5 ways Microsoft keeps employees engaged

The software behemoth boosts its message internally through engagement. The tactics also lifted morale at Skype after Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of the phone platform.

Editor’s note: This story and video clip are taken from Ragan’s new distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains more than 200 hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. For membership information, please click here.

Having trouble keeping employees engaged? Or, harder yet, are you struggling to win over the distrustful employees of an acquisition?

You’re not alone. Microsoft has restructured its communications to engage its 90,000-strong workforce worldwide in the social era, says Caitlin Duffy, managing editor of the MSW employee portal.

The software behemoth also had to win over Skype’s tempest-tossed employees after Microsoft bought the phone and videoconference company for $8.5 billion in 2011.

Skype’s employees were smarting from being sold three times and working under five CEOs in the previous six years, says Tobin Burgess, who works for Microsoft in the mergers and acquisitions group.

When Microsoft bought Skype in 2011, two thirds of employees had a negative view of the acquisition, says Burgess. By the end of the process, 75 percent of Skype employees surveyed felt like the Microsoft acquisition was good for their company.

Duffy and Burgess offer their lessons learned in a video on the Ragan Training website. Here are a few.

1. Involve them in the big moments.

Microsoft has an annual company meeting held in a stadium in Seattle, but employees elsewhere felt left out. So the Seattle-area company webcast its meeting with a television-style format and offered giveaways for online viewers, who could comment on Yammer.

Employees liked it. They began chirping things like, “I love working at Microsoft!”—even before the giveaways started, Duffy says.

With Skype employees, Microsoft knew it couldn’t buy love simply through giving away free Xboxes and Windows phones. Skype, a decentralized company, had a free and open culture of commenting, Burgess says.

So Microsoft brought 27 influential employees—ranging from entry level to midlevel—to its company meeting. It laid out why the merger would help both organizations, and it made a point to listen to the Skype staffers. This helped them experience what it was like to be part of Microsoft, and to feel heard.

Then Microsoft sent them home with the request: “Go, be viral, do what you would normally do.”

2. Skate to where the puck is going.

Employees are moving away from desktops and demanding information anytime, anywhere, Duffy says. They want interactivity and microblogging, a la Twitter and Facebook, and they want to be able to access their internal portal from the doctor’s office.

Microsoft saw this as a business opportunity—letting employees know more about their product and so they could “evangelize” to their friends and family.

Wait, doesn’t social engagement also open the door to naysayers who jump in on the comments and say, “Oh, that sucks,” or “It doesn’t work the way you’re saying it works”?

Sure, but Microsoft decided to allow complaints, and allow an expert respond to them, Duffy says. This openness won over critics.

3. Make it easy for people to act.

Microsoft creates a series of infographics called “By the Numbers,” based on solid data (not slushy pseudo-information) that interests its software programmers.

“This was a hit because we have an engineering culture, and they like numbers and they like data points and they like facts,” Duffy says.

Employees wanted to share the graphics externally, and after some discussion, Microsoft agreed. If you’re trying to get employees to take an action, don’t make it hard to do, Duffy says.

4. Make your events social.

The software behemoth posted photos of executives cutting a ribbon in a Microsoft store, asked employees to provide mock-serious captions.

“Mostly they were just hilarious, and just really fun,” Duffy says. “And it drove a ton of engagement and, I think, positive sentiment about the event.”

5. Keep it real.

“Don’t just treat them like an employee,” Duffy says. “Treat them like a real person.”

Microsoft offered employees discounts, but turned shopping into a social event, bringing in a general manager from the retail stories to answer questions about the products.

People could ask, “What kind of laptop should I buy for my 16-year-old daughter? What kind of video games should I get for my nephew?”

More tips about events:

What works: Volunteer and shared-purpose events, small lunches and Q&As with leaders.

What doesn’t: Forced participation and deals that aren’t that great.


(Image via)


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