6 HR lessons from Microsoft’s CHRO

HRE’s 2021 HR Executive of the Year Kathleen Hogan shares her advice for other HR leaders.
By: | October 20, 2021

Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president, human resources, and chief people officer at Microsoft, knows what it takes to be a successful HR leader: She’s helped transform Microsoft’s culture to make it one of the biggest success stories in recent history. She’s navigated a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, ensuring the company’s 175,000 employees are safe, healthy, productive and innovative. She’s helped transition the majority of employees to working remotely. And she’s been named HRE’s 2021 HR Executive of the Year.

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“[Over the past year-and-a-half, especially] I’ve had a profound appreciation for the role of HR. In this role as the CHRO, and generally in the HR function, it’s about the ability to make a difference in the lives of employees, and to try to make their experience better,” she says. “HR has such a deep purpose.”

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We asked Hogan what her advice is for other HR leaders. Here’s what she said.

Kathleen Hogan

Be purpose-driven. There are always hard days in business and for company leaders when you doubt yourself or when things aren’t going the way you want. But zooming out and focusing on what you want your purpose to be gets you through those hard moments, Hogan says. “Satya [Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO] always comes back to our purpose in moments of doubt. He says, ‘This is about making Microsoft more inclusive and exceptional for our people,’ ” she says. “Having a deep sense of purpose will sustain you when you have bad days.”

Have a growth mindset. Hogan talks often about Microsoft’s growth mindset mentality—a company priority that promotes constant learning and coaching to empower employees. That’s important not just for Microsoft, but for all companies. HR leaders who are adaptable, flexible and always willing to grow and learn will thrive—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where adaptability has been key.

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Recognize the power of your leadership team, HR and peers. There are three groups in particular that an HR leader should depend on, Hogan says: your senior leadership team (including the CEO), your HR team and your peer network. Hogan says she relied on all three for information, guidance and advice. Look no further than Hogan’s collaboration with other HR leaders in the industry. In 2019, she initiated Microsoft’s CHRO Summit, which convenes global leaders to discuss the challenges, opportunities and changing landscape CHROs are facing. She also regularly uses her LinkedIn platform to provide expertise and insights on important topics impacting the HR profession. It was there she launched her #PeopleTalk video series in which she engages in meaningful discussions with industry leaders and CHROs. “There’s the sense of community among the CHROs, of all of us trying to help each other navigate a lot of different challenges, trying to deliver great experiences,” Hogan says. “I think we’re all partnered to try to work together.”

Rely on data and insights. “Investing in data and insights, and then trying to operationalize those insights, has been absolutely essential,” Hogan says. Microsoft gleans insight on how workers are feeling and faring from a daily pulse survey. It uses those insights to make changes in programs, employee benefits and strategies. For instance, after identifying specific employee pain points in the data, Hogan leaned on new, innovative benefits to help, including a 12-week parental paid leave policy that allowed parents to take time off as schools and daycares closed down due to COVID; employee bonuses; five additional paid days off, dubbed “wellness days,” so employees could rest and recharge; expanded backup childcare; and extended mental health help.

Invest in managers. Microsoft has prioritized enabling managers to become better leaders—a goal made ever more vital during a pandemic when leadership is demanded. Every manager goes through required training to help them model, coach and care for their teams. That not only gives employees the feeling that their manager (and employer) cares about them and can help them, but it also ensures that messaging is consistent, Hogan explains. “Investing in managers is so key. If your frontline manager is not exhibiting what your CEO was saying, it breeds cynicism.”

See also: This bank CHRO is pioneering a ‘people-first’ culture

Prioritize self-care. Microsoft has prioritized wellbeing and mental health for its 175,000 employees with various mental health benefits and initiatives. But equally important is making sure HR and other company leaders prioritize their own mental health, Hogan says. That’s especially important during COVID-19, when remote work blurs the line between work and home and HR priorities are aplenty. “Put your own oxygen mask on and make sure that you draw the line. Work will fill the capacity you give it; you can work 24/7 in this job. And so it’s just drawing the line and making sure you take time for yourself and your family.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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