Since Satya Nadella took over the reins as CEO of Microsoft a few years ago, he's been focused on returning the company to relevance--and he's been doing a pretty good job. The company made more revenue over the past fiscal year than ever, upwards of $100 billion. And despite making a late entry into the cloud computing game, Microsoft's Azure platform is rising fast, ahead of Google and second only to Amazon.

In a recent interview with Cnet, Nadella shared some insight into the inner workings of Microsoft, including what he's tried to change about the company.

The entire article is worth a read, but there's one quote from Nadella that summed up why more and more people want to work for Microsoft:

"You join here, not to be cool, but to make others cool."

This sentence may seem simple at first, but there's a lot to unpack.

"One of the things that happens when you're super successful is you sort of sometimes lose touch with what made you successful in the first place," Nadella told Cnet. "I wanted to go back to the very genesis of this company: What is that sense of purpose and drive that made us successful? What was the culture that may have been there in the very beginning or in the times when we were able to achieve that success? How do we really capture it?" 

Nadella's absolutely right. Success is intoxicating--it feels good, and it can cause you to focus as much time and energy possible to rinse and repeat. But here's the problem: That type of routine often kills passion, breeding complacency in its place.

Many years ago, for example, Microsoft developed the reputation of being more focused on squeezing out sales from every customer than on advancing tech and making it accessible. One could even argue that this is the problem Apple has struggled with since the death of its co-founder, Steve Jobs--that it's fallen into a rut of incremental updates as opposed to pursuing the vision of true change and innovation.

So, how does a focus on "making others cool" help?

When you focus on helping others, on adding value, people are naturally attracted to you and your brand.

Microsoft has proved this in recent years. 

For example, the company hosts an annual festival known as One Week, an event that features a science fair, an expo of new products and tech, and Nadella's personal dream-turned-reality: the Microsoft Hackathon, where employees are encouraged to bring their "world-changing ideas" to life. One Week is extremely popular among Microsoft employees, and has helped transform the company's reputation. 

"This feels like, collectively, we're building toward more creativity," said one longtime Microsoft employee. "It's why we're here."

Microsoft has also changed its attitude towards software, with its Windows and Office apps now readily available on Apple and Android products.

Managing this type of colossal change meant shifting the entire company's mindset, building a new culture. When he took over as CEO, for example, Nadella found that many of his senior managers were working in silos, more competitive than collaborative. To overcome this, Nadella began with deep listening, and focused on gaining his people's trust.

It took time, patience, and emotional intelligence, but eventually Nadella won them over.

Mission and culture, says Nadella, can't just be a set of words or a destination you reach. "It has to in some sense capture the very essence of who we are in all of the decisions we make, in the products we create, and how we show up with our customers."

You've got to admit that it's ironic, though.

By shifting the focus away from being cool, Nadella is making Microsoft cooler than ever.

Published on: Aug 21, 2018
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