Doing away with tradition

While the technology sector continues to be fraught with volatility and disruption, Lee Murphy, Senior HR Director, Asia-Pacific, Microsoft, shares with HRM why the organisation is warmly embracing these trends

When it comes to making an assessment of the technology sector, Lee Murphy, Senior HR Director Asia-Pacific, Microsoft, espouses a mantra that has been chanted by none other than the giant’s global CEO.

“Our CEO Satya Nadella says our industry does not respect tradition; it respects innovation,” he says.

“I think it’s a great line in relation to how we deliver on the cultural transformation of the company.”

It’s no surprise therefore to learn that Microsoft is undertaking a deep cultural and business transformation at the moment.

“How we are aligning our HR strategies and people agenda to that is in terms of our talent management, diversity and inclusion, and being an exceptional place to work,” Murphy explains. “There’s really been a reset in terms of our people strategy to make sure it’s aligning with the CEO’s vision and mission.”

Embracing disruption

As with any organisation in any sector, disruption becomes the only true constant during times of change, especially in light of the internet-like speed of digital transformations that have been occurring.

Murphy says the speed by which new business models have emerged has been “extraordinary”.

“From our perspective, we’re trying to make sure that we build that needed agility,” he says.

But what exactly constitutes “building agility”?

Murphy cites the work of Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers on motivation.

“It’s about moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and whether you believe that intelligence is static or that you continually grow in terms of your outlook,” he elaborates.

“Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? It’s really challenging our incumbency thinking and putting the customer first in what we call a ‘customer obsession’.

This customer mindset is at the forefront of Microsoft’s current cultural and business transformation.

“The customer is at the centre of all that we do, and the way we look at the quality of our leaders in terms of their leadership attributes,” says Murphy.

Collaboration is also a key theme of Microsoft’s blueprint, whether it is with partners, customers, or even with competitors in the marketplace.

Murphy stresses that this is about building “One Microsoft”, breaking down the silos and challenging mindsets.

“When you get to this scale and size, how you keep reinventing yourself as a company is absolutely critical,” he says.

Key areas

With Nadella constantly touting the potential of cloud computing since he took over the hot seat as Microsoft CEO, it’s not surprising when Murphy discloses that cloud computing is among the two key technology trends being witnessed by the company, alongside “Big Data” and analytics.

“Many of our customers and even partners are in the middle of HR systems or process replacement (moving toward more analytical systems),” he explains.

“Why are they making this shift? It’s the ease of use, data accuracy, and also the business demand for analytical decision-making.”

Away from the technology space, Murphy says another critical area is workforce diversity and inclusion (D&I). “It is critical that our D&I focus is truly representative of the consumer and customers we live among and work together with,” he explains.

“How we’re harnessing that from an Asian perspective is critical.”

Developing the Asia-Pacific talent agenda and building diverse teams for Microsoft’s strategy and activities is critical and a key HR challenge, says Murphy.

Another key aspect is what Microsoft terms “manager excellence”.

“We are asking our leaders to transform while performing. You need to deliver those quarterly results but at the same time, have enough space to engage in innovation and disruption in the marketplace. That’s a huge stretch for our leaders,” explains Murphy.

Different breeding grounds

With Microsoft possessing a plethora of well-known products, such as Skype, Azure and Xbox, Murphy says the “sheer breadth and depth of markets” is a major hiring challenge.

“We have a very broad talent pool that we’re seeking to attract, and we are then scaling up those teams into businesses, and at the same time, balancing between developed and growth markets,” he elaborates.

Another aspect is sourcing those multiple products and solutions, shifting to solution-selling rather than product-centric selling, and then trying to find the right talents and capabilities in that space.

In fact, Murphy says the talent pools for cloud-related skills are not yet deep enough.

“The other area is digital transformation and we’re trying to get the digital natives and deeper marketing skills into the organisation,” he states.

While Murphy concedes Microsoft’s main talent pool has generally come from the information technology (IT) industry, he says that due to the nature and complexities of the company’s sales processes and products, the organisation is now making a clear shift away from these types of skills alone.

“We still value many of the skillsets and capabilities within IT, but we are clearly looking at non-technology sectors,” he says.

“For example, we’re going into the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Currently, we’re talent sourcing in 10 different industry segments such as pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, system integrators and mobile operators; we’re really looking broadly.”

Murphy says another reason why Microsoft is sourcing for non-technology talent is to bring diversity of thinking into the organisation. The company wants to bring a broader experience into teams, which helps drive the organisation’s cultural transformation.

In its efforts to build diverse teams, Microsoft has devised a two-year programme called the Microsoft Academy for College Hires (MACH).

The programme is for undergraduates and Master of Business Administration graduates from all around Asia-Pacific.

Microsoft is also well-connected to the leading universities and colleges in Asia and runs multiple internship programmes with its educational partners.

In addition, Murphy says Microsoft runs a female-specific programme where it goes to colleges and universities to attract women to the technology industry.

“We’ve been really focussed, especially in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. It’s a really exciting programme where we’re going out to these universities and building the value proposition of joining technology as a career.

“We have diverse leaders from across the technology industry and not only from Microsoft. We role-model, showcase and story-tell in terms of why it’s attractive to come into the technology industry. That’s critical from our perspective in terms of making the industry, but also Microsoft, an attractive place to work.”

