Microsoft Case Study



The organization of the personnel work is always a complex task, which usually defines the success of a business in general. In this case, it is important to provide the optimal balance of assignment distribution among the teams to avoid the exploitation of separate workers. For Microsoft, the problem of employees’ exploitation and attrition has been relevant for the decades of its operation. In this paper, the solutions for the enhancement of effectiveness of the HR department of Microsoft are presented.

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The Weak Sides of the Microsoft Workforce Planning Model

Workforce Planning Model

According to the information from the case study by C. Bartlett (2001a), the main problem that the human resource (HR) department of Microsoft Corporation used to face was common cases of dismissal of the most qualified specialists because of the moral exhaustion from work (p.1). The statements of the former Microsoft employees included the information about the extraordinary requirements to the personnel productivity, permanent pressure, constant demand for better results, strict working deadlines, and significant growth of responsibility (Bartlett, 2001a, p.4). Though the company management aimed to create the most comfortable working conditions for the employees, it did not allow reducing the negative effect of the extraordinary demand for productivity. To understand the reason for the occurrence of this situation, one should analyze the limitations of the workforce planning model of Microsoft.

It is obvious that the issues in the HR management sphere in Microsoft, which led to the early retirement of many experienced specialists, were connected with the wrong decisions of the senior managers at the initial stage of the workforce planning – the understanding of business, strategy, objectives, and drivers. According to the presented case studies (Rangan & Bell, 2009), the mission that Bill Gates had defined for the company was to reach the state when all the computers worldwide would have Microsoft software installed. To accomplish this task, the company oriented on the search of the best potential employees among the students and graduates of the famous American and foreign universities. Gates and other members of the Microsoft senior management had focused only on the “brilliant minds” (Bartlett, 2001a, p.2) in their hiring practice. It might be one of the mistakes that eventually led to the failure of Microsoft HR management. It is important to highlight the issue related to the third stage of the workforce planning– the determination of the workforce gaps. From this point, Microsoft required the improvement of the HR management at two stages of the workforce planning model.

The orientation on the supreme leadership in the PC software industry forced Microsoft to organize narrowly oriented hiring process, which concerned finding only outstanding minds. It was a mistake of the first step of the workforce planning model connected with the definition of the business strategy and objectives. The prevalence of demand for mobile software over the need for PC one in the contemporary market demonstrates the irrelevance of the Microsoft vision (McCracken, 2017). This wrong conclusion had led to the orientation only on the best employees, which was definitely harmful to the company. In this case, the incorrect realization of the principles of distribution of labor seems to be present.

It is obvious that despite the amount of the employee’s experience and his/her personal qualities, certain barrier in work productivity, which s/he cannot overcome, exists. A person cannot work for more than 40 hours per week without facing the risk of the occurrence of serious health issues in the future. In the given case, the specifics of the mental labor in front of a computer monitor in combination with all harmful effects of permanent work with PC would eventually lead to physical and moral exhaustion of the employees. Therefore, Microsoft orientation on the intensive exploitation of the brightest minds could not lead to the result, which would be opposite to those presented in the case studies. This process can be analyzed from the perspective of the employee’s life cycle in Microsoft.

Employee’s Life Cycle

It is important to discuss the impact of the Microsoft HR management practice on two stages of the employee’s life cycle – development and retention. Here, the wrong decision at the initial stage of the workforce planning had led to the attraction of the limited number of the most talented students from the best colleges. During the development phase, the employee received a huge variety of working tasks and faced enormous level of responsibility. However, there was no full support from the mentor in the company. Though the mentor was officially assigned to the employee, and the training process took place in Microsoft, the influence of the supervisor on the worker’s performance was too low and could not guarantee the positive effect. In fact, the employee got 70% of experience from his own work with its stressful situations and mistakes; 20% of experience derived from cooperation with company mentor, and 10% of it came from training activities (Bartlett, 2001). This situation cannot be qualified as the one where the employees receive adequate level of support. In fact, the newcomer faced and managed full responsibility without needed help. It was a challenge for everyone in Microsoft. At the same time, the decision to neglect the candidates who showed lower results but were able to perform less qualified work has led to putting the overpressure on the most perspective candidates. In this way, the fact of the permanent growth of the amount of work created tension in the employee’s life cycle.

