Case Study: Microsoft Australia
Toward the end of FY17, Microsoft Australia was ‘promoted’ out of APAC to become one of the largest seven business units globally (known as D7). This promotion provided opportunity and greater access to resources for the Australian business, but also created greater expectation and scrutiny.
At this time, the Australian Senior Leadership Team (SLT), developed a set of three aspirations to ensure continued and sustainable growth into the future. These aspirations were “Best place to work; undisputed leader in digital transformation, and empowering Australians to achieve more”.
While collaborative working and a growth mindset were considered essential, not only to achieve the Australian aspirations, but as part of a massive global transformation, performance was primarily measured by individual segments (colloquially known as ‘swim lanes’). This created some tension and made local, cross functional collaboration a real challenge in practice. As an example, one specific team, whose success depended on providing integrated services to the organisation’s largest clients, was unable to align the various cross functional resources required for their projects. As a result, this team failed to conclude deals and missed their business targets. Key people left for other teams (or other organisations) and morale was low.
Within the SLT at this time, trust was variable, and meetings were “show and tell” rather than outcome-focused decision making or problem-solving forums. While passionate about Microsoft, leaders reported being overwhelmed, working too hard for their results and lacking balance.
Leaders below the SLT were also impacted by the heavy workload, competing agendas and resulting tensions, finding that despite the stated desire to achieve shared aspirations, the willingness to co-operate with others and the “how” was missing.
In order to achieve their aspirations, and continue to grow, the SLT needed to shift from their focus on individual ‘swim lanes’ to become an effective ‘basketball team’, and lead the way for others to do so.
To support this transformation, Steven (MD) and Ingrid (Director, Human Resources) engaged The Alignment Partnership (TAP). We began our work with the SLT by conducting a detailed ‘define phase’, to understand the current state of alignment to the aspirations. They then developed a prioritised Roadmap for action with 5 streams of work. These streams of work were:
1) We’re very committed to the three aspirations, but we need to decide what to do about them
2) Clarify the purpose and shared agenda of the SLT
3) Address the cultural norms, capability and volume of work that inhibits sustainability
4) Further increase the leadership effectiveness of the SLT
5) Provide coaching and support for Steven Worrall to optimise his leadership effectiveness and transform the organisation
The first stream involved reassessing the importance of the Australian Aspirations and resolving any perceived or actual conflict between achieving corporate results and working towards these aspirations.
The SLT soon reached agreement that the aspirations were essential and provided inspiration, purpose and meaning for clients and employees alike, as well as a foundation for achieving corporate goals. Having reached this understanding, it became evident that achievement required full, cross functional collaboration. The team were then able to address the second stream and agree an authentic purpose and shared agenda.
To deliver on the high-level agreements arising from streams one and two, the SLT needed to create deep alignment on ‘how’ to deliver them and build their leadership capability to do so. This was the focus of the remaining three streams of work, governed by an overarching principle: Organisations don’t change, people do, and leaders must go first!
To address the cultural norms, capability and volume of work that inhibits sustainability, as well as set expectations for leadership effectiveness, a set of shared behavioural standards for the SLT was defined. These standards provided clear behavioural guidelines (“what will we see?” and “how will we know?”) to ensure each leader behaved in a way that supported the shared purpose and aspirations. The agreed standards were captured in 3 buckets; be a basketball team; engage fully and authentically and increase sustainability.
A standards measurement tool was developed, and members of the SLT were asked to provide regular ratings of individual and team performance to the standards. These ratings were followed by detailed discussions about opportunities to improve at an individual level, and also, with respect to the resolution of specific team challenges.
Leadership effectiveness data was gathered using a challenging, but scientifically valid measure called Leadership Impact, to identify where each leader was having a constructive impact, and where they were inhibiting the performance of the business. At an individual level, each leader used their data to identify three powerful behavioural shifts to accelerate their performance. Aggregate team data revealed significant strengths within the SLT (e.g. leading their direct reports) and also some areas for improvement (e.g. SLT encouraging a mix of passive and aggressive behaviour within the team, resulting in wasted energy and effort). The team set a goal to improve their leadership effectiveness by at least 10% within a 12-month period. Intensive coaching and team reflection sessions enabled leaders to work on their shifts. New and potential members of the SLT were rapidly integrated to ensure continuity.
Monthly, weekly and 1-1 SLT meeting agendas were adjusted to align to the shared agenda, ensuring effective discussion on strategic and operational priorities. During these meetings, the most significant organisational challenges were debated.
Gradually, the strategic clarity and courage required for prioritisation started to emerge, with SLT members increasingly identifying the most important initiatives, deprioritising others and working out how to manage the implications of these decisions.
In a context of heightened expectations and increased competition in critical performance areas, the SLT have transformed. This is evident in both lagging indicators and leading outcomes, signifying that while progress has already been made, far more is possible.
Business growth has accelerated with 28% growth YTD20, the highest cloud mix worldwide and a strong outlook for Q420 to cap off another great year for Microsoft in Australia (despite the challenges presented by COVID).
As the team have found new ways and opportunities to work together, cross functional teams have lifted their performance. The Services team mentioned above, is now fully aligned with partners in other teams, and has significantly overshot its FY20 budget, returning to health this year.
At the leadership effectiveness re-measure, significant improvement was observed across every impact style. Importantly, the defensive styles related to wasted energy and effort have reduced by up to 45%. The SLT now bring out the best in each other more often and enhance each other’s productivity.
The SLT have also observed significant progress in the demonstration of the shared standards and all believe that they have moved out of their swim lanes and become a basketball team.
Team meetings are increasingly effective, with relevant agendas, strong preparation, and insightful conversation leading to clearer problem solving and decision making. Some key challenges continue to stretch and frustrate the team, however green shoots of improvement are being observed.
The Corona Virus has brought unprecedented challenge and accelerated the need for effective and adaptable leadership. During this pressured, anxious time, the team have continued to invest in their leadership, and have committed to daily SLT catch ups to ensure they are motivating and inspiring their teams and customers. Despite the circumstances, these catch ups are now characterised by humour, warmth and a sense of connection. The team are now fully leveraging each other and ‘the speed of trust’ to produce outcomes in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Microsoft Australia can now continue to transform sustainably; to continue delivering outstanding results, at speed, but with far less effort and downside consequences.