Microsoft Wins Back Boomerang Employees with Culture Change

Microsoft Wins Back Boomerang Employees with Culture Change

Since taking control of the company in 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been on a mission to transform its culture from one of fierce internal competition to the collaborative ideal of “One Microsoft.” Nadella’s tenure has seen an increase in the number of “boomerang” employees returning to Microsoft after stints at other companies, Seattle Times business reporter Rachel Lerman observes—over 2,200 in total:

During the few years before Nadella stepped into the role, about 12 percent of the company’s new hires in the U.S. each year had previous job stints at the company. But that number ticked up to 16 percent, or 621 boomerangs, between July 2014 and July 2015, starting a few months after Nadella took over as CEO.

These returning employees, who remember how Microsoft operated a decade ago, are particularly attuned to the change in the company’s dynamic, which in many cases, was part of the reason they decided to return:

When [Dean] Lester, an engineering director, left the company at the end of 2009, he was craving some time off and new challenges, but he was also feeling frustrated with the way Microsoft teams were being run — they were so focused on rapid project launches that people were burning out. That was changing, the chorus of former co-workers told him. He should take another look. …

Lester noticed the shift after rejoining Microsoft last year. Colleagues had quiet conversations with each other to smooth out disagreements after tense meetings. People asked questions about the direction of projects and were given answers about strategy. … “These are not just permitted conversations now,” he said, “they are expected conversations.”

A key player in Nadella’s culture change effort is Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan, a longtime Microsoft executive whom he tapped to lead the HR function shortly after being named CEO. Hogan, who appeared on the CEB (now Gartner) Talent Angle podcast to discuss her culture change mission back in 2016, has been tasked with fostering a “growth mindset” within the company, encouraging employees to take risks and not fear failure as a stepping stone toward learning and growth. Nadella and Hogan have also led efforts to make Microsoft more inclusive, such as by tying executive bonuses to diversity goals and introducing paid caregiving leave to give employees time off to care for sick or disabled family members, which is particularly helpful to mid-career women.

Clearly, for many of its veterans, the new Microsoft is the kind of company they want to work for. Of course, they may also be attracted by the opportunity to work on new products and emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, which is another focal point of Nadella’s growth strategy. Microsoft’s culture change is an ongoing process, and even its champions acknowledge that it’s not a perfect company, but that so many of its former employees are coming back indicates that Nadella is doing something right.