Strong people skills help Microsoft keep star staff

Steve Harvey’s determination to retain Microsoft’s talent is helping the
company avoid the recessionary pressures that are crippling many of its
competitors.

When Harvey joined in 1990, his friends questioned why he was joining such a
small company.

More than a decade on, Harvey, Microsoft UK’s director of people, profit and
loyalty, looks after a workforce of 1,200 staff and is part of an organisation
which employs 49,000 people worldwide.

Against the odds, Microsoft plans to recruit an additional 400 people in the
UK by the end of the financial year.

Microsoft works hard to look after its star performers. Harvey said,
"We look after our future executive team and future board members so they
feel loved and wanted and we meet their development needs.

"We also look after our top 10 to 15 per cent performers. They are the
ones that, no matter what happens, we don’t want to lose and we will fight to
the end to hold on to. It is important to make sure they get the right
development and that the best people get the best jobs."

He believes a key to retention is the company’s Strength Finder scheme,
which it is running in conjunction with Gallup, which identifies employees’ top
five strengths and then tries to move them into jobs where their abilities can
be best used.

He said, "Throughout the organisation, we are trying to let people
understand what they are really good at and then find them a job that allows
them to do what they do best."

This approach will be used to get the best out of the group of 25 graduate
recruits Microsoft UK has employed for the first time.

Harvey said the company took the decision to recruit graduates to help it
develop the next generation of top performers.

"The company is starting to get older – although the average age is
still only about 34 – and it’s time we started to grow our own," Harvey
said.

He believes it is vital to engage the company’s workforce with the aims of
the business, and one of the ways it does this is through Microsoft’s employee
share purchase plan.

"Probably where our business model has been unique in the past 15 years
– although I know a lot of companies have tried to mirror it now – is getting
our employees to take ownership in what the company is doing."

Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer also provide staff
with regular bulletins on direction and strategy. This has been helped by
improved internal communications over the past year, including web-based
bulletins, e-mail updates and a bimonthly magazine.

Microsoft’s philosophy of helping staff reach their full potential also
extends to how it manages flexible working and the work-life balance of its
employees.

"We hire talented and driven people and we leave it up to them to
decide their work-life balance and what hours they need to do.

"As long as I deliver what I need to deliver, no one cares how long I’m
in the office," Harvey said.

He said creating a good working environment is an essential part of helping
people deliver results and Microsoft’s Reading headquarters includes on-site
banking, an employment assistance programme and a wellbeing centre.

By Ben Willmott

Lifestyle scheme keeps right balance

Microsoft UK has introduced a lifestyle management programme to help its
senior managers balance their work and home lives.

The service, which is initially on offer to the UK executive team and other
top managers, can be used to organise anything from holidays to shopping.

Harvey hopes the service will ease managers’ workloads by freeing up time
they would normally spend on personal tasks. He said, "At Microsoft, we
strive to continuously introduce benefits to promote employees’ financial,
physical and emotional wellbeing. By using this service, we offer employees an
opportunity to delegate personal tasks during busy times, which can be of both
practical and emotional benefit.

The lifestyle management service is being provided by Ten UK.

"This service can be valuable to employees if it relieves some of their
pressures, thereby enabling them to remain focused at work, and if it ultimately
improves their work-life balance," said Harvey.

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