Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella

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Hit RefreshWhen Satya Nadella took over as the CEO of Microsoft in February 2014, India celebrated. With Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google, we strutted around like the national bird. How was it for Nadella? Hit Refresh is about that journey.

He had the tall task of steering an iconic company that has meandered. Success has the tendency to make companies very inward looking. It is sobering to realize that Nadella is the third person to lead Microsoft. The three CEOs were so different from each other.

Bill Gates was the quintessential nerd. Ballmer had an aggressive chest thumping style that was very different from the founder’s. But Nadella’s introspective style came through in his first email to the employees. He said, “Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation.” He is equally at home overseeing code as he is with poetry. The voracious reader quotes Oscar Wilde and is forever trying out online courses.

Hit Refresh

Hit Refresh (publisher: Harper Collins) is a book that is the blueprint Nadella has in mind as he tries to change the culture of Microsoft from know-it-all to learn-it-all. The new culture at Microsoft is all about listening, learning more and talking less.

The book is a terrific study in changing culture. Nadella’s decision to launch Windows 10 in Kenya instead of Sydney was an effort to build a culture of inclusion. Both countries have educated and tech savvy customers as well as skill gaps. Building a culture that obsesses about the customer is not easy.

Satya NadellaLeadership Lessons

Hit Refresh is a good look at Nadella’s view of leadership. Here are the three things leaders have to do:

  1. Bring clarity to those you work with. Simplify things.
  2. Generate energy around your teams and the company. Build teams that are stronger today and tomorrow.
  3. Find a way to deliver success. Balance short term and long term. Innovate. Be global minded.

Another terrific chapter of the book is about “Friends or Frenemies”. Ballmer derisively referred to Apple as the “fruit company”. Satya knows that he is leaving the audience shell-shocked when he pulls out an iPhone from his pocket. But this one has Microsoft software and applications on it. Being able to collaborate and compete with the giants in the marketplace means walking the tight rope. He has formed partnerships with his fiercest rivals – Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon – the AGFA companies.

 

“Sometimes that means working with old rivals and sometimes it means forging surprising new partnerships.”

– Satya Nadella

He speaks of the strengths of his competitors with respect and acknowledges the need to find smart ways to partner with companies that have a strong market position with their service or device. Time and again while reading the book, I felt it is a book written by a leader who has no fear of being authentic and vulnerable.

He speaks about his biggest fumble at Grace Hopper when he told an audience at the celebration of women in computing that they should not ask for raises but instead trust that hard work and the long-term efficiency of the system would reward them. What makes Hit Refresh so interesting is Nadella’s capacity to acknowledge his mistake, laugh at it and inviting Microsoft employees to look at the video and learn from it. That is truly a leadership lesson devoid of a preachy tone that most leaders cannot help but adopt.

He wrote this email to the employees soon after the PR fiasco.

“Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

Each business shift of Microsoft under his leadership seems to have been triggered by reflection. That is the ring of authenticity and vulnerability that comes through in Hit Refresh.

The book is a hit. But more than that, it is a refreshing read.

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First published by my blog for Times of India & Economic Times

Read what I wrote for Economic Times when Nadella became CEO, Microsoft 

Join me on Twitter @AbhijitBhaduri

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