At the stage of retention, the only positive arguments that the Microsoft management could offer its employees were high wages and rewards. Despite this fact, the practice of low support and enormous pressure of bureaucratic system of the company on people were the factors that affected the final decision of the experienced workers about the retirement (Bartlett, 2001b, p.2). One more circumstance that regards to the question of the retention practice in Microsoft is the expression of the senior management relations with the employees, which Satya Nadella, current Microsoft CEO, provided in his interview to the Fast Company magazine. He stated that the common practice of Bill Gates was not to encourage workers in their actions but to highlight their limitations and problems (McCracken, 2017). This approach to communication with employees can also be considered one of the factors that affected the specialist’s life cycle in Microsoft. The mistake at the initial stage of the workforce planning greatly influenced it as well.

The Strategic Priorities and Goals of Microsoft

According to the information provided above, the mistake of Microsoft was connected with the orientation on the monopolistic leadership in the PC software industry. It cannot be a realistic approach to the strategic planning of business because the realization of this goal is impossible. The example is the situation in Thailand, which proves the truthfulness of this statement (Rangan & Bell, 2009, p.9). The population of the developing countries cannot afford the purchase of Microsoft software products, which forced the company to produce Windows XP Starter Edition.

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From this point of view, the new mission that Satya Nadella stated seems to be more relevant and adequate for Microsoft (McCracken, 2017). At the same time, it is important to integrate the statement about the need for effective tasks distribution in Microsoft. It will allow avoiding the issue of employees’ attrition. Therefore, the existing corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices of Microsoft (Rangan & Bell, 2009) should also be oriented on the effective development of personnel.

The Opportunities and Barriers to the Realization of the New Strategy

For improving the effectiveness of HR management in Microsoft, it seems important to implement several practical changes. First, it is essential to avoid the policy of orientation on the intensive exploitation of the brightest minds. At the same time, the newcomers should have better opportunities for the integration into the existing business processes. From this perspective, the implementation of the new model of assignments distribution in Microsoft seems possible. The teams of specialists that will include the experienced employees and the newcomers should realize the software projects. Both sides will benefit from this approach. The newcomers will be able to work in cooperation with mentors and get full-time communication with teachers while the experts will manage to avoid overburdening through the transfer of simple tasks to the newcomers. It will be possible to monitor and eliminate the mistakes of the newcomers permanently. This process will also contribute to their faster professional growth.

It will be important to solve the issue of bureaucratic pressure on the workers. The solution can be connected with the current policy changes that Satya Nadella implements in Microsoft (McCracken, 2017). The redistribution of decision-making opportunities among the managers of lower ranks and developers can be a serious contribution to the resolution of the bureaucratic pressure issue.

At the same time, it is important to discuss the barriers that can inhibit the realization of these initiatives. Here, the main cultural barriers are the presence of racial discrimination and conflicts among the employees who belong to different ethnic groups in Microsoft (McCracken, 2017). The processes of globalization and further expansion of the company will cause the actualization of this issue. For this reason, it is crucial to put the principles of integrity and diversity into the corporate culture of the company. The management is supposed to create the conditions for the effective cooperation between employees despite their ethnic or cultural differences.

The Management Change Strategy

The offered transformation can be achieved without serious obstacles due to the present changes in the senior management of Microsoft. The current CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella is considered quite liberal and progressive expert who shares the ideas of redistribution of responsibilities among staff and adheres to the modern principles of ethical leadership. First, to guarantee the implementation of the proposed decisions, one requires integrating the new approach to HR management into the corporate culture of the company. The senior management will have to organize the trainings and discussion for the HR department personnel as well as provide the instructions for general staff of the company. This process can be quite difficult since the company has been orienting on the previous HR management model for decades, and the new solutions acceptance will require time.

The following slogan, which expresses a simple idea, should characterize the new principle of working tasks distribution: the most productive employees do not require working 14 hours per day to meet the deadlines. If an employee must work more than 8 hours per day, the situation cannot be considered normal. The newcomers should support him/her in the realization of the easiest tasks. In other cases, the change of the model of tasks distribution in a team is required. The existence of strict deadlines means that the HR management team should search for the ways of attracting new professionals to the company rather than exploit current personnel. It should be the key priority of the HR department of Microsoft.


The analysis of the HR management practice of Microsoft allowed considering the exploitation of experts a key issue of the company. From this point of view, the best solution should be the effective distribution of working tasks inside the teams. A specialist should be provided with a group of newcomers who can support him/her in the realization of the easiest tasks of a project. In this way, it will be possible to improve the quality of newcomers’ integration into the business processes of Microsoft as well. The permanent cooperation with experts and mentors will increase the speed of the newcomers’ professional growth. It will also allow the management to monitor the performance of the new employees.

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