By Hunter R. Slaton
Kati Quigley, CMP, is the senior director of worldwide partner group marketing for one of the biggest companies in the world: Microsoft. (She’s also a former chair of the PCMA Board of Directors.) And while there’s a huge variance in the substance and style of the software giant’s many meetings and events, Quigley said, the overall message from HQ is that they should be conceived of primarily as vehicles for marketing, whether they’re internal or external programs.
With 55,000-plus employees, one of the key goals of Microsoft’s meetings is ‘getting everybody rallied around the company direction and what the “go-do’s” are.’
One thing that is different between internal and external meetings is social media. Obviously at public-facing events, Microsoft encourages attendees and employees to tweet and use other social media to their heart’s content. But for internal meetings, while the company still wants people to be able to communicate using social media, it needs to keep a lid on sensitive information. Microsoft does that via an app called Yammer, which essentially functions like a private Twitter.
Beyond that, given its size and scope, the house that Bill Gates built has a challenge that is unique to companies of its size: It’s much easier for rank-and-file employees to get lost in the shuffle, and to lose sight of the company’s mission. To counteract that drift, one key function of any Microsoft meeting, Quigley said, is motivation - “getting everybody rallied around the company direction and what the ‘go-do’s’ are.” Another major focus is product info - “what’s new and what’s coming.”
At high-profile gatherings, including the 10,000-attendee company meeting, held each September, this is accomplished by putting Microsoft’s “big names” front and center.
“You get to hear from our executives and our innovators, and you realize how many smart people work at this company,” said Quigley. “It’s beyond what you would imagine, so that’s inspiring.” For smaller occasions, such as monthly executive Q&A meetings that are held in-person for a couple hundred people (and webcast across the world), the same principle applies, with high-level executives communicating directly to employees about what’s new and exciting at Microsoft.
The executive meetings cover many different topics - the launch of the new Surface tablet computer, for example, or the chief marketing officer discussing what’s on the horizon for advertising -but one thing they have in common is that there is always “quite a bit of time” devoted to a question-and-answer session with top executives.
This serves to collapse or flatten the structure of a big company like Microsoft, allowing people like CEO Steve Ballmer - who often participates in the executive Q&A - to learn and receive feedback from his tens of thousands of employees, and for those same employees to feel that they have a direct connection to management. Quigley said: “The frequent employee sessions show how vested the executives are in being engaged and connected with the whole company.”