How Microsoft built a learning culture

Published Oct 27 2020 09:00 AM 9,762 Views

We present the fourth blog in our series to discover the learning journeys of our customers, partners, employees, and future generations by providing a peek into Microsoft’s approach to skill own employees.


Gabriela Barrios was supposed to be in Barcelona a few months ago to celebrate an important life milestone: a graduation ceremony at the Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya Barcelonatech for achieving her MBA through the Aden School of Business. However, like many of the 2020 graduates around the globe, that celebration was postponed in a world shut down by the Corona Virus. But don’t worry about Gabriela missing this unique life moment. Learning is a part of everyday life for the Microsoft Partner Development Manager from Guatemala City, and her stellar track record signals that celebrations for educational milestones are certainly in her future.


“My father was my inspiration to become a learner,” explains Gabriela, who is the first in her family to graduate from college and holds a master’s degree in marketing, and two bachelor’s degrees (business administration and digital transformation). “He never finished school, because he had to start working at age 14 to help out his mother but was very intelligent and he continued to learn throughout his life. He encouraged me to dream big, work hard, and keep learning.”


Growth mindset

The concept of continued learning at Microsoft has become synonymous with having a growth mindset. A term coined by American psychologist Carol Dweck in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “growth mindset” was adopted by Microsoft when Satya Nadella took the helm as CEO in 2014 and has become a cultural pillar for the company. As opposed to a “fixed mindset,” a person with a growth mindset believes they can learn from both successes and failures to develop their capability and continue to learn through effort, time, and training. Gabriela’s learning journey is one of many inspiring stories across the company, where employees and managers have fully embraced the concept.


“My first manager at Microsoft was very invested in personal growth. At least a portion of our one-on-one meetings would focus on how I could grow as a person and professional,” said Allan Richmond Morales, a Premier Field Engineer for Microsoft focused on Secure Infrastructure, who joined Microsoft in 2018 as part of the Aspire program, Microsoft’s intern program for recent college graduates. “Her guidance gave me the opportunity to become more invested in my own skillset and find the technologies I need to focus, and based on my learning path, how can I can branch out to support specific demands of the business or personal interest.”


Tech intensity = tech adoption + tech capacity

But make no mistake; this isn’t just about transforming culture. It’s about driving digital transformation. During a recent visit to India, Satya Nadella predicted that by 2030, there will be 50 billion connected devices and 175 zettabytes of data. For a company to succeed in that world, the Microsoft CEO argues they must embrace tech intensity, where you not only have to adopt new technologies, but also build leading-edge capabilities to use them*. The company has simplified this as a formula (Tech intensity = tech adoption + tech capability) that holds the secret to future success for companies in the age of digital transformation. Ongoing, proactive upskilling of your own employees is a key factor in building capabilities within.


John Saxton, a Microsoft Technical Specialist in Power Platform & Dynamics, had to embrace tech intensity as an individual, supporting many different clients during his 22 years as an independent consultant. One of the reasons that he became interested in joining Microsoft was the learning culture at the company and it shows in his learning track record; John already has five Microsoft Certifications under his belt this year, while only two were required.


“As a self-employed consultant you have to be open to constantly learning new things in order to get new opportunities, because you’re only as good as your next gig,” Saxton explained. “And I brought that same attitude to Microsoft. If I don’t know the answer, I will go research and dig until I find an answer, and it always leads to learning something new, which I love.”


“Around the world, 2020 has emerged as one of the most challenging years for many of us,” said Kim Akers, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft Worldwide Learning. “Over the last nine to ten months alone, the world has endured multiple crises, including a pandemic that spurred a global economic crisis. As businesses look to reopen, we’ve seen a huge amount of digital transformation across nearly every industry. COVID-19 has only made the skills gap more acute and every job increasingly requires digital skills. And as the world is digitally transforming, we need be more focused on the solutions and experiences our customers need that would help them achieve more. And, frankly, you can’t do any of this without technical skills and capability.”


Microsoft Learn is at the heart of the effort to feed this growth mindset culture, allowing learners to study in a style that fits best. Some learners prefer to do online training at night. Others would rather attend a training conference, event, or prefer customized, in-person instructor-led training. To meet learners where they are, Microsoft offers employees a collection of training options including self-paced learning, instructor-led training, and certifications. Microsoft training events also provide a unique upskilling experience through a combination of presentations, demos, discussions, and workshops.


“I love Microsoft Learn because it has allowed me to continue to learn on the job remotely,” adds Gabriela Barros, who just received her Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification in December and is waiting on the exam results of her Microsoft 365 certification. “I work with eleven managed partners to support them as they digitally transform their business. In that role you have to understand the business, which is why I challenged myself to get an MBA. I also work with their technical teams, however, so I am going to continue to get certified on all of our products to help me better understand the technologies we use to help our customers.”



*Microsoft, We’re building Azure as the world’s computer: Satya Nadella

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