Employees, advance your careers

A nurturing environment is key to developing staff and growing their careers, writes Sameera Mohamed, human resources manager at the South African unit of global software company Microsoft.

Everyone at the company owns their own career, and each employee sets the direction for their own career and goals. Career management at Microsoft starts when an employee develops an aspiration which forms the foundation of their career and professional development goals.

Achieving these goals is done with the support, direction and guidance of Microsoft management, who are able to draw connections to the big picture — human resources — which provides coaching and consultation as well as mentors, who provide insight and leadership throughout an employee’s career progression.

Microsoft believes its drive to help every person and every organisation on the planet achieve more provides its employees with a myriad of opportunities to learn, grow, and develop so they can realise their full potential.

Performance and career development at Microsoft is rooted in a culture of a “growth mindset”. The basis of developing careers is founded on the belief that potential is nurtured, not predetermined. It is also based on  the belief that everyone has the ability to learn and grow and find deep meaning and satisfaction in the work that they do.

Microsoft staff members have an insatiable curiosity, which enhances their capacity for learning and developing.

Having a growth mindset towards career development means Microsoft employees are always challenging, always learning and always improving. It also means employees look forward to taking risks and see mistakes and failures as opportunities to enhance their capabilities and improve their skills.  

This ethos is supported by management, which plays an integral role in supporting their team members’ career development objectives. Career development starts with a manager’s strong belief in their team’s growth and development, which is practised through good strategies and mentoring. Managers must support risk taking, creativity and innovation and must provide coaching to recognise and use every opportunity as one of value-added learning.


Microsoft has an ethos of career mentoring, which helps employees tap into the knowledge, experience and expertise of others at the organisation to help facilitate their professional development and career growth. These partnerships provide career development opportunities for both the mentor and mentee.

At Microsoft, there are two kinds of mentoring: peer and career. Peer mentoring usually occurs within the compay and is focused on knowledge transfer; it is most valuable when employees are new to a team or role. Career mentoring is broader in scope, is generally external to an employees unit and is part of the longer-term career development plan.

Microsoft prides itself in providing its employees the opportunity to gain both depth and breadth experience in the context of their career aspirations. It encourages employees to strive for, and achieve, deep technical expertise within their function and become knowledge and subject matter experts.

Employees are encouraged and supported to become worldwide influencers in their chosen field, helping and coaching others around the world to achieve the same kind of expertise.

The company also encourages staff to explore and to gain skills in multiple disciplines across multiple professions, so their development trajectory is not limited. Employees are encouraged to explore areas such as sales, marketing, strategic acumen and operational execution. This philosophy allows employees to build skills and competencies that are multi-faceted and inter-changeable and allows them to design their careers in a multitude of ways. 

To realise their career aspirations, every employee at Microsoft has a detailed and realistic development plan that helps them focus on building the skills, knowledge, and experiences that they require to excel in their current position, move on to other positions, and grow professionally.

The structure and focus of the development plan depends on which stage employees are in their career; from being at the beginning of their career to considering making changes in their present position, or already having their dream job and just wanting to enrich their skills and knowledge. 

Microsoft’s career development framework is based on the philosophy of how adults learn. A balanced development plan focuses 70% of development activities on learning on the job, 20% on learning from others, and 10% on learning through training.

Microsoft recognises that adults do most of their learning through observation and assimilation of knowledge and skills in their daily tasks. This career development plan is guided through quarterly connects between employee and manager.

The purpose of these connects is to reach alignment on performance and impact deliverables, as well as planning and structuring upcoming development activities. Microsoft’s development plan has both short- and long-term goals. It allows employees to find meaning in their work and, through their passion for what they do, achieve their full potential.

Planning ahead

Succession planning, akin to career development, is another mechanism Microsoft uses to plan effectively for the future. It involves the identification and development of future leaders for specific positions or roles. This process lays the foundation for Microsoft to develop the people who will lead it into the future and takes into account employees’ capabilities, their growth opportunities and diversity. This process minimises risk for the business, as it ensures future leaders are known, developed, and — ultimately — placed.

This process doesn’t just happen at leadership level; succession planning is the responsibility of everyone at Microsoft, and all employees are encouraged to develop a succession plan for their roles. 

Human resources plays an integral role in effective succession planning. HR teams at Microsoft have a responsibility for helping leaders maintain a quality process.

Microsoft needs to have a deep understanding of its talent pool, and be aware of the talent available in the external market. Human resources’ role in succession planning is to find talent and to help these employees develop the skills they need so they can eventually lead the organisation.

The human resources team is fortunate to have a succession planning tool that supports them in developing talent. This tool is used to find talent based on identified criteria, track talent development and record and report on succession plans. The company uses programmes such as external mapping, building organisational leadership depth and country manager potential and development to make its succession planning efforts become effective.

To track the success of Microsoft’s plans, it uses metrics such as a succession-planning index. Microsoft believes talent management programmes are not just good business — they allow the company to plan effectively for the future by making appropriate and proactive decisions, and support its employees to achieve their personal goals.