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Microsoft’s Lauren Gardner: Use Tech to Augment Employee Productivity

Staying at the top of the tech industry heap requires a knack for adapting to change.   

You’d be hard-pressed to cite another sector in which disturbances occur as quickly and frequently. It isn’t just luck that has enabled Microsoft Corp. to successfully navigate change for more than 40 years, and the Redmond, Wash.-based tech titan has had to prepare for and respond to changing business conditions routinely throughout that span of time.  

In 2014, for example, CEO Satya Nadella—who has overseen a significant cultural refresh during his five years at the helm of Microsoft—led the shift in focus of Microsoft’s core business from Windows and Office to the cloud and the “intelligent edge,” which Microsoft describes as a continually expanding set of connected systems and devices that gather and analyze data, providing users with real-time insights and experiences.   

At the i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference, Lauren Gardner, general manager of Microsoft Consumer Business HR, will discuss how the company has transformed itself over the years, and how other organizations can become both more nimble in reacting to disruption and adept at anticipating change before it hits the organization.

Making automation your friend

When asked about the issues that figure to most disrupt the workplace in the days ahead, it’s not surprising that Gardner mentions technology as a key factor accelerating the rate of change in the workplace.   

“As our businesses continue to transform at a much faster pace, we need to adapt at the same pace and intensity to transform the way we work.”  

Lauren Gardner

Technology can play a key role in keeping an organization ahead of the trends and disruptions lurking around the corner, of course. Data analytics, for example, can be instrumental in influencing the organization’s culture, says Gardner.   

“You can really utilize organizational analytics to anticipate employee sentiment and measure weak signals, as well as busting some myths you might believe about your culture,” she says.   

There’s also the rise of artificial intelligence and work automation. Many employers are uncertain of how and where to best utilize these tools, while employees fear what such developments will mean for their jobs.   

“Instead of being afraid, the question becomes, ‘How do we actually help employees become more productive?’”  

The key, Gardner says, is determining how to use AI and automation to automate processes that burn valuable employee time. And workers should understand that automating these tasks will free them up to focus on more strategic, creative endeavors.  

A culture of connection

From a talent perspective , many employers find themselves in a position they haven’t been in for at least a decade, says Gardner.    

“There’s a scarcity of talent – especially tech talent. So, the question becomes, ‘How do we get more creative in finding and utilizing talent? How do we better screen in talent?’ We have almost three thousand store associates, for example, who have relevant experience and are very tech-savvy but who might not meet the profile that we have traditionally seen in tech.”  

More of today’s workers are non-traditional in that they seek shorter-term, project-based work. And full-time employees are on average staying in jobs and with organizations for much shorter durations than in the past, says Gardner, who predicts that large businesses’ operations will only become more dispersed. In response to these shifts, Microsoft is expanding its sourcing efforts to encompass broader talent pools in terms of geography and function.   

“We have sales hubs around the world,” says Gardner. “We have to meet talent where they are. When I talk to our talent acquisition team, I say, ‘Let’s get real. All roads cannot lead to Redmond.’ Every company has its headquarters, but the concept of having one main HQ is a concept we should revisit and expand.”   

This reality underscores the importance of building meaningful cross-organizational business and talent hubs outside your immediate corporate headquarters, she says.   

“This will require even stronger management and leadership capabilities, resource investments, and the use of technology to create a strong culture of connection.”   

CHROs should be at the forefront of the effort to create such a culture, but they shouldn’t be the only ones leading the way, says Gardner.   

“All of your leaders have to do it. They have to define, demonstrate and commit to what your culture is about, and they have to live your cultural attributes.”