June 7-9: Brand-Led Culture Change Virtual Event

What Is Microsoft’s Secret to Employee Engagement? Empowerment!

I recently wrote about how global team engagement has been the key to success for Microsoft’s Carbon Fee Program, a financial model that puts an incremental fee on the carbon emissions associated with the company’s operations. In an organization as large and widespread as Microsoft, internal communications can be the biggest impediment to effectively coordinating top-down corporate policies.

However, Microsoft found that the program was well-received internally, and opened the door to conversations that weren’t otherwise occurring. By making everyone accountable for lowering the company’s environmental footprint, employees began teaming up to discuss how to drive efficiencies and further invest in more clean energy.

In other words, what began as a top-down sustainability policy soon went bottom-up (in a good way). Even employees outside of Microsoft’s sustainability team began to ask how they could get involved.

Needless to say, Microsoft’s Carbon Fee Program has been wildly successful thus far thanks to stellar employee engagement. But what is the company’s wider employee sustainability engagement strategy?

According to Josh Henretig, Microsoft’s Director of Environmental Sustainability, the company’s primary goal is “empowerment.” That is to say — how to unlock the potential within individual employees to help them integrate sustainability into their day-to-day duties. The road to successful engagement starts with increasing employee awareness around the company’s environmental commitments and progress. That awareness also extends to the “magic of software” and the innovations that help people and organizations around the world reduce their energy use and impact on the environment.

In addition to the carbon fee initiative, Microsoft also has found employee engagement success in a handful of places across the company. One approach in Microsoft’s international offices, called the “ES Leads Program,” entails partnering with individual employees to develop and implement an environmental strategy that makes sense for that country.

“My team works with these individual countries to ensure they are taking advantage of global resources as well as best practices that have been established in other offices around the world,” Henretig said. “The results have been inspiring — from reductions in employee air travel to energy efficiency improvements in local offices to new and exciting opportunities to work with customers on the role of technology for environmental sustainability.”

What can companies struggling to inspire their employees to take action on sustainability learn from Microsoft?

  • First, have a solid plan in place that outlines a vision with actionable goals to help make it a reality. Microsoft’s Carbon Fee Program established a clear and tangible goal of achieving carbon neutrality.
  • Second, create a leadership body that can guide and govern the initiative. Microsoft established its Carbon Neutral Council to help execute a five-step process for implementing the carbon fee initiative companywide.
  • Third, once you have established a vision and set the parameters — get out of the way (figuratively). When it comes to employee engagement, one-plus-one almost always equals more than two. In other words, synergy. Microsoft recognized that its greatest resource was its global employee network, and welcomed its employees to help shape the Carbon Fee Program — to the benefit of all.

“We have an amazing culture of innovation that we are trying to tap into in order to address some of the more serious environmental challenges we face,” Henretig said. “If the solutions to climate change are only coming from people with ‘sustainability’ in their job title, then our planet is in trouble.”


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