Microsoft – Great at giving back

Microsoft Gulf General Manager Samer Abu Ltaif
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As you have read the story to this comma, 33 characters have been captured and organized on imaginary paper by Microsoft Word, in the space of less than 10 seconds. Pausing for a minute to speculate how many ‘i’s have been dotted and ‘t’s have been crossed in the same 10 seconds globally on how many machines using MS Word, is an exercise in total futility as far as trying to make a reasonable guess.  

Even ‘Googling’ the question is completely useless. But mind-map even a vague image of the importance and global penetration of information and communications technology (ICT) devices in 2012 and of the role that Microsoft Corporation plays in this field, and it becomes clear that the company’s annual profits ($23.1 billion in FY 2011 ended last June), latest revenue ($20.9 billion in Q4 of 2011) and market cap ($243.9 billion on Jan 30, 2012) are mere shadows of what value, economic and social, this company actually has added to the global village since it was established in 1975.  

In the pantheon of modern economic deities, or idols as the case may be, last year Microsoft was ranked as the world’s ninth-most admired company by international human resource consultants Hay Group, and the Microsoft brand was assessed as the world’s fifth-most valuable in the BrandZ chart. 

Microsoft appeared in the Great Place to Work ranking for the first time in 1993. In October of last year, the company was feted as the world’s best multinational workplace in the first Great Place To Work Institute [GPTWI] list ranking only multinational corporations. The list’s achievement stats showed that Microsoft was recognized among the best workplaces in 26 countries under GPTWI coverage, or 58 percent of the countries where GPTWI operates. 

A matter of balance

Work-life balance at Microsoft UAE was the focal area of praise in the GPTWI 2012 culture audit spotlight on the company. The institute noted very favorably that the regional organization has created a tangible expression in which teams can capture principles for balanced living in a ‘Work-Life Balance Charter’, which is prepared and signed collectively. 

The headcount of Microsoft UAE is approaching 400, a drop in the bucket of the firm’s global workforce of more than 92,000. This, however, does not at all diminish the pride of the local organization as a part of the whole. 

As Microsoft Gulf General Manager Samer Abu Ltaif puts it: “We felt very good when Microsoft recently won the best [multinational] places to work, because the UAE was on the list and we felt that we contributed to winning that.” 

Microsoft gained top spot in the 2011 GPTW list, but the issue is not if the company comes in first this year, Abu Ltaif told Executive before the 2012 rankings are released. The issue is what input from the process he can gain to use in improving the workplace further, the manager elaborates. “My commitment is not to win awards. My commitment is for the people in the organization to feel that this is a great place to work, definitely, and that we are developing our people and are looked up to among all IT companies and companies in the region as pioneering in initiatives and as a talent magnet.”

Despite its global advantages in attracting talent, it is critical to the organization to be perceived locally as a great place to work, Abu Ltaif says. His role in this is to “create an environment where people want to come and make a difference” as well as giving them “an opportunity to develop their career and feel they are respected and trusted.”  

He and his leadership team in the Dubai office approach this task through both corporate-led and local programs. In examples for local initiatives, Microsoft Gulf has set up a concierge service and a valet service that liberates employees from worrying about their parking spots and helps staff cope with what Abu Ltaif concedes is a demanding workplace: “It is very difficult to work for MS if you don’t have passion for the technology and passion for our mission which is to enable people and businesses to realize their potential.”

What gives employees the greatest motivational impulses, however, are citizenship programs, where they directly witness the company’s positive impact in areas such as education and in places such as autism centers, Abu Ltaif says. “That sense of pride makes a huge difference for our people.”