David Coethica's Blog

Demand more good.

Microsoft’s CSR Accelerator Summit

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Steve Ballmer at Microsoft Accelerator Summit

It’s easy to forget just how pervasive Microsoft’s reach is from Xbox to Office or their effect on everybody’s lives over the past 35 years.

Ok, they may have lost market value top dog status to Apple, market share in the internet browser sector or have harbingers of doom awaiting the monster to fall as the Cloud approaches, but with competition such as Google acting like a righteous teenager, Facebook playing like a petulant child and Apple’s aspirations heading toward megalomania with their use of applications to control content, Microsoft could be said to be enjoying a somewhat more mature appearance by comparison of late, and that might just be their hidden weapon.

I had to admit to a sudden realisation of a lack of my own awareness of Microsoft’s CSR activity. Not ideal for someone who depends on such knowledge for a living. I assumed I knew they were ticking boxes I suppose. On questioning those in my networks I quickly found nobody else did either, which did make me feel slightly more comfortable. Most people could list their products, usually accompanied by the predictable individual gripes, but very little about the formal responsibility side of the fence.

Last Thursday, at the sprawling campus home of Microsoft in Redmond,  serviced by their own fleet of 48 ‘Connector’ buses and Prius cars (reportedly saving 18 million road miles in two years) myself and an intimate group of traditional press, tech bloggers and academics were offered a glimpse into their Corporate Citizenship efforts. I had no real expectations. I hadn’t had time to formulate any to be completely honest but I knew it had to be worth the trip including the carbon splurge.

The Accelerator Summit was obviously the beginnings of attempts to improve the aforementioned lack of awareness I’d encountered, to offer a view into how and why Microsoft allocated its resources to ‘accelerate change on social issues through the use of technology and partnerships‘. Their corporate mission is focused firmly around ‘realising potential’ and Pamela Pressman, Corporate Vice President for Global Affairs hosted the event, impressively represented throughout the day by similarly extended title senior executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer.

I would be writing for days to attempt to do justice to the wonderful non-profit partnerships we heard about (see links below for more information) but it was the background message, or rather the culture at Microsoft behind them all that struck me. Steve Ballmer was the top of the bill as far as titles go, but the real stars were those elsewhere within his organisation. Let’s be honest Steve has a tough act to follow, he isn’t Bill Gates and will never be a passionate CSR leader such as Jeff Swartz, Ray Anderson or Yves Chouinaurd, and that’s not a bad thing, as this story isn’t about him, it’s about everybody else at Microsoft. Here’s a link to a video of Steve at the Accelerator Summit.

Whilst the CEO may not be the CSR champion, everybody else was. He was keen to keep his personal philanthropic affairs private when questioned by Kristi Heim of the Seattle Times, and I’m sure he’s generous guy.  In addition to Pamela at the top of the CSR pyramid the star supporting actors included Dan Bross, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship; Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Global Community Affairs; Claire Bonilla, Senior Director of Disaster Management; Lisa Brummel, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist – these are the people to watch, and the other 90,000 or so shorter titled employees. They have all quietly, and that is their other hidden weapon, been getting on with nurturing a culture of ‘smart business doing the right thing’. Todd Bishop from TechFlash asked “What had changed? This obviously isn’t the win at all costs Microsoft of the 80’s & 90’s”.

Microsoft uses its resources to leverage multiplied impacts across its citizenship partnerships with initiatives on show including Microsoft Research division’s (another hidden gem) collaborative photo DNA project to bravely publicly approach the taboo subject around reducing pornographic images of children on the web, collecting and managing huge amounts of data for environmental improvement beyond their own operational impact and disaster relief technology infrastructure.

The effect on recruitment, motivation and retention of employees was tangible and deliberate. The internal culture felt both embedded and energised. The four employees on show presented their pet projects that between them had raised over $90 million for good causes, created a system for tracking impact of individual donations, facilitated educational grants to the poorest and provided advocacy for children’s rights. Not bad for their ‘spare’ time.

I did attempt to push Steve with a question about transparency seeking to discover if he would openly offer operational weaknesses or refer to brand protection mode. Whilst he didn’t tell us anything radically transparent, or surprising he was genuinely convincing in his opinion of wanting to achieve a greater good, as long as it’s aligned to the corporate mission.

I came away with a sense that Microsoft has matured, identifying a new direction to positively enhance their brand position. Microsoft isn’t what it used to be and I for one now feel more comfortable with who they appear to be trying to become.

Click the link to find your own information about Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship initiatives.

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5 Responses

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  1. Great summary David and great to hear Microsoft is on the right path

    Like

    Ian Berry

    May 28, 2010 at 8:38 am

    • Thanks Ian. Hope you enjoyed the summary.

      What is the impression of Microsoft in Australia from a CSR perspective?

      David

      Like

      davidcoethica

      June 4, 2010 at 1:18 am

  2. David,

    Great piece. I’m disappointed to have missed it! I share your statement: “I had to admit to a sudden realisation of a lack of my own awareness of Microsoft’s CSR activity.”

    When Seema told me about some of Microsoft’s activities, I was impresses and surprised. I love the diversity of the company’s and employees’ projects. Great recount–thanks for putting the time and thought in.

    Like

    Olivia Khalili

    June 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    • Hi Olivia

      It was an intriguing experience to say the least. I tried to remain as objective as possible, if anything erring on the side of cynicism of the big corporate, but I was impressed with both scale and quality and found myself smiling out loud a few times in admiration.

      Definite room for improvement on the communication side, obviously!

      David

      Like

      davidcoethica

      June 4, 2010 at 12:32 am

  3. As I promised, when we connected on Linkedin, I am sending you info about an important
    research done by Dr. Paul Zak. He discovered that people who are more generous have higher level of hormone oxytocin, which causes them to feel pleasure.
    It is all about making people feel good about themselves. Once business owners/managers understand the true
    nature of employee commitment, they will be more interested in developing good quality CSR programs where
    employees can participate freely and reap benefits for themselves ( in a form of increased level of oxytocin hormone ). Example would be to give employees paid day off to volunteer for nonprofit organization and then publish an article in company’s newsletter.
    Most of the companies still do not understand that in order to reap public benefit from their CSR programs they have to give full credit to their employees, instead of taking it for themselves – Microsoft “got it”, according to your report.
    You can use this information freely, in all your programs/reports.I wholeheartedly believe CSR programs benefit everyone ( employees, companies, humanity at large). Keep going, David, you have some powerful stuff here.

    Research about oxytocin
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001128

    Neuroeconomics
    http://www.neuroeconomicstudies.org/?page=people

    Like

    Vesna Gvozdenovic

    June 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm


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