What might Microsoft do?

Whenever someone finds out that I worked for Microsoft they undoubtably ask, “Did you ever meet Bill Gates and what was he like?” There always seems to be a real fasicination with the way Bill Gates and the Microsoft management team thinks and approaches business. With this in mind I thought that this month I might share some of the Microsoft insights that have stuck with me over the years.

Bill Gates would probably tell you to be more curious about the world that surrounds you. He would remind you that his fortune came when he thought of how the world might be with a computer on every desktop. His passion is in asking what might change? Bill may also tell you to take “thinking time” (weeks or hours) to explore your future, ask where you are and where you are going. The Internet Tidal Wave was a movement that was shaped on one of these thinking breaks. It was something that defined Microsoft going forward. Bill would also say that a different point of view is often healthy. Bill surrounds himself with people that think differently then him. He would encourage you to respect and hire different view points and promote healthy dialogue on where the world is going. Bill was always open to be challenged but keep in mind he demanded that everyone think smart. If you had a different way of seeing the world that’s ok, just be sure you can articulate it clearly. There was a running joke that a presentation to Bill either got you promoted or fired. Be prepared to know your stuff better than anyone else. Finally, Bill might tell you to never take your success for granted. No industry leader leads forever. He would remind you of all the market leaders that have come and gone. Be paranoid about being the best, don’t ever take your position for granted.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, would simply remind you that you can never know enough about your customer and you can never know it soon enough. Be customer passionate are words he would yell and scream until he knew that everyone understood that the customer will always be our livelihood. Steve would tell you to know more about the customer’s problem than they do themselves and to have better answers to the problems your customer faces. Customers don’t need sales people they need consultants that add value to their business. He would always ask, “How is Microsoft going to add value to the bottom line of the customer’s business?” As the CEO he believed his best day was spent in front of a customer learning and exploring their business and the way they make money.

Frank Clegg, former Microsoft Canada President would tell you to net it out. Your story, your plans, your approach needed to be clear, concise and crisp. If you can’t say it in one page then you don’t know your message well enough. He would remind you that companies get fat simply because they throw more resources at a problem then are really needed. You must always review each element of the business and ask, “Do we need to be doing more, less or is it even needed at all?” Business efficiency is what defines long term business leaders. Frank would also tell you that your people are your brand. Treat them well, respect them and give them the freedom, autonomy and flexibility to do what’s right for the business. If you question your ability to do that, then question your hiring or management practices. You will never know the business as well as those who work it everyday. Frank would tell you to make sacrifices and show you care about each and every employee. Twelve years ago Frank telephoned me and told me to leave the business to be with my dying Brother. His words were simple, “I don’t care what you have to do, I don’t care what’s on your agenda, you need to be where you’re needed most.” I can still hear the passion and feeling in his words today. I flew out to Calgary that very night, my brother died a few days later. Frank always knew when to push people hard but to do it in a way that everyone knew he cared immensely about their future.

This month ask yourself how can these ideas impact your business? Are these lessons that you can apply? Whether you learn from Microsoft, Starbucks, GE or anyone else for that matter. Make sure you constantly take time to learn from the leaders in the world today.

Curt Skene