Developing performance through feedback

While Murphy says the company is not much different from other firms in terms of possessing learning and development roadmaps, it also has targeted development interventions, which work concurrently with broader functional development of domain expertise.

“When you talk about cloud, or sales management, depending on a particular function including HR capabilities and business partnering skillsets that we develop on, we have a performance development system that is about feedback and development,” he explains.

This is documented in every performance and development discussion, which Microsoft has a minimum of thrice yearly for every employee.

“Each of them has what we term a ‘Connect’,” Murphy says. “You’re looking back at their performance and the impact that they had, and also looking forward at the specific areas that we spend time on in terms of development.”

“It’s critical from a development perspective that we get this peer feedback and that it’s built into the development piece through some of the functions. Some of these functions are more sophisticated than others.”

Microsoft also places a significant emphasis on its development of managers.

Murphy says the organisation has a particular programme for its 250 top leaders across Microsoft Asia-Pacific, called the APAC Leadership Forum.

“We bring them into Singapore for two days. With the networking and side meetings, it has evolved into very impactful leadership development,” he explains.

This year’s theme focussed on “Organisational Accelerators”. Murphy says participants discussed the factors behind the organisation’s cultural transformation.

“We spent a lot of time looking over that through surveys and focus groups. We then had diversity and inclusion sessions. We work a lot on diversity for our leaders, unconscious bias training, case studies and coaching,” he adds.

Aligning values

Microsoft’s CEO Nadella has also stressed that leadership is about getting the best out of people wherever they are. He says everyone should be “bringing their ‘A’ game” and finding deep meaning to their work.

“It’s critical that you find a meaning and purpose to your work. How you create that compelling and higher order is critical,” says Murphy.

He stresses there must be an alignment between an individual’s set of values and what the vision and mission of the organisation are.

Hence, Murphy says Microsoft spends a lot of time on leaders who focus on the “how”.

“We have good systems and processes in place to drive the ‘what’, but the “how” is also critical. The emotional intelligence, the growth mindset, the empathy, and humility: authentic leadership is what we are looking for,” he explains.

“If you get the right leaders in place, that employee engagement will follow and you need to create an environment where people are enjoying coming to work.”

Impact, not activity

The technology giant’s employees are rewarded not on their activities, but rather on their impacts.

According to Murphy, this is anchored on the “Connect” system that underpins the performance and development framework.

“We don’t have a ratings or ranking system; we’re one of the first companies worldwide to remove our performance ratings. You then have to align rewards according to impact,” he says.

Murphy says there are no predefined ratings or distribution. Managers and leaders are guided on how staff should connect on the reward framework, but at the same time they are held accountable for their decisions.

The notion of evaluating impact instead of activities also ties back to employee engagement, with Lee highlighting that finding purpose and meaning in one’s work and creating a feedback culture is vital.

“This peer and collegial support is critical in the way we work and is fundamental to anchoring people.

“We also focus on recognition and having a culture of celebration. It’s also about recognising the small wins, both formally and informally,” he elaborates.

Hence, having leaders that personally care and who are passionate about their people is fundamental.

“We also have an accountability and ownership culture and it’s critical we hold people accountable and people also enjoy that accountability because it also drives their performance,” says Murphy.

From competitor to partner

Murphy says the technology sector has become more collaborative in recent years. Traditionally, it used to be all about the competition; but now, an organisation has to be part of a broader ecosystem.

“So, I think there’s been a real shift within the organisation and we’re getting that feedback,” he explains.

Murphy says that in the four to five external interviews he undertakes weekly, many of the candidates acknowledge seeing a shift in Microsoft.

“As a consequence of that, they really want to be a part of our journey,” he says.

At a glance


Total number of employees at Microsoft (Singapore): 1,000


Size of the HR Team (Singapore): 25


Key HR Focus Areas:

- Building a growth mindset in the leadership team to enable business transformation and drive sustained high performance

- Intentional and sustainable planning to improve impact and quality of talent across Asia-Pacific

- Drive cultural transformation across Microsoft with the growth mindset, inclusivity, and global customers at the centre

- Strengthen Asia-Pacific people manager effectiveness so they can be “stewards of talent” and help build a highly engaging work environment


Culture’s not written on a wall


Lee Murphy, Senior HR Director Asia-Pacific, Microsoft, has a unique outlook on corporate cultures.

“Describing a company’s culture is how you observe it and what you actually experience. It’s not what’s written on the wall itself,” he says.

So, what culture is Microsoft aiming to foster?

According to Murphy, its working towards a culture based on growth mindset, customer obsession, diverse and inclusive and making a difference in the world.


Who’s Who in HR


Lee Murphy

HR Senior Director, Asia Pacific


Amor Villalon

HR Lead, Asia Headquarters (AHQ), Asia Pacific


Jaideep Singh

HR Lead, Singapore and New Markets, South East Asia


Juanita Peter

Business Manager HR, Asia Pacific


Fumika Owatari

Business Manager HR, Asia Pacific


Natalia Kovacs

HR Lead, Asia Headquarters (AHQ), Asia Pacific


Celine Ong

Recruiter, Talent Sourcer, Asia Pacific, Japan and China (APJC)


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