Saturday 24 June 2017

How to develop and encourage the right culture in the office

Creating the space to try out ideas and experiment is really vitally important, writes Microsoft's HR chief Clodagh Logue

Innovation is our culture, says Clodagh Logue
Innovation is our culture, says Clodagh Logue

Clodagh Logue

Innovation is one of those words used every day which can mean lots of different things. At Microsoft, where I work, it refers to both new work practices and the results they generate - the revolutionary technology and solutions we create that have the power to change the world. And these results include world-changing devices like Surface, to our Office 365 software harnessing the power of the cloud, and the new Windows 10 operating system.

Innovation in the work environment could refer to a change to how we manage our physical space - for instance, planning to co-locate disciplines in Microsoft's new Irish campus currently under construction. Or it might be altering how we work with our community partners to help them do more by approaching things in a different way.

Innovation is in our DNA. If you don't have it walking in the door to Microsoft, you acquire it pretty quickly - it's either in the air or the coffee!

People are constantly challenged to bring a new point of view to the table and to explore how they might achieve something by shifting their thinking and looking at a problem from another angle.

Innovation is, therefore, not an act performed by select individuals, but instead a culture we can all share in and choose to embrace.

It extends across all our operations - ranging from R&D through to marketing and finance. Just as hardware and software specialists must collaborate to achieve the best results, you can take a lesson learned in one area of the business and use it to inform progress in another.

We think fostering collaboration among people with different outlooks is vital to stimulating an innovative culture. When people who see things differently are brought together on a project team, assumptions are challenged and new thinking can emerge.

Often, the ideas that win out are the stronger for having gone through that process. And innovation is not just for the big decisions - it should be welcome in every area because you have to take the view that there is no area in which you cannot improve. That hunger and openness to change is essential.

The talent you bring into an organisation is an essential part of creating an environment where innovation can happen.

It begins by ensuring that you are attracting candidates with different backgrounds, and that can mean counteracting assumptions about an industry.

For instance, there are many roles in Microsoft which do not require a technology background. We really welcome hearing from people who have worked in other fields precisely because it prevents a status quo emerging and helps keep perspectives fresh.

Diversity takes many forms: from race to gender to sexual orientation. All these elements bring about a more diverse way of thinking, which is optimum for innovation.

But it goes without saying that there is no point in bringing together a diverse group of people if they do not feel they can express themselves openly.

That's where the culture of an organisation is critical and that is heavily influenced by leadership. At Microsoft, our leaders seek the alternative view. And sometimes that takes surprising forms - I've been at meetings where some of our most senior people have looked to interns who have just joined the company, to canvas their views.

Wherever you have innovation, there is a risk of failure. Ensuring that new ideas come to the surface and are developed requires ensuring that taking risks is welcomed.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has spoken about the importance of becoming a learning company, where we are better at trying, failing, learning and progressing.

This philosophy is vital and has implications for businesses of all sizes. No matter what your company or organisation is, creating space to experiment and try out ideas is important. This opportunity is something we've found employees respond to and appreciate: it's something we are working hard to further embed into the DNA of our company.

The HR organisation has a central role to play in supporting the culture of innovation at Microsoft and, I would suggest, in any company.

That role starts with affording people what we repeatedly hear our employees tell us they value most - trust and flexibility. And by this I don't mean the flexible working 'policies' that are widespread in business, but rather a whole other way of looking at the employer/employee relationship that puts a focus on outcomes and impact, and helping the employee achieve their goals.

With the right people and the right attitude to risk, innovation will begin to emerge organically. Complex projects take time and, to sustain our culture of performance and innovation for the long term, we've developed a multi-year programme of behavioural change and wellbeing which we call 'Fuel Your Energy'.

It helps our teams focus on renewal and ensuring that our people can thrive along with the pace of change. A balance that works for the employee can work for the employer too, but here again, trust is at the heart of the equation. Sometimes we work best in the office, other times we do our best thinking in alternative environments. Accommodating all types of people and working practices is essential to developing a culture of innovation.

So my advice to other companies looking to create a culture of innovation is simple: recruit people with diverse mindsets who can flourish together.

Make sure that employees feel trusted and supported by their manager, and then give them the space to innovate without fear of failure.

Keep track of their progress to make sure their goals are being achieved and help them achieve a work/life balance which allows for personal interests. And then all that's left to do is to watch as the talented, impressive team you have assembled goes about creating the future.

Clodagh Logue is human resources director at Microsoft Ireland

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