How Microsoft Uses a Growth Mind-set to Develop Leaders

By Carol Dweck & Kathleen Hogan

A growth mind-set is the belief that talent should be developed in everyone, not viewed as a fixed, innate gift that some people have and others don’t. Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is creating a growth-mind-set culture and rethinking its approach to development. Here are some of the initiatives that Microsoft has undertaken:

  • Hackathons. Microsoft’s annual hackathon gives employees the chance to step outside their day jobs and develop leadership skills like collaborating across disciplines and advocating for ideas. An employee suggests an idea with business or societal merit—a “hack”—and then others who share that interest apply to join the team in developing the business plan, creating the prototype and pitching it companywide. Winning teams receive funding to build their projects.

    Employees from the hack team that created Learning Tools for OneNote (which helps people improve their reading and writing skills) are now overseeing the product’s market expansion.

  • High-risk projects. New kinds of leaders step up when risk-taking is rewarded. Microsoft’s HoloLens project, which essentially defined holographic computing, began as a “moonshot” goal with significant risk of failure. The gamble paid off, however, and Microsoft responded by recognizing and rewarding quick learning through faster trial and error. Many of the leaders who joined the team were fast-tracked to senior-level roles.

    Microsoft is now working on the next step: ensuring that smart risks are encouraged, whether they succeed or not, as long as they yield insights that advance the business.

  • A redefined talent program.In traditional talent development, a company identifies a pool of future leaders, typically by measuring key traits. But what happens when you assume that everyone has potential?

    Microsoft still identifies and nurtures “high potentials,”  but the company has added a program called Talent Talks. Every year the CEO and his senior leadership team meet with the heads of each arm of the organization to review their employees, discuss moving people up and across teams, and brainstorm methods of augmenting skills. Though the discussions require almost a week of the CEO’s time, they provide a much broader view of up-and-coming talent.

Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Kathleen Hogan is the chief people officer at Microsoft.


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