Jun 15, 2007

How Microsoft thinks about talent and leadership

Mathew Jacob, who works as Microsoft's senior director for corporate learning and development sent me a link of an interview he gave recently to Training Magazine on how Microsoft develops leaders.

Microsoft began by looking at competencies, starting with two basic questions: What does "differentiated performance" in a leader look like today, and what must it look like in the long term? Using interviews, focus groups, and other techniques, "we conducted research worldwide," Jacob says. That research identified 11 leadership competencies for the present and the future. One sample competency is "deep insight," which Jacob describes as the capacity to see systems, patterns, and connections beyond the obvious information contained in data. Another is "building organization capability, part of which involves the capacity to see organization as a competitive variable rather than just a way to structure work and people, to build sustainable organizational success and self-renewing capability, to think and execute with a systemic organizational view. Interestingly, leadership itself can be viewed as an organization capability rather than in its narrow notion of something embedded in certain individuals," Jacob says.

What is the best way to develop such leaders with these competencies? That question, Jacob says, led to another: How do leaders actually grow at Microsoft? Here, the company's thinking was influenced by the work of Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, whose 2001 book, "The Leadership Pipeline," described six distinct career stages through which people may progress, each representing a significant transition.

Read the whole article, it's quite a fascinating one :-)

"The competencies, the career stages, and our taxonomy of experiences—those three pieces drive the way we think about leadership development and everything associated with it," Jacob says, including talent management, assessment, formal training, succession planning, coaching, performance evaluation, job-rotation schemes, international assignments, orienting new managers hired from outside the company, and how to spot and groom high-potential leaders at every level.

What's more, Jacob says, "We utilize the same framework with differing content for all employees—not just leaders—across each discipline, such as sales, engineering, finance, and human resources. We are not just concerned about growing leaders, we are equally committed to and passionate about growing deep individual technical and functional expertise."

Today, virtually every person in Microsoft can do a self-assessment; get feedback from peers and managers against competencies, career stages, and experiences; and document their development and career plans—all using one tool.

India gets mentioned too :-)

On the assessment side, large global firms are more sophisticated in the intake process and often use assessment centers. "Internationally," McAteer says, "the larger high-growth firms in Asia-Pacific with cross- border markets such as Satyam and Tata are looking aggressively at talent management. Smaller firms with a local market focus are not; they rely on hiring. One consistent trend is the difficulty of finding qualified leadership talent in the scientific disciplines and high-tech areas. The question becomes, 'Which of my engineers will be my leaders?'"

Globally, there is much more talent segmentation. "In India, for example, you don't have an aging workforce—there are lots of people under age 25," McAteer says. And with the growth of outsourcing, more resources are outside the company. The question, McAteer points out, is becoming, "Should I be worried about talent management at my suppliers?"
Of course, the acid test for any leadership development program is when the firm gets into the second generation of leaders, and as the firm ages and grows and faces competition like never before. So yes, leadership development is critical and oftentimes looking at competencies that made a firm successful in the past is not the smart thing to do. Glad to see that Microsoft is looking at the future and the behaviors that might make it successful in the future.