The ’90s were a crazy decade in technology. Microsoft was at the top of its game; Apple was still a secondary player in the PC world. The iPhone didn’t even exist yet! Bill Gates was still at the helm of Microsoft and everyone wanted to be a player. Back then the culture was vastly different from the way it is today. Bill Gates and then President of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, led the pack with their focus on productivity, numbers, and performance. If you couldn’t hack it or your feelings got hurt, then you were out, plain and simple.
Fast forward to today, Gates is now retired and focusing on philanthropy and working on advancing medicine, Steve Ballmer has retired to be the owner of the LA Clippers and Satya Nadella is currently at the helm of Microsoft. With a fresh vision of the future, Nadella, who took Ballmer’s role as CEO in 2014, has shifted not only the direction of the company but the culture as well, making Microsoft a more collaborative and empathetic company. The focus is on retaining talented employees so that they can attract new ones.
One of the first things that Satya did was foster a friendlier Microsoft workplace. He accomplished this task by introducing a new way for team members and colleagues to critique and praise each other’s work. They called it “Perspectives.” Perspectives encourage employees to solicit opinions from their coworkers in a more structured environment, it then collects this and shares with them and their manager.
Kristen Roby Dimlow, Microsoft’s human resources executive tasked with implementing Perspectives, said that the system is very deliberate in not referring to “feedback.” David Rock, Josh Davis and Beth Jones, all researchers at the Neuro Leadership Institute, found in a 2014 paper that the very act of giving employees a rating jolts them into a “fight or flight” scenario—“the same type of ‘brain hijack’ that occurs when there is an imminent physical threat like a confrontation with a wild animal.”
The implementation of Perspectives replaced a system that Microsoft called the Feedback Tool, in which coworkers would collect input and then review and summarize it for the employee and their manager. Perspectives use redesigned language to be less intimidating, initiate conversations and have more of a coaching feel than reviews do.
Perspectives give Microsoft a new experiment in rethinking how they evaluate and critique employees. Many Fortune 500 companies are now rethinking how they handle this task, as well. General Electric has dropped its annual review program. GE previously used a stack-ranking system that sorted all their employees into tiers – and are now using various forms of continuous feedback. Several years ago, Microsoft moved away from the annual reviews to more frequent “connects,” giving managers and employees better opportunities to coach more frequently.
“It’s a facilitated script that helps give you that muscle for how to ask for perspective,” Dimlow says, “Our ultimate goal is we move beyond tools and make this part of the way we do things all the time.” Dimlow seeks to see Perspectives move beyond the current structured set and into a more unstructured system, allowing people to learn and becoming more inclined to seek out feedback.