Steven Worrall: How changing culture changed Microsoft

Microsoft Australia Managing Director Steven Worrall has a great story to tell about the extraordinary turnaround in the global computer giant’s fortunes over the past three years – when it doubled in size and saw its share price rise to the $80 range from around $30–$35 in 2014.
As the final speaker in the Dean’s Leaders Forum for 2017, Steven had his audience of business leaders and Melbourne Business School students and alumni hanging off every word in the hope of discovering the source of his company’s success, which could be summed up in one word – culture.

Changing our culture helped transform our business

I have this conversation all the time with leaders across the business and in the public sector; you get into some very simple concepts about continual learning, about humility and about basic teamwork. Working together, not competing with each other. A business is not here to serve itself, it’s here to serve others.

Things had to change

There was a sense in internal meetings that you had to have all the answers. People were preparing for meetings like it was an exam. That time spent preparing was time they weren’t spending with their customers or their partners. The second cultural standard is, why are we here? So today we talk about our mission being to empower every person in every organisation on the planet to achieve more.

Transformation is ongoing

I don’t think you can say, “This is the culture that we want to create and write it down and these are the new standards that we will now just go and put into place.” Our culture has evolved and it’s still evolving. When we talk about our transformation, it’s definitely not in the past tense; it’s here and now.

Growth mindset is a basic platformYou have to give people permission to really question how things are being done and why they are being done the way they are, without fear. You have to create an environment where there is trust for people to actually raise concerns so you can have a two-way conversation about what is working and what isn’t.

We believe in the value of diversity

Group thinking is a very common problem in companies – it certainly was for us. Truly committing to diversity and inclusion, and finding ways to weave that through every aspect of the company, leads to richer conversations and better questions being asked. This helps facilitate the process of change.

Creating a healthy culture starts at the top

You can’t bullshit your way through leadership. I think you need to have a clear passion and belief for what you stand for and what is right or wrong. I feel very passionate about many things, including the idea of using the company to promote mental and physical health. I find it absurd that the single biggest killer of Australians between 15 and 44 is suicide; I think it’s just terrible. And 100,000 people are homeless every day in Australia. I’m a proud Australian and I’m privileged to be where I am today and I want to give back.

Leaders need to think about their legacy

I don’t want to look back and say, “Yeah, we made quarters.” That will be the last thing I want to think about. I want to look back and say, “I helped our teams bring balance into their lives.” Physical and mental health starts with us. And then let’s make a real impact in our communities. It’s asking yourself, “Do I feel like I’m doing work that really matters and is this work going to have an impact beyond my little part of the world? How can I look back and think that was time well spent?” You can write that down and you can say, “Well, they’re wonderful sentiments.” What really matters is not what I say, it’s what I do. But that’s what I’m going to do.

Enjoy more great insights from top executives on our Dean’s Leaders Forum home page.

Or read about our other 2017 Dean’s Leaders Forum speakers in a wrap by our media partner, Qantas magazine, which also features messages from the Forum’s principal partner, Australian Private Capital, and event partner, Leica.