Building a workforce of learn-it-alls

Published: May 5, 2017


Building a workforce of learn-it-alls



EVP, Human Resources at Microsoft

Recently, I had a discussion with my son about a school subject familiar to many teenagers—physics. As we talked about matter, space, and time, he posed a question I couldn’t answer. (A defining moment for every parent—we don’t have all the answers!) Without missing a beat, he turned to technology—in the form of his phone—and had answered the question in a matter of seconds. Technology helped us continue the conversation, and is helping instill in him that learning doesn’t stop when the school day is over.

Learning is an ongoing, life-long journey, and we’re seeing that Millennials and Gen Zs are completely comfortable with this concept. Digital natives demonstrate an innate desire to collect experiences in the spirit of lifelong learning and personal growth. This is something that I believe many employees are also figuring out— that harnessing new technologies helps us continually improve our skills, and can lead to a more fulfilling career.

Becoming learn-it-alls

The trend of continuous learning is a core tenet of the growth mindset we’ve embraced at Microsoft. Our CEO, Satya Nadella, has been quoted saying that it’s more important to be “learn-it-alls” than “know-it-alls” for long-term success, and I couldn’t agree more. We want to infuse lifelong learning into our culture to help employees develop beyond what they “know” right now, and encourage ongoing learning through education, growth, and stretch opportunities. The fact is, without continuous learning, upskilling, and re-skilling, we’re looking at a workforce that could potentially lack the skills needed to do the jobs of the future. (My colleague, Brad Smith, recently posted about this topic.) In fact, it’s predicted that 65% of today’s students will do jobs that don’t even exist yet.[1]

The benefits of lifelong learning can manifest in areas like product improvement, creativity and innovation, and even employee philanthropy. From new accessibility tools for OneNote that came out of our annual Hackathon (and were fast-tracked into the product), to the intern who secured a full-time job through her work on a stretch project, to the veteran engineer who volunteers helping kids learn to code, we believe a thirst to learn more and do more results in helping people all over the world achieve more.

Creating a learn-it-all culture within Microsoft is by no means done. Here are just a few things we’re doing to encourage lifelong learning:

  • Acting as role models. Each month, Satya posts a short video about what’s he’s learned during the past month. This sets an example that it’s not only okay—but desired—to take time to enhance skills.

  • Offering free access to on-demand courses through, and encouraging employees to tap into free online curriculum like edX;

  • Updating our career learning tool by centralizing opportunities in one place, and offering suggestions and trends in courses that are popular with peers;

  • Expanding our annual innovation Hackathon to reach all professions within the company, not just engineers; and

  • Implementing a program to host external speakers on campus and on-demand to learn from their life experiences.

The goal of these efforts is to encourage employees to invest, learn, and grow so they can more confidently prepare to take on new challenges and follow their passions.

Let me know what you think about the concept of lifelong learning and how you’re putting it to work in your life or organization.

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