Microsoft, Others Work Toward New Cultures in the Digital Age

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By Genevieve Douglas

Developing and maintaining an authentic corporate culture may be increasingly difficult as the work landscape changes, and Silicon Valley’s tech giants are taking the challenge head-on.

Companies value successful corporate cultures because they engage employees, maximize productivity, and brand companies as places other people will want to work. New ways to work and communicate and changing environments could dilute a finely honed workplace culture, yet companies are embracing technologies and shaping their corporate cultures for the new digital age.

Microsoft realized it needed to revamp its business strategy to take advantage of new technology, but that required a culture change, Joe Whittinghill, corporate vice president of talent, learning & leadership insights, told Bloomberg Law.

“The digital age is going to bring change more and more rapidly than ever before,” Whittinghill said. “The connected world has the potential to make us less humanly connected and also more busy. We need to look at how technology helps us come closer together, versus how it can drive us further apart.”

Defining Culture

The tech industry is known for its competitive workplaces. Microsoft began its work toward evolving its culture by focusing on empathy for coworkers, clients, and partners, Whittinghill said. These cultural goals gave employees and leaders “a core and common language for us to say how we wanted to be as a company.”

“Culture is the stories that you tell, the behaviors that you have, the actions you do every day,” Patty McCord, former head of HR at Netflix, told Bloomberg Law. “It’s not what you write down and it’s not craft beer.”

Developing an authentic, successful culture also can’t happen overnight, McCord said. “Netflix took 10 years to develop and define their culture.” As companies grow more complex, the workplace environment and employee needs inevitably change as well, she said.

Culture change has three big levers: people in the organization; the programs, such as pay, performance management, and career development; and the structure of the organization itself, meaning its tools, technology, and processes, Ken Oehler, global culture & engagement practice leader for Aon Hewitt, told Bloomberg Law March 20.

The ROI of the Right Culture

Companies fighting for top talent find that corporate culture can influence a potential new hire or help retain a top employee.

In organizations where culture is aligned with business strategy, 44 percent more employees were engaged, and twice as many employees said they would stay, according to research from Aon Hewitt. In companies with misaligned cultures, 71 percent of employees were either passive or actively disengaged, and 75 percent of employees were likely to leave.

“Culture can become dysfunctional when the components of business success change without addressing culture,” Oehler said. “An employer will have a tough time driving change if employees aren’t aligned on these components.”

Organizations also should embrace technology that enables communication and reinforces desired cultures despite geographical distance, Oehler said. Overall, companies focused on cultures of innovation and inclusive and collaborative behaviors will foster organic idea-sharing and on-the-fly innovation.

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