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Dear Satya Nadella, here are 3 steps towards a true culture of innovation

February 5, 2014

Satya Nadella’s appointment as Microsoft‘s new CEO is positive news for the organization. He’s a humble guy with inside knowledge of the organization and he’s off on the right foot with his self-effacing open letter to employees. The secret to success will lie in which actions he’s willing to take to achieve his vision.
Will he be able to transcend 21 years of ingrained, anti-innovation culture? In a recent New York Times article, Nadella ponders, “How do we take the intellectual capital of 130,000 people and innovate where none of the category definitions of the past will matter?”

As Satya gets down to business and attempts to shift Microsoft culture to one where innovation can occur, I’d offer these three recommendations:

Surface the subculture
There is passionate work being done at Microsoft but most employees aren’t being rewarded for acting on new ideas. Instead they are being rewarded for short-term shareholder return and internal competitiveness. You need to go into the depths of your employee base and listen, not just to their words but to what is really happening among them. Champion the successes that embody the cultural spirit you need in the organization and give the groundswell momentum. To truly find this type of leadership we often look to smaller organizations like Zappos, but don’t overlook corporate giants like Nike who wield their annual Maxim awards for employee innovation with incredible strength.

Off with its head
Tear down the hierarchical silos and embrace a model that rewards risk, failure and collaboration. You’ll know it’s working when employees look past tenure and title and instead focus on opportunity and skills when assembling teams. Shift power and influence to leaders, those who demonstrate the desired approaches to be emulated by all. Innovation will only occur in such an environment. Look at WL Gore & Associates, they dumped traditional job titles and positioned employees as peers. A change which has positioned them as one of the great innovators of the chemical and textile industries.

Live the commercial
Remember all those people who said, “I’m a PC,” because you gave them a voice in its design? Live that. You have brand advocates far and wide but you must do more than parade them out in a marketing campaign. Your customers need to be engaged as daily partners who aren’t just helping to build the next product; they are leading the development of what’s next for the organization. They are the Microsoft movement.

To realize the next evolution of Microsoft you’ll need employees deeply immersed in the vision, acting without fear of failure and to be authentically engaging the customer. It’s about owning the fact that you created a software-powered world and it’s time to transform it into a people-powered world, in which innovation is not the tenant of a few but instead is the opportunity for the masses.

Dear Satya Nadella, here are 3 steps towards a true culture of innovation

Charlie Brown

CEO & Founder

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