How CMO Chris Capossela Helps Drive Business Transformation At Microsoft

Twenty-seven-year Microsoft veteran, Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President, Marketing and Consumer Business, Chris Capossela is ranked 11th on the 2018 Forbes Most Influential CMO list, commands a global marketing organization with billions at its disposal and is responsible for managing the Microsoft brands, creating customer demand, product marketing and promotion to name just a few of his responsibilities. Yet his biggest contribution may be his role in helping Microsoft transform its business and culture.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, now four years into his role, has dramatically transformed the iconic technology company for an “intelligent cloud, intelligent edge”world to serve its mission to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Still a work in progress, the business transformation required a cultural change as well, shifting the company from its hard-charging “know it all” culture to the company’s aspirational “learn it all” culture.

Capossela and his marketing team are helping to drive that change and communicate the company’s new vision both to its internal and external stakeholders. “I think the function within any company that can look left to right across the whole company has particular power and ability to help the company transform, compared to functions that are perhaps more of a subset of the company,” says Capossela.

Capossela has found that in telling the journey, many Microsoft customers were also interested in it because they’re facing similar dynamics and are interested in learning from other people’s journeys. “I like the phrase ‘marketing-assisted transformation’ because Satya has been the leader here and the rest of us have had the opportunity to contribute in the unique ways that our particular functions have their own super powers,” says Capossela.

Centralizing functions like marketing, finance, legal and sales under one global functional leader was key to the company’s transformation. That positioned marketing to play a central role. To ensure the functional leaders work in concert and continue to break down silos that impede the ability to put customers at the center of the organization and to continue to actualize the company’s mission, Satya initiated a weekly leadership team meeting.

“We meet from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., sometimes 4:00 p.m., every Friday and it’s a mandatory meeting, the team becomes a team. That’s one of the most important tactical things I think he did,” says Capossela. “When you spend that much time together as a team, all the elephants get identified and talked about and any relationship tension you may have with another person on the team comes out.”

Satya focused the time together in these meetings for the first few months to define the company’s mission and the change in culture required to deliver on that promise. “It took us about five months, but we landed on this twelve-word mission and we landed on our ‘aspire to’ future culture, which was a culture of a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. And those two pillars-a twelve-word mission and a culture that we hope to live someday-have not changed over the past four and a half years.”

The mission and culture pillars formed the North Star for every aspect of the company, from marketing, product engineering and even P&L reporting to Wall Street. “I think those were the first steps; creating a team, defining a mission, defining the culture, and then holding us all accountable to changing the way we behave and how we run the company led by those two really important things. That’s a dramatic oversimplification. I’m ignoring all the important product decisions we made and all the important technology bets we are making. But I would say that’s been pretty important to do,” says Capossela.

Many companies create a culture wish list and a mission statement. But operationalizing it and actualizing it is often challenging. So how did Microsoft do it?

“It’s a huge challenge for us, just to be clear. I don’t sit here claiming victory. It’s a tough road every single day. It’s constant work. I can humbly share some of the things I think have worked and some of the things I don’t think have worked, but certainly no one here would say, ‘Oh, yeah, we did it. We can put it in a bottle and sell it.'”

Capossela points to the decision to forgo the annual company gathering in favor of a Hackathon as a simple but important example. “We came up with this notion of having a one-week set of experiences that were geared towards our engineering employees and this showcase experience.”

This past year, 23,500 people took part in what is now arguably the world’s largest private Hackathon. The event has expanded to employees from around the world and even customers like nearby headquartered Starbucks participate. “The cool thing is if you look at this thing called the Microsoft Learning Tools built into Word and OneNote and our browser, they’re basically for people with dyslexia and dysgraphia to make it easier for them to read text on the screen. Students and teachers have gone crazy for the learning tools to help kids who can only read a few words a minute to slowly progress and start to read much, much better. We’ve now built them into Word. So, they’re shipping to billions of people. It started at the Hackathon. That’s one example.”

“The Seeing AI app that uses the camera to look at whatever you point it to and then to use AI to describe what it sees. Blind people use this to point it to the store front that they think they’re standing in front of and it will tell them the name of the store. Or it will read the menu to them so they don’t need a braille menu. You point it to people in a meeting, and it will literally say, ‘I see a 25-year-old woman smiling, looking at you.’ That also came out of the Hackathon project as did the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is a new controller for gamers with limited mobility, which is now for sale at Game Stop and at Microsoft Stores.”

Capossela also points to its focus on inclusion and diversity. “We’ll know we’re making progress in adopting a growth mindset when Microsoft is more customer obsessed than we are today, when Microsoft is more diverse and inclusive than we are today, and when Microsoft behaves more like a single company as opposed to many small companies under the same stock symbol. Those will be our measurements in terms of whether we’re making progress in adopting a growth mindset.”

“Telling the world we actually care is the other part of it that we’ve really learned about. Customers want to understand what we stand for and I think you spend a lot of time talking about purpose over product. We see that with all of our young employees. They’ve come to Microsoft not because we make Xbox. They like Xbox. They come to Microsoft because they think they can help change the world. They think Satya has high integrity. They think we stand for a better future than what we’ve built already. That purpose is really, really important,” concludes Capossela.


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