Q&A with Shannon Banks, HR Director, Talent Management, Western Europe, Microsoft

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Shannon Banks works at Microsoft as an HR Director for Western Europe, focusing on talent management. Prior to this role, she has served as Senior HR Business Partner supporting the Advertising & Online business for Europe and a Worldwide Leadership Development Consultant for Microsoft’s Sales, Marketing and Services Group. She is Microsoft’s global thought leader for action learning and was responsible for the development of Front Lines, an award-winning action learning experience that links learning directly to business impact through work with partners in the developing world. Front Lines was held in Kenya in 2010, Peru in 2011, The Philippines in 2013 and most recently in Ghana in February 2014.

Q You’re currently going through a cultural transformation at Microsoft. Can you tell us a bit about this? Where is this being driven from and what impact is this having on your business, HR model and your people strategy?

Microsoft is indeed in a time of exciting transformation, focusing our efforts around mobile and cloud. There will soon be more than 3 billion people with Internet-connected devices, powered by cloud service-based apps that span work and life. The combination of many devices and cloud services used for generating and consuming data creates a unique opportunity for us. At the core, Microsoft has always been a productivity and platform company, and now we are reinventing productivity for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

As part of this we undertaking a cultural transformation – instilling a challenger mindset in our organization, being agile and efficient, being innovative and taking risks, learning from each other and obsessing about customers so we ensure that what we produce is what our customers want. I think Microsoft has been through many transformations during the time I’ve been at the company and before, but this one is particularly exciting.

QYou invested in an innovative leadership development programme for your high-potentials in the heart of the financial crisis. How did you get your executives to share your vision? What words of wisdom can you give for your peers who are in similar positions?

For nearly a year prior to the economic downturn, I had been working with a consultant, Emerging World, on a design for a new and immersive development program that would take our high potential leaders into the emerging markets for work on strategic challenges. When the crisis hit, I really had to ask myself the same questions I knew the executive sponsors would be asking me – Was this the right focus area for us given the situation? Would the return on investment be great enough? I really believed in what we were trying to achieve but I knew that our executives would need to see a business plan the could clearly articulate a strong ROI. I think for others who are in this situation the key is to put yourselves in the executives’ shoes. Think about the broader business, the connections you can make between what you’re doing and the company’s overall goals. Create a compelling vision that you believe in, backed up by data. And then once you get approval, ensure you have really strong impact assessment so you can tell your story after the fact and get approval for the subsequent years.

QYour high potential leaders were immersed in action learning situations. What are some of the critical experiences you were helping them develop to become Microsoft leaders and leaders for our future?

When we designed Front Lines we were specifically focused on a few key areas that we knew our participants would need to accelerate their career development. First of all, as leaders who were just under the general manager/VP level, they were all expected to have a deeper global awareness, particularly in the emerging markets where some of our business models are different. Secondly we wanted them to really see the value in strategic corporate social responsibility, or citizenship efforts that can both have positive social value but also have positive bottom line impact. And thirdly we wanted to help them develop skills in engaging with government officials. As senior executives for Microsoft they would be called upon to partner with governments to advise and create policies, and that engagement isn’t something that they can readily practice before they are in those roles. Front Lines was designed to give first-hand experience around all three of these areas.

QWhat do you foresee as the biggest challenges and priorities going forward for talent management?

I think the biggest priority for us in talent management today is really embracing data. I am in this business because I love people, but I believe to really partner with business leaders and executives you must speak their language. The more you can leverage talent and organizational data to create and answer hypotheses around your people and organization, the more value you can add. I believe we need to partner with our leaders to offer more predictive data and analysis that will help them make stronger people decisions.


You can hear about these topics and many more at our next HR Vision conference.

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