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School Innovation: 3 Lessons from New Microsoft CEO's First Day on the Job

Posted by Scott Barron on Mar 4, 2014 1:58:17 PM
Scott Barron

"Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation."

- Satya Nadella, New CEO of Microsoft

microsoft to name satya nadella as ceo may remove bill gates as chairman report

In his first day as the new CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella provided 3 valuable lessons regarding leadership. His two predecessors were founder and billionaire Bill Gates followed by billionaire Steve Ballmer (the 30th employee of the company), so he obviously has some big shoes to fill. His start was a bit rocky, but we're pulling for him to learn quickly and achieve great success.

We Are Living in an Innovation Economy

In his opening letter that was emailed out to Microsoft employees, Mr. Nadella emphasized that innovation is the ONLY way to grow. His motivation for this statement comes from the pressure being applied by customers, investors, competitors, etc., to consistently deliver products and services that improve performance and profitability.

We live in an innovation economy that favors those organizations, whether not-for-profit or for-profit, that utilize a consistent cycle of delivering what people want/need, measuring and listening to customers, learning rapidly and effectively, and then adjusting or creating a new solution. Innovation doesn't require inventing something new every time--it includes adding a new feature, method, or combination to increase the value proposition.

Schools are not immune to the influences of this global expectation for innovation. K-12 and higher-ed schools face competition and mounting pressure from parents and community leaders to improve performance. Rather than using annual school improvement plans, the stronger administrators are adopting an accelerated approach that enables them to learn and innovate faster in order to grow enrollment and funding.

Sequence of Communications Matters

Mr. Nadella sent out his letter to all employees introducing himself and his vision for Microsoft. The message was lengthy but a good one, however, the CEO failed to respect the first Law of the Grapevine: Sequence. People derive the value of your relationship based on the sequence in which you share information. Microsoft has a huge organizational chart that is structured to support effective communication, but he by-bassed multiple intermediate leaders by blasting his message to all employees. Trust is built and sustained when you honor the value of sequence, so Mr. Nadella would have been wise to send the message in this order: Up to the board of directors, Out to close advisors, Down to direct reports and then to each level in the organization, and then finally Around to clients and the whole world through multiple media sources. Communicate to build relationships, not just to be heard.

It's Risky Keeping the Old Boss Around

In an effort to regain that old Microsoft-Magic, Mr. Nadella invited retired CEO Bill Gates to return to the company as Technology Advisor. Apparently Mr. Gates decided on his first day in the office to install the latest version of Windows on his new computer. After struggling through multiple error messages in the process, he summoned Mr. Nadella to the room for technical assistance. Unfortunately, after applying their combined intellectual prowess they were unable to complete the upgrade so Mr. Gates went back to the previous version. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Nadella navigates the cultural issues of having the founder involved in the leadership, and whether Mr. Gates has the humility to contribute in a constructive way.

Topics: School Design, School Culture, School Growth, Current Events, Leadership, Faculty

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