Microsoft South Africa: “Flexibility is at the core of our working environment”

Microsoft has been identified as one of South Africa’s top three employers by the CRF Institute’s annual Best Employers Certification Index for 2012/13. Microsoft, which was awarded the status of top employer in the category for businesses with up to 1,000 employees, also has a top employer status across the African continent.

How we made it in Africa asks Linda Kok, Microsoft South Africa’s human resources lead, what it takes to be a top employer in Africa.

How does your organisation source and retain skilled employees?

Our people are literally at the core of our business, and we constantly work on ways to help them best develop their careers. Microsoft’s career development framework allows individuals to map out how they would like to progress within the company, as well as to create their own opportunities. Quality conversations between employees and their managers and leadership are a cornerstone of career development. These take place twice a year on a formal level, where the individual maps out the steps required to move to the next level and their progress is tracked. The individual is largely responsible for their own growth, while the manager provides support and Microsoft provides resources such as mentoring and training. Opportunities for promotion are available throughout the year.

In the technology industry, companies often find good people, train them – and then lose them to their competitors. Our answer is to identify people who belong in the organisation, work to attract them to the company, and then do whatever it takes to retain them. We are committed to recruiting the best people in the market and we’re clear upfront about the type of talent we look for. We’re also proactive in terms of anticipating the skills we’ll need for the future and we recruit based on where the company is heading.

How does Microsoft SA develop employee skills?

Training needs and gaps are identified through ongoing assessments. Competencies are identified based on the individual’s current role, as well as where they would like to progress in the future. But more than that, Microsoft offers a host of opportunities for international experience at its various subsidiaries, and employees can also create opportunities locally, working in different areas of the business.

Besides money, what are Microsoft SA’s favourite ways to compensate employees?

Retaining them is about more than just paying well. What people want to see is a meaningful investment in their career development. It is also vital to create a culture that enables the best people to do the best work, and this focus on culture is a cornerstone of Microsoft’s people approach. When the company does well, we celebrate as a company.

What kind of culture exists in your organisation?

For a global company like Microsoft, we have a culture of incredible diversity and inclusion. We’ve always believed that diversity fosters richer thinking, and it has helped us instil a culture of performance excellence in our employees. We have big goals, dreams and aspirations for the future. We have great products and services, but our great people is what makes it all come together so successfully. Beyond that, all activity at Microsoft is governed by one set of values. We do not differentiate between the leadership team and the rest of the organisation. Our values are consistent across the world for every employee and Microsoft has developed a strong culture around living these values.

Briefly describe Microsoft’s work environment

We have created an environment where everyone is encouraged to be part of the decision-making process and contribute their ideas to the business – every person has a voice, and everyone feels they have an active part in shaping the direction of the organisation and helping to steer it. Flexibility is at the core of our working environment: we encourage our employees to work from home or outside the office. So we don’t have fixed hours that our employees have to be at their desks, and work on a culture that is focused on what individuals achieve, rather than how long they spend in the office. But when they’re here, we make sure it’s comfortable for them, so we have a cafeteria which not only keeps our people fed, but serves as the social hub of the company. And if they need to work some stress off, we have a fully-equipped gym on the premises too.