talking about the new culture that was required. He lived by it, got his team to read about the behaviors needed, listened and addressed everyone’s concerns in living the behaviors, conducted different kinds of meetings, and taught the distinctions so everyone would get the difference from what the old culture was and what it was going to be now. For example, Nadella said Microsoft had to go from:

  • “Know-it-all” scientists to a “learn-it-all” organization;
  • The cutthroat world of corporate politics to the soft skills of empathy, concern, and respect;
  • Testing people and insulting them one on one or in groups, to inspiring employees at company meetings, asking their input, giving positive feedback, and allowing people to fail; and
  • Showing off how smart you are to collaborating by drawing everyone into relaxed dialogues.

Nadella and his team are now asking others, including past competitors: What is going on? What are you struggling with? What would change your business? He especially focused on his customers. They went from a smothering, slow-moving bureaucracy to moving quickly based on the new data.

In zombie cultures, Nadella says what’s missing in most businesspeople is empathy and it can be developed as a behavior. He refitted the mission from a PC on every desktop to empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. He made tough decisions such as writing off out-of-date Nokia. And through listening to and empowering innovative teams, he created new services, products, and alliances that expanded Microsoft’s sales. He attracted, hired, and built leaders who inspire and empower versus the command-and-control types the company used to hire. He developed leaders who are open, generous, and build spirit versus the aggressiveness and subterfuge used by the past builders and founders of the company.

In conclusion, a business strategy based on real market needs and trends, and a culture that supports and moves on innovative ideas, is a great and modern way to achieve accelerated growth.

Culture is the difference to whether strategy works or not. Culture is how people think. It gets rooted in old conversations and rituals and is backed up by the old guard. It is invisible to those who are in it. That is why the conversations and behaviors must change if you want a changed culture and growth. Successful execution of a new culture and a new refit happens when it is led by an inspirational leader. The kind of leader who engages — not just tells but demonstrates empathy, empowers, and builds human experiences as well as technical ones.

Tools and people behaviors can be learned. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • If you want a 30% increase in productivity in your team, try being 15% more interested in them.
  • Try on 15% more empathy.
  • Stop talking. Find out what they are interested in or what they are struggling with.
  • Learn what are they passionate about.

Now help them succeed.

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