How Microsoft Builds a Sense of Community Among 144,000 Employees



As organizations become increasingly global, and remote, human connection and cohesiveness is deteriorating. For many leaders, walking around the office, greeting newcomers, and connecting with people is no longer an option. Getting together in person to discuss pressing matters has been replaced by meeting through online conferences.

At Microsoft, where one of us (Kathleen) works and for which two of us (Rasmus and Jacqueline) consult, Satya Nadella and his team have been experimenting with digital tools to bridge this gap. Below are the some of the practical strategies they rely on to build community and create connection between employees and leaders.

Enterprise-Level Social Networking

Enterprise social networking services are an important channel for employees to connect and share ideas with each other. Microsoft uses Yammer as a channel for Nadella and other leaders to engage with employees, listening to and learning what’s on their minds. On a “CEO Connection” page, employees can pose questions and connect with other employees on a gamut of topics — everything from product strategy to employee benefits. This helps to bolster a sense of community and creates a direct connection between employees and leadership.

Microsoft takes a proactive approach to monitoring questions on its social network in real time, with senior leaders often directly answering questions. By engaging in this virtual conversation, leadership is able to respond quickly and at scale, while gaining an invaluable view into employee concerns and conversations on any given day. Leaders can jump in to engage in a conversation and provide perspective, a critical benefit that’s lacking in traditional enterprise communication methods such as surveys. Instead of being present only with the people in their office, Microsoft leaders can directly engage employees on the other side of the world, crossing time zones and accommodating varied schedules.

Daily Pulse Checks

Every day, a small sample of Microsoft employees receive a survey called Daily Pulse. Driven by the HR division, Daily Pulse takes a snapshot of how employees are feeling about the company, its culture, and other timely topics. The survey is carefully shaped to ensure the results will be easy to analyze.

Daily Pulse consists of approximately 20 core questions and up to five org-specific questions (as needed by Microsoft’s senior leadership team). In addition, there are rotating open-ended questions that change monthly to get additional sentiment on specific topics. These questions might include, for example, “In what ways do you think Microsoft is different today than it was one year ago?” or “What is the biggest change you’d recommend your leadership make to allow you to be more effective in your job?” Having the flexibility to add in timely questions provides more regular insights into employee sentiment when acquiring companies, orchestrating large reorgs, and making other changes within the organization.

Monthly Live Events

Every month, Microsoft holds an employee town hall meeting where company priorities, progress, and culture are discussed in an open forum. This meeting is broadcast live for employees around the globe and is also available on-demand for employees in other time zones. Along with members of his leadership team, Nadella provides a monthly business update and takes questions directly from the audience as well as from his CEO Connection page on Yammer. This gives him a chance to share his thoughts across a number of areas — including business, industry, and society — and allows employees to raise topics that matter to them.

During the event, employee engagement is measured to capture real-time sentiment. Once the event is over, the Yammer page is updated with a searchable table of contents for the event and short clips of key moments, which allow the team to highlight priority messages.

“Growth Mindset in Action” Video Series

Nadella has said he wants Microsoft to be a company of “learn-it-alls,” not “know-it-alls.” In support of this ambition, he hosts a video series spotlighting individuals and teams that are embracing a growth mindset. The goals of the video are to model the shift toward creating a learning organization, to spark dialogue, and to prompt employees to talk about their learnings.

The company has helped increase the reach of these videos by using an influencer model. This means the videos are shared directly with relevant groups through email each month, depending on the topic. For example, a recent video highlighted the Ink to Code project from Microsoft Garage, an internal incubator. This video was shared with the Garage and maker distribution groups. Microsoft has hundreds of distribution lists for people with specific interests, so these self-selected communities help with message targeting. As with any project, however, maintaining engagement over time is a challenge. An “evolutionary” editorial calendar — one that can shift, surprise employees, and serve their needs — is critical to long-term success.

Microsoft’s experiences not only provide a window into the technologies it uses but also offer an inspiring picture of its underlying motivation — to better enrich and engage people all around the world. Leveraging technology to connect with people at scale is a cornerstone of the 21st-century leadership journey.