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Using a Skills Framework to Empower Employees: Microsoft’s Shweta Srivastava and John Mighell

by Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr | May 29th, 2024

The mission of Microsoft is to empower every person in every organization to achieve more. An enterprise-wide skills focus is one way they’re fulfilling their mission. 

It’s about moving beyond job titles and fixed roles to give freedom and flexibility to apply skills and expertise where they matter the most. And it’s all in service of creating an environment where growing one’s career is the top reason to join and stay at Microsoft. 

They’re using human verification to give the individual control over the data that’s included, who it’s shared with, and how it’s shared. 

Shweta Srivastava and John Mighell share how Microsoft is implementing skills on a large scale in this fascinating conversation.  

You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in…

  • Join the RedThread Research community!   
  • Learn more about Shweta and John
  • What is a skills-based organization?  
  • Microsoft’s scope and purpose for skills  
  • Demonstrating the business case for skills  
  • The key stakeholders involved in the effort
  • The partnership between tech and skills  
  • The lightning round  
  • The skills tech infrastructure  
  • Where their skills data lives  
  • Verification and use of skills  
  • How they’re leveraging generative AI  
  • The biggest things they’ve learned  
  • Why they do the work they do  

Demonstrating the business case for skills

Microsoft seeks to empower employee experiences. It’s about attracting, growing, and scaling talent. It’s a strategic priority enterprise-wide and has evolved into a talent architecture. They focus on three components within talent architecture:

  1. Job architecture: This represents the demand side of skills. It’s saying, “Here are the roles, what are the skills that make someone successful in these roles?”
  2. The people data and skills: They seek to unlock intelligence about people skills and data.
  3. Data: Leveraging data to light up experiences for skills-based talent practices across career, learning, and hiring.

The strategic mindset shift happened because of the business need around talent agility and mobility. 

They defined persona journeys. They ran focus groups with employees, managers, and org leaders. They wanted to know what pain points they needed to solve. They defined business problems which went into the talent architecture framework. 

The job architecture was the starting point of their skills taxonomy (skills mapping to roles). The work was the foundation. They embedded skills into talent practices and programs. They created education guidance and alignment across the board. 

They reduced pain points at a macro level before unpacking technology-related use cases. It helped them not only make progress but bring key stakeholders together.  

Skills tech infrastructure 

Microsoft is building an AI-powered human-validated model to implement a skills strategy. They wanted to make sure they built a tech stack that took advantage of Microsoft's unique strengths to provide a differentiated product experience. They’re focusing on doing that by:

  1. Creating a powerful inference engine: Highly accurate and relevant skills inferences are key to adopting skills tech. They utilize Microsoft Graph, which tracks usage data (what people are doing as part of actual work). They used this to build an inference model powered by AI.
  2. Leveraging flow of work: How can skills experiences be embedded into platforms used every day to become more accessible? They seek to remove barriers to engagement. 
  3. Leveraging insights and reporting platforms: The goal is to make it easy for leaders to gain a view of capability across the organization broken down by geography, leaders, etc. to understand talent allocation and make strategic workforce planning decisions. 

They knew they had something unique to offer across those three dimensions, so they dove in.

Verification and use of skills

John emphasizes that there are numerous paths you can take with skills verification, from individual verification to third-party certifications to assessments or manager ratings. 

They wanted to make sure the individual stayed in control of their own skill profile. The AI inference might say, “We think you have these 15 skills” and pre-populate their profile with that information. The employee can edit those skills and choose whether those skills are published or private. 

They’re trying to avoid giving users a blank template and saying “Tell me all of your skills.” AI inference gives them the starting point but, ultimately, the user is in control of their skills matrix.

In the future, they plan on bringing in other approaches to validation. They may build in third-party verification for hard technical skills. They’re continuing to get feedback from Shweta and her team to evolve their approach.

Shweta points out that the goal is to empower the employees. They want to understand who has what skills to give individuals personalized recommendations for learning and career development. They are building scalable aggregate insights with the employee at the center. 

Each person is a dynamic individual with their own unique skillset. Microsoft not only wants to retain its employees and see them happy in their roles, but want to match employees with roles where they can make the impact they desire. In the end, it’s all about the user journey. 

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Shweta Srivastava and John Mighell

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